Theology PhD Program - Princeton Theological Seminary

Theology PhD Program

Graduates of the PhD program serve as faculty of colleges, universities, and seminaries, in churches, and as leaders of nonprofit organizations. They represent the next generation of thinkers whose ideas are vital for the flourishing of church and society.

The PhD program requires two years of coursework, comprehensive examinations on a range of subjects in the third year, and a dissertation of approximately 200 pages, which is typically completed in the fourth and fifth years.

Current PhD Students

PhD Course of Study

The fields of the Department of Theology (Christian ethics, history of doctrine, philosophy, and systematic theology) are closely related. Students are typically examined in each, as well as in the particular field chosen for specialization. The department offers a cycle of seminars in its principal fields. Students will typically register for at least one seminar in each field for which they intend to be examined. In addition to the seminars, some carefully selected MDiv courses or graduate offerings at Princeton University, which are also open to PhD students, may be recommended.

In the first two years of the PhD program, students will divide their eight required courses according to a “4/4” structure:

Four courses must be taken as seminars in the Theology Department. The remaining four required courses can be taken as seminars or as a combination of Princeton University courses, independent studies, PhD seminars in other departments, or MDiv courses with PhD-level writing assignments negotiated with the professor of the course.

The following restrictions apply:

  • Princeton University courses: No more than 3 out of the 8 required courses
  • Independent Studies: No more than 3 out of the 8 required courses
  • PhD seminars in other PTS departments: No more than 3 of the 8 required courses
  • MDiv courses: No more than 1 of the 8 required courses

Courses taken beyond the eight requirements can fall under the forms described above. A concentration in ethics may be pursued either within the Theology Department or through the Religion and Society Program. In the Theology Department, ethical inquiry takes place in the context of systematic theology, history of doctrine, and philosophy. In the Religion and Society Program, ethical inquiry focuses on religion, politics, and social life.

A concentration in history of doctrine may be pursued within the Theology Department or the History and Ecumenics Department. In the Theology Department, the intent is to study the history of theology for the constructive theological task in the present day. Graduates are primarily theologians whose work has been focused on historical materials. In the History and Ecumenics Department, the intent is to provide an understanding of theology in the context of the historical setting and the development of the Christian faith. Graduates are primarily historians who have focused on the development of theological ideas. The difference between the two departments and the examinations that students take is primarily methodological.

After the completion of course work, students wishing to proceed to the dissertation stage must sit for comprehensive examinations prescribed in accordance with each of the four areas taught by the department—ethics, history of doctrine, philosophy and theology, and systematic theology.

Two of these exams must be five-hour timed exams that the student completes without consulting books, notes, or articles. The other two exams may be five-hour timed, 24-hour take home, or essays. Books, notes, and articles may be consulted during a 24-hour take home exam. The essay must be a paper of 8,000–10,000 words. Students will determine the form of each exam in consultation with their examiners.

  1. Ethics—examinations in ethics, philosophy, systematic theology, and a written paper or the examination in history of doctrine or a second examination in ethics
  2. History of doctrine—examinations in history of doctrine, philosophy, systematic theology, and a written paper or the examination in ethics or a second examination in history of doctrine
  3. Philosophy and theology (including theology and science)—examinations in philosophy, systematic theology, and the examination in ethics or history of doctrine, and an examination in theology and science (or by special permission a written paper on an approved topic)
  4. Systematic theology—examinations in systematic theology, philosophy, ethics, and a written paper or the examination in history of doctrine or a second examination in systematic theology

Comprehensive examinations may be taken in May of a student’s second year of study and completed in September of the third year, or they may be taken in September of a student’s third year of study and completed the following January. It is also possible for a student to take all four exams in September of the third year.

Completion of all written examinations is followed within three weeks by an oral examination. All faculty who serve as first and second readers for each exam will be present at the oral examination.