Graduate Student Handbook
Table of Contents
The M.A. Degree:
A. Purpose and Course of Study
B. Language Proficiency
C. The M.A. Core Course Exams
The Ph.D. Degree:
A. The Nature of the Degree
C. Language Proficiency
D. The Ph.D. Comprehensive Exams
F. Doctoral Committee
G. Expected Schedule of Progress
The M.A. Degree
A. Purpose and Course of Study
The M.A. is the first academic degree in theology on the graduate level. As such, its primary purpose is to introduce students to the study of theology as an academic discipline. Such an introduction includes first of all training in the different methods used by scholars in the field. It also seeks to provide a basic exposure to the different branches of the theological enterprise, while permitting more specialized concentration in an area of particular interest.
As part of its attempt to provide a methodological and substantive overview of the field, the Fordham M.A. specifies a core of six courses to be taken by every student. This core comprises two courses each from the biblical, historical, and systematic sections of the department, as follows:
THEO 5820 Introduction to the Old Testament
THEO 5890 Introduction to the New Testament
THEO 5300 History of Christianity I
THEO 5301 History of Christianity II
THEO 5620 Introduction to Systematic Theology
THEO 6700 Introduction to Theological Ethics†
†Another course in moral theology may be substituted with departmental approval.
Students who have previously taken one of these courses on the graduate level, and can provide appropriate documention of tis content, methods, and assessments, may petition to substitute another course in its place with the permission of their section coordinators.
The remainder of the M.A. program is ordinarily devoted to intensive work in one of the three sections of the department. This aspect of the program allows students to concentrate in an area ofpersonal interest, and as such it provides an opportunity for them to determine whether further academic study in that area is appropriate. Students plan the specifics of this part of the program in consultation with their section coordinators.
In all, the M.A. program consists of ten courses for students concentrating in the historical or systematic areas and twelve courses for students concentrating in the biblical area. At the conclusion of each of the six core courses, every students sits for an examination which covers the core course material, assigned readings, and lecture materials.
B. Language Proficiency
Students in the M.A. program need to be able to use theological resources in either Frenchor German. The ability to read theology in a foreign language is important for two reasons: it makes the student a member of a community of theologians that is broader than English-speaking North Americans, and it enriches the theological imagination by offering access to different ways of speaking and hence of thinking.
1. Proficiency in either German or French is required for the M.A. degree.
1.1. The student must attempt to demonstrate this proficiency by the end of the second semester of course work, if not earlier.
2. Proficiency in both German and French is required for the Ph.D. degree.
2.1. For the Ph.D. , reading skill in one language must be demonstrated by the end of the first semester of course work, if not earlier. Skill in the second language must be demonstrated by the end of the third semester of course work, if not earlier.
3. For both M.A. and Ph.D. degrees, this proficiency is demonstrated by taking the appropriate language exam administered by the department.
3.1. The departmental language exam will be drawn up by members of the department. It will include a text that the student is asked to translatewith a dictionary with a fair measure of accuracy in the time permitted. It may also include questions of comprehension about the text.
3.2. In advance of the examination date, students register to take this language exam in the Theology Office. 3.3. The language examinations will be administered once each semester in conjunction with the M.A. exam.
3.4. The grade for the exam is Pass or Fail.
3.5. A failing grade is not registered on the permanent record. If the student fails, he or she takes the examination in the next semester.
4. Proficiency in Latin is required for students who concentrate in historical theology and intend to write their dissertations in an area of western patristic or medieval theology.
5. Proficiency in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek is required for students who concentrate in biblical studies. Proficiency is demonstrated by successfully passing the courses delineated in the grid provided by the biblical section of the department. Other ancient languages may also be required in keeping with the student's proposed area of research.
C. The M. A. Core Course Exams
The M.A. core course exams exams give students an opportunity to demonstrate their competence in each of the six core areas. The reading assignments and lectures will provide the basis for the exams. These exams will require knowledge of the distinctive methods and contributions of the three disciplines of biblical studies, historical theology and contemporary systematic theology. Students are encouraged to form study groups with members of their cohort in the class in preparation for these exams.
