The doctoral program in theology has as its goal the formation of theologians who intellectually excel in the church, the academy, and society. It is confessional in nature, and envisions theology as "faith seeking understanding."
Accordingly, the program aims at nourishing a community of faith, scholarly conversation, and research and teaching centered in the study of Christian life and thought, past and present, in ways that contribute to this goal. It recognizes that creative theological discussion and specialized research today require serious and in-depth appropriation of the great philosophical and theological traditions of the past, as well as ecumenical, interdisciplinary, inter-religious, and cross-cultural cooperation.
Central to the philosophy of the program are three essential components:
- Opportunities for scholars to develop and demonstrate excellence in scholarship
- Monthly professional development series guiding students in their service to the academy and church
- A culture of teaching formation including teaching assistantships, teaching fellowships, and mentoring from faculty.
The success of the program in preparing scholars for meaningful and successful endeavors in the field of theology is evident in our strong placement record. Of the 47 graduates who have received a Ph.D. in Theology from Boston College in the last five years, 39 currently have a full-time position in an academic institution for a placement rate of 83%. Of those 39 appointments 80% (31) are tenure track. This is very encouraging news and well above the placement rate in the Humanities and among most of our peer institutions granting advanced degrees in theology.
The Manual of Procedures provides detailed descriptions and regulations for all phases of the Ph.D. Students admitted to the Ph.D. Program should have completed the MDiv or equivalent degree; a master's degree in religion, theology, or philosophy; or a bachelor's program with a strong background in religion, theology, and/or philosophy.
Students in the doctoral program focus their studies in one of five major areas, described below. The faculty in each major area determine requirements regarding course distribution, languages (see below), comprehensive examinations, and minors. A minimum of two years of full-time course work is required of all. Upon completion of course work, doctoral students typically serve as teaching assistants for two years and as teaching fellows for one year.
Historical Theology/History of Christianity
The Historical Theology/History of Christianity (HT/HC) area studies past theological reflection on the faith and practice of the Church, with a particular focus on early and medieval Christianity. The HT/HC area strives to appreciate these theological expressions both within their immediate historical contexts (social, cultural, institutional) and within the broader trajectories of theological development in the Christian tradition. For more information, please see the Historical Theology/History of Christianity website.
Systematic Theology is the contemporary intellectual reflection on the Christian Mysteries as an interrelated whole. The Systematics faculty seeks to develop the student's ability to treat theological material systematically and constructively; that is, according to a method that attends to the coherence and interconnectedness of the elements of the Christian tradition. The necessary role of historical, dogmatic, and descriptive theological activity is thereby acknowledged.
Our primary concern is the systematic and constructive elucidation of the Christian faith in a contemporary context, and we emphasize the relationships among theological themes and topics, including their growth and development in historical and systematic contexts. Essential to the practice of systematic theology is a methodical appreciation of the concerns which form the context for the great inquiries and debates of the tradition and modern times.
This area focuses on the canonical books of the Bible, both within their historical and cultural worlds and in relation to their reception within the Christian and Jewish traditions. Students may learn ancient languages and literatures as their research requires; they must also acquire a reading knowledge of German and either French or Spanish. The comprehensive exams will cover the whole Bible, with emphasis on either the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible or the New Testament, and will include a specialized exam in an area of study pertinent to the student's dissertation. Students will also acquire and be tested on a limited competency (a minor or the equivalent) in an area of theology other than Biblical Studies.
This major area prepares its graduates for teaching and research positions that call for specialization in this area. It includes the ecumenical study of major Roman Catholic and Protestant thinkers, and it attends to the Biblical foundations and theological contexts of ethics.
In line with the conviction that faith and reason are complementary, the program explores the contributions of philosophical thought, both past and present. It includes a strong social ethics component, as well as offerings in other areas of applied ethics. The exploration of contemporary ethics is set in a critical, historical perspective and encourages attention to the global and multicultural character of the Christian community.
This major area prepares students for careful theological reflection, usually from a Christian perspective, on non-Christian religions in their particularity and on their significance for theology. Comparative Theology entails the study of one or more religious traditions in addition to one's own, as well as critical reflection on one's own tradition in light of that other tradition or other traditions. Students are expected to acquire a significant understanding of a major non-Christian religion as well as a critical method used in the study of religions; for example, philosophy of religion, comparative religion, or history of religions.
Like all other areas of theology, Comparative Theology's ultimate horizon is knowledge of God, the transcendent, or the nature of ultimate reality; it aims to be constructive theology. The practitioner, while rooted in one tradition (in this program, normally Christianity), becomes deeply affected by systematic, consistent attention to the details of one or more other religious and theological traditions, thereby informing continuing theological reflection upon his or her own tradition. It is this focused attention to the distinctive details of different traditions that distinguishes Comparative Theology from the Theology of Religions, but also opens the possibility of a newly and more deeply informed Theology of Religions.
In turn, this study is brought into dialogue with some particular theme or topic of study in Christian Theology (usually, as studied in one of the other areas of specialization, Bible, History of Christian Life and Thought, Systematic Theology, Theological Ethics, or Pastoral Theology), and articulated in light of a Theology of Religions. Students in this area are thus prepared to take up a wide range of research projects, and also to teach one or more religious traditions in addition to chosen areas of Christian Theology.
Applicants for admission to Comparative Theology should already have a master's-level background in Christian theology and have studied in an academic context the second religious tradition that they intend to compare with Christianity. So, too, students must have completed at least one year of language study relevant to the non-Christian tradition they will be studying. It is strongly recommended that, before applying to this Ph.D. program, applicants contact the faculty at BC with whom they intend to work to discuss their plans and to ask any questions.
For more information, please see the Comparative Theology web site.
A student may minor in any one of the areas listed above.
The minor in Pastoral Theology recognizes that all Christian theology, ultimately, has the pastoral interest of serving the life of the Church in the world. Pastoral theology, however, makes this interest in the dynamic reality of the Church its primary focus, allowing it to shape its methodology, themes, and intent. This minor requires completion of a doctoral-level seminar in the themes and methods of pastoral theology, three other courses within or approved by the Pastoral area, and a written comprehensive exam.
Each doctoral student must pass examinations in at least two languages. These test the student's proficiency in reading languages important for his or her research, and must be passed before admission to the comprehensive examinations. Students may take either the departmental translation examinations (offered three times a year), or pass (with a grade of B or better) the 12-week summer intensive language courses offered by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
Some areas may require more than a minimum of two languages. Knowledge of various ancient languages may also be required, depending on the student's dissertation topic. Thus, Greek, Latin, and Hebrew may well be required for students working in the early Christian and/or medieval period. Students in Biblical Studies are expected to demonstrate proficiency in appropriate ancient and modern languages. Students in Comparative Theology are expected to acquire at least an intermediate level of proficiency in a language related to the non-Christian religious tradition they are studying.
Enrollment and Graduation Statistics
In compliance with the American Academy of Religion’s and Society of Biblical Literature’s best practices for posting of enrollment and graduation, we offer the following information about the number of students enrolled in our doctoral program and rates of completion of our doctoral program.
Students Enrolled and Graduated
- 2020 – 11 students enrolled
- 2019 – 10 students enrolled, 10 still enrolled
- 2018 – 12 students enrolled, 12 still enrolled
- 2017 – 11 students enrolled, 9 still enrolled, 2 withdrew
- 2016 – 12 students enrolled, 12 still enrolled
- 2015 – 11 students enrolled, 7 still enrolled, 2 withdrew, 2 graduated
- 2014 – 12 students enrolled, 3 still enrolled, 9 graduated
- 2013 – 12 students enrolled, 4 still enrolled, 8 graduated