Doctoral program (PhD)

The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) program is a rigorous course of advanced study and research that prepares students for a lifetime of field-defining scholarship, intellectual leadership and teaching in the academic study of religion. 

Instruction and research in the PhD program is organized by means of the three committees of the faculty and eleven areas of study: Anthropology and Sociology of Religions, History of Religions, Religion, Literature and Visual Culture, Religious Ethics, Theology, Philosophy of Religions, Bible, History of Christianity, History of Judaism, Islamic Studies, Religions in America.

PhD students concentrate their work in an area of study toward the end of achieving a high level of expertise and the capacity to pursue advanced research in it. PhD students also must pursue substantial work in at least one other area of study to prepare broadly for their future careers as educators or in other professions and to locate their research in contexts outside of, but relevant to, their own concentration.

Guidelines for the Committee on Degrees (pdf)  This document outlines the requirements for all documents submitted to the Committee on Degrees, including the course of study petition and the dissertation proposal.

Deadlines and Exams (pdf) - Deadlines for submission to the Committee on Degrees; dates for qualifying exams.

The Divinity School faculty has established a set of guidelines for normal progress through the PhD program, as follows:

1. Approval of the course of study petition by the end of the first year of full-time residence.

2.  Successful completion of the required PhD seminar in the first year.  (The quarter in which this course is offered will vary; to        be taught in Winter 2017 for the 2016-17 academic year.)

3. Demonstration of competence in French and German by the end of the second year of full-time residence.  Some areas of study may also require language exams in additional modern and/or ancient languages.

4.  Successful completion of at least two courses per quarter for at least the first two years of the PhD program.

5. Successful completion of the pre-exam conference, normally by the end of the second year of full-time residence,

6. Completion of the qualifying examinations, normally by the end of the third year of full-time residence. (N.B. Language exams and the pre-exam conference must be successfully completely to be eligible to take qualifying exams.)

7. Approval of the dissertation proposal by the end of the fourth year of full-time residence.

8. Completion of the dissertation within five calendar years of approval of the dissertation proposal.

Students should plan their program of study in accordance with these guidelines, consulting as appropriate their faculty advisor and the Dean of Students. A student who anticipates difficulty in meeting one of the guidelines should discuss this with the faculty advisor and the Dean of Students.

The deans, in consultation with faculty in the appropriate area of study, may on rare occasions advise a student to discontinue doctoral studies. Such discussions may occur between approval of the course of study petition and the qualifying examination, or between completion of the qualifying examination and approval of the dissertation proposal.

A student's PhD studies may be terminated formally by failure to produce a satisfactory course of study petition that is approved by the Committee on Degrees; failure of the qualifying examination; failure to prepare a satisfactory dissertation proposal in an appropriate period of time (by the end of the fourth year of full-time residence); or failure to write a dissertation, within five years of establishing PhD candidacy, that is deemed satisfactory by the dissertation committee.

The course of study petition includes the following:

1. A statement that identifies topics of scholarly interest and a proposal for research.

2. A list of four written examinations drawn from among those offered by the areas of study as best suited to the student's program. (At least four Divinity School faculty members must participate in the written examinations.)

3. The designation of one faculty member as advisor for the student's course of study.

The student develops the course of study petition in consultation with the academic advisor, and submits the original hard-copy petition and one electronic copy to the Dean of Students' Office by Friday of the sixth week the appropriate quarter. The petition is first reviewed by faculty working in the student's area of concentration, who then refer the petition to the Committee on Degrees with their recommendation for action.

The progress (or pre-exam) conference is normally held in the spring quarter of the second year, or the fall of the third year. Progress conferences are held in accordance with the respective area's guidelines, and will normally include assessment of coursework to date, cogency of the course of study petition, readiness for qualifying examinations, and development of the dissertation project. A report from the advisor and a timeline for the qualifying examinations is submitted to the Dean of Students following the conference.

Doctoral students in the Divinity School must successful complete a panel of qualifying examinations.  Each student completes four written examinations, one of which must be in an area outside of the student's primary area of study.   An oral research statement is also required, which, along with the written examinations, is the subject of discussion and review during the oral exam.  A minimum of four examiners is required, and reflects the ongoing conversation across disciplines in the study of religion.

Each area of study establishes its own exams, and the guidelines by which students in that area must construct the panel of examinations.  For more information about area exam guidelines, please visit the relevant area of study page.

PhD students register with the Dean of Students no later than the first week of the quarter in which the student will take qualifying exams.  Signature approval of the student's advisor is required, along with successful completion of the following:

  • Substantial coursework (usually at least 2 courses per quarter for the first 2 years of study)
  • All foreign language exams (including area-specific requirements)
  • Pre-exam conference

Written exams are held each quarter during weeks 5 and 6.  Oral exams are scheduled each quarter during week 7.  

Qualifying exams are graded pass/fail.  Failure to pass the qualifying exams results in immediate termination of the program of study.  

Please submit the application to take qualifying exams (PDF) to the Dean of Students office.

The dissertation is the written culmination of the doctoral degree program and represents a contribution of original research to the chosen field of scholarly inquiry.  

Upon successful completion of the doctoral qualifying exams, the student may proceed to submit the dissertation proposal.  A colloquium is held in which the student discusses the proposal with the advisor and dissertation committee for approval.  The student then submits the proposal with a request for admisison to candidacy to the Dean of Students for review by the Committee on Degrees.  Comprised of scholars from across the Divinity School's eleven areas of study, the student benefits from a multi-disciplinary discussion of the proposed dissertation project.  The student is admitted to PhD candidacy upon completion of the Committee's review.

The student must submit the dissertation proposal within one calendar year of completing the doctoral qualifying exams.

While students' programs and research will vary, students are normally expected to reach candidacy no later than the fifth year of study.

Why Chicago?

Professor Wendy Doniger discusses the Divinity School's (and the University's) culture of interdiciplinarity and collegiality. 

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