1. The Department of Theology requires a comprehensive examination for each of the six core courses in the master's degree.
2. These examinations are required for all students who began the master's program in or after the fall semester of 2012.
3. The subject matter for the examinations is the content of the six core courses required of all M.A. students (Old Testament, New Testament, History of Christianity I, History of Christianity II, Systematic Theology, Theological Ethics).
4. The examination will take the form indicated by the core course instructor and will include the choice of essay questions.
5. The examination takes place during the scheduled exam period.
*6. The examination is written by hand or on a computer terminal in one day, under supervision, in two and a half hour session.
7. Normally books may not be used, with the possible exception of core courses in the biblical area. In these cases Bibles may be supplied by the instructor.
8. Three grades are used for the core course examinations: HP ("high pass"), P ("pass"), and F ("fail").
9. The core course grade (A, A-, B+, etc.) will be based in part on the core course examination. Students not pursuing the M.A. degree in theology will only be awarded a letter grade.
10. The written examinations are stored in the Department's files for one year.
Procedures for Students
11. Candidates will be informed of the results of the examination no later than four weeks after the examination.
12. A candidate passes the examination by achieving a grade of HP or P.
13. Candidates who fail the examination may be permitted to take the examination in the semester following if the chairperson recommends it and the dean approves.
14. Candidates who fail the examination twice may not take it a third time.
Master's Examination Proceedure
15. Each examination is graded by the faculty member who is teaching the core class. If the instructor assigns an F, two additional faculty members from the designed area read the examination. If both assign an HP or P, the student passes the examination. If one of the two assigns an F, the student fails the exam. If this is the first time the student has taken the examination, the student will be offered another opportunity to take the examination during the following semester. If it is the second time the student fails this examination, the student’s transcript will record an F for the course and will not receive the M.A.
16. The faculty member who teaches the core course will communicate the final grades of the examination to the chairperson of the Department, who informs the candidates of the results.
17. The Department of Theology requires a capstone interdisciplinary paper and oral examination during the last semester of the student’s M.A. program.
18. No later than the beginning of the last semester of course work M.A. students will select a paper previously written for one of their courses to prepare as a capstone interdisciplinary paper.
19. The student will revise and further develop the content of the previously written paper in order to develop the interdisciplinary dimensions of this work in light of conversations conducted with faculty members in two disciplines other than the one in which the paper was originally prepared (biblical, historical, systematic).
20. The student will select two faculty members in the alternate disciplines and will request the assistance of these faculty members. The student will make an appointment with the faculty members, giving them sufficient time to review the essay, in order to discuss avenues for the development of the essay in light of the particular discipline of the faculty members.
21. The revised paper will be submitted by the last Friday on the twelfth week of the student’s last semester to the three faculty members involved in the project.
22. The student will schedule in consultation with these three faculty members a one hour time period during the last week of the semester for an oral examination on the paper that will explore the interdisciplinary and integrative character of the work conducted.
23. The designated faculty members will assign the paper and oral examination a grade of HP, P, or F based on the essay and the oral examination. The student must receive two passing grades out of three to fulfill the M.A. requirement. If the essay and oral examination do not meet this standard, a request can be made by the student for a further revision of the document and a second oral examination in the subsequent semester, which must be approved by the Chair of the Department. If the student does not pass this second exam, the student will not be awarded the degree.
Adopted at the faculty meeting of March 28, 2012.
The Ph. D. Degree
A. The Nature of the Degree
The doctoral degree is the sign of accredited membership in the scholarly community of the theological academy. Its attainment represents the judgment of the faculty, as representatives of that academy, that the recipient is qualified to perform the essential functions and duties of a professional theologian.
As a university degree, the doctorate of philosophy signifies orientation to the ideals of the university as a community of learning. Not all graduates will eventually function in a university setting; but all are formed by a university environment, and are expected to be committed to what the university stands for: not for simply passing on a body of knowledge, but the advance of learning through personal and communal enterprises.
A doctor, as the word’s Latin root indicates, is first of all a teacher. Of course, no amount of education guarantees the ability to fulfill Dewey’s admonition to “teach the student, not the subject.” A successful teacher at any level must be much more than the possessor of a graduate degree. The doctorate should indicate, however, that a person is competent, from the point of view of knowledge and scholarship, to be a professor: not merely a communicator of knowledge, but a guide for others, including both undergraduate and graduate students. This means not only that one has sufficient mastery of essential information, questions, and perspectives in the field, but also that one knows how the advance of knowledge takes place: that is, that one is proficient in the methods of theological inquiry. It also implies that one has sufficient general education and mastery of the skills of communication (especially writing) to be able to advance others’ education through dialogue and evaluation.
The doctorate also implies a commitment to the advancement of learning through scholarship. University professors are expected to conduct research, present their findings in academic fora and publish their results. Publication is the means of sharing the results of one’s labors, submitting them to peer evaluation and criticism, and promoting scholarly progress. The doctorate thus implies not only a broad knowledge of the field and its methods, but also a degree of specialization that allows one to make a particular contribution. While not all teachers of theology will be under the imperative to “publish or perish,” the requirement of a written dissertation for the doctoral degree signifies the ability to engage in this dimension of scholarly life.
Scholars are also expected to contribute to the life of the field in other ways: for example, by service to the institutions that preserve and communicate knowledge. This service will take many different forms: participation in conferences and dialogues, administration of schools and departments, organization of programs, working on committees, etc. All of these should not be merely unfortunate duties that come along with an academic appointment (although in honesty it must be said that they often become exactly this), but should ideally be a part of the larger collaboration in scholarship that typifies those who have responsibility not only for their own work, but for the profession itself.
The PhD program should be looked at in the light of the nature of the degree. It presents a series of steps that are intended not as extrinsic requirements —a sort of “dues” that must be paid for a union card—but as a progressive engagement in the life functions of a theological scholar. At this stage, the student is invited increasingly to take charge of his/her education: to determine the direction of study, to begin to specialize in the field, to dialogue with and demonstrate his/her competence to representatives of the academy. Doctoral study is designed for the preparation of scholars: not simply competent teachers of theology, but ones who can also communicate with and make a contribution to the community of theologians. Hence the program aims not only at the attainment of deeper and more extensive knowledge within one of the department’s “Fields of Study” (i.e. Biblical Studies, Historical Theology/History of Christianity, Systematic Theology, and Christian Origins), but also at the formation of the habitus
of a scholar who can ask independent questions, research unexplored areas, suggest novel syntheses, and make new connections. As a doctoral student, the student is a new member of the department, collaborating with faculty in the theological enterprise while laying the foundations for a particular contribution.
Upon entering the PhD program, a student will be assigned an advisor working in the student’s intended Field of Study. This advisor will assist in the selection of courses, monitor the progress of language acquisition, and fill all additional roles necessary for good progress. By the conclusion of the first year of coursework, students may choose another member of the department to fulfill this role. All advisors are expected to keep track of the progress of their advisees and submit year-end summaries of progress to the chair. Students certainly may, but are not required to, ask their advisor to serve as the mentor for the dissertation. Some students, through graduate assistantships, will have the opportunity to work closely with individual members of the faculty in some of the everyday tasks of the academy. All students are invited not only to seek advice on their studies, but even more to get to know additional faculty members on a personal and informal basis and to engage with them in theological discussion.
With the consultation of an advisor students will take responsibility for planning a curriculum of study that is both broad and specialized. Coursework at the doctoral level, even outside seminars, demands a more active role of the student: rather than simply absorbing information, the student is expected to contribute to the encounter with texts and ideas, to design projects, and to pursue independent study.
1. Students are required to take 12 courses to fulfill the requirement for doctoral coursework. Additional ancient language courses may be required for students in appropriate Fields of Study. Individual fields of study will have specific regulations concerning specific courses within the field as well as general rules about the number of courses to be taken within the field. Ordinarily, these courses will be completed during the first four semesters (including, possibly, the summer between the second and third semester) of doctoral study.
1.1 Because it is often beneficial for students to be able to teach in a related but distinct field from their primary Field of Study, students should consult with their advisors to select one or more courses in a Field of Study other than their primary one. Ordinarily, students would select this secondary Field of Study for the minor exam of the PhD Comprehensive Exams.
1.2. Each student is required to take at least one of the department’s courses that emphasizes method.
2. In addition to the specific requirements within the field of study, students must complete a zero credit course, Teaching Theology before they are permitted to teach courses for the department.
C. Language Proficiency
In the course of doctoral studies, all students will be called upon to demonstrate reading proficiency in two modern languages and will be expected to use these linguistic skills in reading for classes and papers. The possibilities for modern language (e.g. French, German, and/or Spanish) are set by the individual Fields of Study. For some students, a similar knowledge of ancient languages such as Greek and Latin will need to be demonstrated. As a member of theological academy, students belong to the international scholarly community and must be able to enter into its theological conversations. In addition, a student’s research should be at a level of depth where the ability to refer to significant sources in their original languages will make a difference.
1. Proficiency in one modern language is required by the conclusion of the first semester of course work. Students who have obtained their language skills at other institutions must complete the department’s exam. Students who received their MA in Theology from Fordham (and have already passed one of the department’s language exam) are not required to take the same exam a second time. Students must have successfully demonstrated proficiency in these languages before sitting for their comprehensive exams.
2. Proficiency in the second modern language should be demonstrated by the conclusion of the third semester of coursework, if not earlier.
3. For both the MA and the PhD degrees, this proficiency is demonstrated by taking the appropriate language exam administered by the department.
3.1. The departmental language exam will be drawn up by members of the department. It will include a text that the student is asked to translate with a dictionary with a fair measure of accuracy in the time permitted. It may also include questions of comprehension about the text.
3.2. In advance of the examination date, students register to take this language exam in the Theology office.
3.3 The language exam will be administered once each semester in coordination with the MA exam.
3.4. The grade for the language exam is Passor Fail.
3.5. A failing exam is not registered on the permanent record. If the student fails, he or she takes the examination in the following semester.
4. Proficiency in Latin and/or Greek is required for students who concentrate in historical theology and intend to write a dissertation in a period such as Late Antiquity or the Middle Ages for which that language (or languages) is necessary. Proficiency is determined by the successful completion of the exam (or exams).
4.1 The department language exam for these ancient languages will be created and administered by members of the department working in those areas. It will include a text that the student is asked to translate with a dictionary with a fair measure of accuracy in the time permitted.
4.2. Students in Historical Theology who need to demonstrate proficiency in Latin and/or Greek, must do so prior to sitting for their PhD Comprehensive Exams.
5. Students in Biblical Theology must pass exams in Hebrew and Greek prior to sitting for their doctoral exams.
5.1 Students in Biblical Theology must complete a course in Aramaic prior to sitting for their doctoral exams.
D. The Ph.D. Comprehensive Exams
The Ph.D. comprehensive exams represent a significant step beyond the course work and before the dissertation. They are not intended to test specific knowledge gained in any particular courses, but to demonstrate that the student has a sufficient understanding of the field. The student is required to choose two general areas of research within his or her primary Field of Study and one area in a related Field of Study, which will constitute the minor exam. The fourth exam will be more narrowly focused and should reflect the student’s intended subfield of dissertation research.
The exams should provide the student with an opportunity to achieve the following goals: (1) work toward a personal synthesis of theological studies; (2) demonstrate mastery of the methods of a theological discipline; (3) foster reflection on the relation of a student’s area of specialization to the whole of theology; (4) demonstrate capacity for planning research, writing, and critical thought.
Since each exam is answered in one three-hour sitting, the student should be prepared to present an essay that shows not a cascade of facts but a carefully reasoned view of the topic. “Information” should be presented in the context of a developing argument; the purpose is to see not how much detail the student can retain, but how well the student can present an informed and logically structured argument on the topic.
Ordinarily, a student will take the exam during the sixth semester. University policy requires that no more than three semesters elapse between the completion of coursework and the comprehensive exams.
1. The Department of Theology requires a comprehensive examination for the doctor’s degree.
2. Students who began doctoral studies at Fordham in or after the Fall semester of 2009 will adhere to these conditions. Those who matriculated previously may choose to do so, or follow the previous guidelines.
3. Ordinarily, the comprehensive exam should be taken in April of the 6th semester. However, the department will also offer the exams in September and January for those students who have gained approval for an alternate date.
4. In consultation with his/her advisor, the student proposes all four topics for his/her exam: two from his/her Field of Study, one from a related minor Field of Study (normally one of the other Fields of Study offered by the department), and a dissertation area of interest.
4.1 Ordinarily, a student submits his or her petition for exams to the doctoral committee during the Spring of the student’s fourth semester.
4.2 Each Field of Study will develop standard bibliographies of primary and secondary sources for each of the possible sub-fields within their area that could be used to constitute a general exam. Each Spring, the faculty in the fields of study should consider revisions to these bibliographies so as to keep them current with developments in the field. Ideally, mastery of (or engagement with) this bibliography is intended to demonstrate the student’s capacity to offer an introductory-level course in the field. This is expected to be true of both the general exams and the minor.
4.3 The student submits a proposal to the doctoral committee that identifies the subfields for the two general exams as well as the minor exam. These three exams are simply designated by area such as “Medieval” (for Historical Theology/History of Christianity) or “Christology” (for Systematics). The doctoral committee then assigns a member of the faculty to work with the student in preparation for each of these exams.
4.4. Once the student is assigned to a specific member of the faculty for each of the general exams and the minor, the two work together to add another approximate 30% of entries to the standard bibliography for that field. This additional bibliography may reflect the student’s particular interests in the subfield, but the student remains responsible for demonstrating a sufficient understanding of the field or period in general.
5. The fourth topic should reflect an area of specialized research related to the student’s intended field of dissertation research. The student is to submit this field of research and a preliminary bibliography (normally 10-15 items) to the doctoral committee for approval. The student also proposes to the doctoral committee for approval the faculty person he or she wishes to supervise the exam. The selection of the faculty member for the exam does not necessitate that the student and faculty member will work together on the eventual dissertation, although such continuity is recognized as useful.
5.1 Once the student is assigned to a specific member of the faculty for the dissertation area exam, the two work together to build a sufficient bibliography (ordinarily comparable in length to the general exams in the Fields of Study) that not only includes the necessary sources (both primary and secondary) but also indicates that the student possesses the necessary methodological skills to pursue the question at hand.
6. The examination comprises two parts: written and oral.
7. For each written essay, the student is ordinarily provided two questions and asked to answer one of them. However, the individual examiners may ask the student to answer more than one question, understanding that the time allotted per exam remains three hours.
8. The student may answer the questions by writing them by hand or by using a computer that does not have internet access or another way to access usable information.
8.1 Normally, books may not be used. In some cases, however, (e.g. a general exam in Biblical Studies or Christian Origins) a specific book, such as the Bible, may be provided to the student.
9. All four three-hour exams are to take place, under supervision, over a two day period. At the discretion of the associate chair for graduate studies, there may be one or two days between the first and second written exam dates.
10. The second part of the examinationis held within 15 class days after the first part is finished, and lasts 90 minutes. Normally, each member of the board questions the student for about 15 minutes on their respective exam. Following this initial 15 minutes, any member of the board may ask the student about that specific exam for the 5-7 minutes remaining, before the process moves on to the next question.
Procedures for the Comprehensive Exam Board & Evaluation of Exams
1. Each PhD Comprehensive Board comprises four members, three from the student’s Field of Study and one from the student’s minor area.
2. The members of the PhD Comprehensive Board prepare the written part of the examination, participate in the oral part, and grade the entire examination (both written and oral).
3. The associate Chair for Graduate Studies solicits questions from the members of the board and administers the written examinations.
4. The minor area examiner schedules and chairs the oral part of the examination, and submits the final grade to the chairperson of the department.
5. Each member of the PhD Comprehensive Board reads each of the four essays.
6. After the oral component of the exam, each member of the PhD Comprehensive Board assigns, on a standard form and in writing, a grade for the whole examination (all four parts, both written and oral).
7. Three grades are possible: HP (High pass, ordinarily reserved for the top 10%), P (Pass) and F (Fail).
8. A student who receives the grade of HP or P from at least three of the four examiners passes the examination. A candidate who receives a grade of F from two or more of the examiners fails the examination.
9. If at least three of the four examiners assign a “HP” the candidate receives a HP for the entire examination. Otherwise, the candidate receives a grade of P.
10. The written examinations are stored in the department’s files for at least one year.
Additional Procedures for Students
1. The student must have passed all language requirements prior to taking the examinations.
2. Ordinarily, the student will take the exam during his or her sixth semester, approximately 10 months after the completion of coursework.
3. Students who defer taking their exams at this time, need the written consent of the chair to take the examination. Students should also be aware that a delay of exams can jeopardize funding.
4. Ordinarily, an application to take the examination should be submitted to the chair of the Doctoral Committee during the student’s fourth semester, while the student finishes his or her coursework. Applications shall: state how and when the language requirements have been (or in the case of ancient languages will be) fulfilled; specify the date on which the examination will take place; and list the four areas that the student proposes.
5. Soon after the applications are submitted, the chairperson of the Doctoral Committee will inform applicants if their proposed exams have been approved.
5.1 If revision of the topics is required, applicants must revise or change them until they are approved by the committee.
5.2. If approved, the Doctoral Committee will inform the student of the names of the faculty members who have been assigned to each exam.
6. In consultation with the members of the PhD Comprehensive board, the student augments the standard bibliographies for the two general and minor exams and works closely with the examiner for the dissertation area exam to build a bibliography.
7. Candidates may, in writing, withdraw their application to take the exam without penalty (excepting the concerns identified in #3) at any time up to the week before the examination. They may not withdraw after the examination has begun.
8. Candidates will be informed of their official grade within three school days of the oral component by the chair of the department.
9. Candidates who fail the examination may be permitted to retake the examination (albeit with different questions) in the following semester or later if the Chair of the department recommends and the Dean approves.
10. Candidates who are permitted to take the examination for the second time must repeat the entire examination.
11. Candidates who take the examination for the second time must pay the fee listed in the schedule of fees in the Bulletin of the Graduate School.
12. Candidates who fail the examination twice may not take it a third time.
Appendix #1: The General Examinations in Contemporary Systematics
In an effort to bring more precision and, indeed, comprehensiveness to the comprehensive examination, each student who chooses Contemporary Systematics as his or her Field of Study will adhere to the following principles concerning the two general exams:
1. The first topic that all students in Contemporary Systematics will propose is an overview of twentieth- and twenty-first century theology. A bibliography of “Paradigmatic Works” is available as the basis for this question.
2. The second topic that each student will propose is one of the areas of the “grid” in Contemporary Systematics. At the time of this revision, these areas are identified as: fundamental theology, theology of God, Christology, theological anthropology, ecclesiology, sacramental theology, and moral theology.
3. A student in another Field of Study who chooses to take a minor field in Contemporary Systematics, would select one of the fields of the grid.
Appendix #2: The General and Minor Examinations in Historical Theology/History of Christianity
At the time of this revision, the faculty of the Field of Study in Historical Theology/History of Christianity define the possible subfields of study in which a student may select a general or minor field to be: Patristic, Medieval, Reformation/Early Modern, Modern European, Modern American. Each subfield has its own bibliography selected by the faculty.
1. A student whose Field of Study is Historical Theology/History of Christianity would select two of these subfields for his or her general exams.
2. A student from another Field of Study who selects Historical Theology/History of Christianity for his or her minor exam would select one of these subfields.
Appendix #3: The General and Minor Exams in Biblical Studies
1. A student whose Field of Study is Biblical Studies will take his or her two general exams in Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and New Testament. The research area exam will focus on the testament in which the student is concentrating.
2. A student from anotherField of Study who selects Biblical Studies for his or her minor exam will specify either the general exam in Hebrew Bible/Old Testament or the general exam in New Testament.
A doctoral dissertation is the literary exposition of a thesis. The thesis is the theological proposition for which one marshals evidence and arguments. Ideally, one should be able to formulate the thesis in a declarative sentence: “my thesis is that….”
The writing of the dissertation is at the same time the last partof one’s formal education and the first major work of independent scholarship. It is meant to train the student in the skillsneeded to be a competent and productive member of the academic community, and to develop expertise in some limited area. The finished product is meant to demonstrate a number of things: that you can do scholarly research; that you have the ability to ask significant questions; that you have something original to contribute; that you can communicate intelligibly and in accepted academic form; that you can perform a task within an allotted time framework; that you have competence in your field, and are familiar with the relevant literature; that you can defend a position against objections that may be raised; and that you know and can use appropriate theological methods.
Your thesis is not simply a test of your competence, but is also meant to be a contribution to the field you are entering. It should add something new to scholarship: for example, the uncovering of new data; or a new interpretation or theory or synthesis regarding data already at hand; or a new evaluation or judgment of data or theories or their results; or the proposal of a new method or course of action to be followed.
The subject matter of a theology dissertation may serve any of Tracy’s three “publics” of theology: the academy (foundational theologies), the church (systematic theologies), or society at large (practical theologies). But by its form the dissertation is always addressed to the academy; it is a work of scholarship.
Although scholarship may be focused in different ways in the various field specializations, every thesis will include some degree of research, at least into the state of a question; and every thesis will include some degree of argument and judgment, at least regarding the theological relevance of one’s data.
The dissertation must be methodologically self-conscious. It must justify its method and structure and continually demonstrate their presence.
A. Doctoral Dissertation Proposal
The dissertation proposal presents the student’s plan for a major research project, in fulfillment of the last essential requirement for the degree. The proposal should contain the following components:
1. A brief statement of the problem to be studied and the background or antecedents of the issue which lead the candidate to propose a study of this particular area.
2. A statement of the thesis.
3. A description of the method(s) to be used, and of the logical order in which the research is expected to unfold.
4. An outline of the contents of the dissertation in chapter form or other sequential units.
5. The specific contribution that this study is expected to make to the field of theology.
6. Testimony to the originality of the precise research thesis being proposed.
1. Ordinarily, the written dissertation follows the usage prescribed by the Chicago Manual of Style. The main points of this usage are found in the current edition of Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. 2.
Dissertations in Biblical Studies as well as dissertations that cite the Bible will follow the style sheet of the Society of Biblical Literature.
C. Proposal Development and Acceptance
1. The student selects a member of the department in the area of the student’s interest to be the mentor of the dissertation. In consultation with the mentor, thestudent selects two readers in related fields to be readers. The mentor has primary responsibility for the direction of the dissertation according to the needs of the project.
2. The student meets with the mentor and two readers to discuss the student’s idea and to begin shaping the proposal.
3. As soon as the student selects a mentor and two readers, he or she applies for approval of the dissertation committee by filling out the appropriate form and submitting it to the chair of the Doctoral Committee. This form should be submitted to the Doctoral Committee at least one meeting before the dissertation proposal is submitted. When the form is signed by the chair of the Doctoral Committee, it is filed in the departmental office.
4. The student continues to shape the proposal until the mentor and two readers approve it. The student submits the proposal, signed by the mentor and the two readers, to the department. The proposal must be in the departmental office at least three weeks before the stated meeting of the Doctoral Committee at which the student wants the proposal to be considered. The student submits the Approval of Dissertation Form along with the proposal.
5. At the same time, the student distributes copies of the proposal and working bibliography to all members of the department. The faculty are strongly encouraged to communicate commendations, suggestions, or reservations about any part of a proposal to members of the Doctoral Committee. These responses are preferably written, but may be communicated orally.
6. The Doctoral Committee meets at least once each semester to consider and act on all the proposals submitted. Proposals cannot be considered outside the regularly scheduled meetings of the Doctoral Committee.
7. The Doctoral Committee may act on a dissertation proposal in one of four ways: 1) accept without change; 2) provisionally accept, with revisions to be carried out under the supervision of the mentor; 3) send back for specified revision, with the proposal resubmitted to the Doctoral Committee; or 4) reject the proposal entirely.
8. Subsequent changes in the committee and significant changes in the proposal must be approved by the Doctoral Committee.
D. Dissertation Defense
The purpose of the dissertation defense is twofold. First, the defense gives the student the opportunity to justify the written thesis: its presuppositions, methodology, use of sources, argumentation, and conclusions. Second, it is an opportunity for the student to explain the context and significance of the thesis, that is, to show how the thesis relates to other aspects of theology, to different views, and wider perspectives.
1. The mentor and two readers sign a form indicating their judgment that the written thesis is ready for defense.
2.1. The departmental chair appoints two additional faculty examiners.
2.2. At least three weeks before the scheduled defense, copies of the finished thesis are given to the examiners.
2.3. Substantive reservations on the part of an examiner about any aspect of the written dissertation should becommunicated to the mentor in advance of the defense.
1. The mentor conducts the defense
2. Ordinarily the defense lasts from ninety to one hundred twenty minutes.
3.1. The mentor invites the candidate to lead off with a short presentation. This should include a succinct statement of the thesis and its conclusions as well as any matters of interest not in the text, such as surprises encountered during the research, dead-ends, new insights, and/or the contribution of this thesis to the field of theology.
3.2. The mentorthen examines the student.
3.3. The mentor calls upon each of the readers to examine the student.
3.4. The mentor invites the examiners to question the student. As faculty outside the process of writing and correcting this particular dissertation, the examiners focus more on the relation of the thesis to the broader areas of theology that they represent. Questions about the content of the thesis are also in order.
3.5. Follow-up questions from the mentor, readers, or examiners may be permitted.
4. When the conversation is concluded, the candidate is invited to leave the room.
5. The mentor leads a discussion about the merits of the written thesis and the candidate’s oral performance in defense of it.
6.1. Subsequent to this discussion, the mentor passes out the voting cards printed by GSAS. Two written votes are then taken. The first vote is cast by the mentor and the two readers concerning the quality and scholarly validity of the written dissertation.
6.2. A unanimous vote (three) is required to pass.
6.3. The first vote must be counted and announced before the second is taken.
6.4. The second vote is cast by the mentor, readers, and examiners concerning the quality and scholarly validity of the oral defense.
6.5. A total of four out of five votes in favor of the candidate is required to pass.
6.6. Both the first and second votes must be pass in order for the defense to be passed.
1. The mentor informs the candidate of the results of the vote.
2. The mentor informs the departmental chair of the outcome.
3. A candidate who passes makes any corrections that may be required. The candidate then presents copies of the finished thesis to the Office of Graduate Dean and completes the paperwork, according to the norms of the university.
4.1. A candidate who does not pass may repeat the defense one time only. Preparation for the repeat defense may include doing further research to clarify ideas or deepen understanding; reading more widely in the field; and/ or rewriting sections of the dissertation to strengthen the thesis or correct errors.
4.2. According to the norms of the University, a candidate who does not pass the second defense is released from the doctoral program without a degree.
F. Doctoral Committee
The Department Chair appoints a six-member Doctoral Committee. Normally, each field of study will be represented on this committee. At the first appointment, two members are appointed for three-year terms, two for two-year terms, and two for one-year terms. Thereafter, all appointments are for three-year terms.
With respect to the comprehensive exams, the Doctoral Committee has three responsibilities: (1) each year it solicits the possible general fields and bibliographies from each Field of Study; (2) it approves (or requires revision) of the exam proposal submitted by students; and (3) it creates a PhD comprehensive exam board for each student and assigns specific members of the faculty to individual exams.
With respect to the dissertation, the Doctoral Committee has two responsibilities: (1) to approve requests for readers who are not members of the department; and (2) to approve the dissertation proposal. Concerning the latter, the Doctoral Committee may act in one of four ways: (1) accept without change; (2) provisionally accept, with revisions to be carried out under the supervision of the mentor; (3) send back for specified revision, with the proposal to be resubmitted to the Doctoral Committee; or (4) reject the proposal entirely.
G. Expected Schedule of Progress
|1st (1st year)
|2nd (1st year)
||ancient if nec.
|3rd (2nd year)
|4th (2nd year)
||ancient if nec.
||ancient if nec.
|5th (3rd year)
||ancient if nec.
|6th (3rd year)
|7th (4th year)
|8th (4th year)