Princeton Seminary | History & Ecumenics PhD Program
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History & Ecumenics PhD Program

The History and Ecumenics Department features world-class scholars who specialize in the historical development and contemporary trajectories of Christianity, often in the context of other religious traditions. The faculty’s expertise reaches across time and around the world. The graduates of our PhD program have gone on to be professors and administrators in major research universities and in theological institutions, as well as significant leaders in church and society beyond.

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PhD Student Profiles | History & Ecumenics

PhD Course of Study | History & Ecumenics

The History and Ecumenics Department features five tracks for doctoral study. Prospective students should identify one in which their doctoral work will be centered, though the faculty also encourage and support work that develops across and in collaboration between tracks.

Tracks

Early Christianity and Its World
Beginning as a sectarian movement within Palestinian Judaism, Christianity emerged through a process of religious, social and cultural encounter both within the Roman Empire and beyond its borders to the east. Within a few centuries Christian communities had developed in Europe, Africa and Asia, and their members had produced a broad array of literature (theological, exegetical, historical, hagiographic and liturgical) in a plethora of languages (Arabic, Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopic, Georgian, Greek, Latin and Syriac). They also created a rich trove of material culture from jewelry to liturgical implements to massive structures for community worship. Study of this period of Christian history rests on a foundation of linguistic, cultural and religious knowledge about the ancient world, and it embraces the theological, exegetical, liturgical and archeological study of Christian communities from the New Testament period through the rise of Islam. Our program offers many points of entry into this complex field of study.

Medieval Christianity and Its World
By “medieval” Christian history we mean an entire millennium, from 500 to 1500. In this era, the history of theology (and philosophy) is inseparable from the institutional history of Christianity, its worship and art, especially in the encounter with Islam. Although the idea of “middle” ages stems from Western Europe (in the middle between antiquity and the Renaissance) we here include the Eastern Orthodox churches not only in Byzantium and Russia but also in Asia, North Africa, and Ethiopia.

Reformation and Its World
The major religious changes of the Reformation were one of the most significant factors in the early modern era (1450-1650), and they were not confined to western Europe, or to theology or church structures alone. The Reformation and Its World covers church, social and theological history, Christian life, worship, and mission in a global frame. Titles of courses and doctoral seminars indicate some of the wide-ranging themes addressed and specific topics treated in depth in this area of specialization, as well as how this era forms an integral part of the wider history of Christianity in the world.

Religion in the Americas
The religion in the Americas track brings into focus the interconnectedness of religious worlds across North America, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Coursework will introduce students to historical, anthropological, sociological, and other theoretical methods and approaches to the study of religion in the Americas. In their own research students can focus on a variety of topics, including the relationship of religion to politics, economics, culture, migration, identity, urbanization, and other deep structures shaping everyday life in the Americas. This track trains students to think not only across space and region but also across time from the 15th century to the present. In addition, the track challenges students to think about the connections between past and present, including how deep histories of coloniality, race, interculturality, and more relate to pressing social ethical questions for today.

World Christianity and the History of Religions
This track dedicates itself to fostering an integrated, interdisciplinary approach to the study of Christianity and the history of Christianity as a pluricultural, global phenomenon. Though primarily focused on Christianity’s burgeoning presence in the global South (Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Pacific), the contemporary worldwide diffusion of global South Christianity in its various diasporas also falls within the program’s purview. Given that the world’s religions condition the dominant context out of which Christianity emerges in the global South, the faculty responsible for the track consider a grounding in the History of Religions to be indispensable for a proper understanding of World Christianity in its diverse global contexts. While nurturing a broad perspective on Christianity’s variegated, cross- cultural and transnational, diasporic manifestations, the track also endeavors to provide a space in the doctoral curriculum of the Seminary for the study and practice of Intercultural Theologies, using as its primary resources a wide range of theologies that find expression in the global South. The track thus hopes to enhance the ecumenical interrelations of the global Christian communion, including its interactions with believers from other faith communities. As a whole, the track provides a rigorous scholarly foundation for a multifaceted study of World Christianity’s many worlds.

Residence Requirements

All tracks in the History & Ecumenics doctoral program require that a student successfully complete a minimum of eight doctoral seminars. The purpose of coursework is to develop expertise, hone research skills, and to prepare for comprehensive exams. Ordinarily, these eight courses will include:

  1. A departmental seminar or individual tutorial on methodology.
  2. One seminar chosen from doctoral offerings at Princeton University.

Additional course requirements vary by track, as follows:

Early Christianity and its World
--one seminar in early Christianity
--one seminar from at least three of the other four tracks: medieval Christianity, Reformation, Religion in the Americas, World Christianity

Medieval Christianity and its World
--one seminar in medieval Christianity
--one seminar from at least three of the other four tracks: early Christianity, Reformation, Religion in the Americas, World Christianity

Reformation and its World
--one seminar in Reformation
--one seminar from at least three of the other four tracks: early Christianity, medieval Christianity, Religion in the Americas, World Christianity

Religion in the Americas
--one seminar on North American religious history
--one seminar on Latin American religions
--one seminar on World Christianity
--one seminar on early Christianity, medieval Christianity, or the Reformation

World Christianity and the History of Religions
--one seminar on World Christianity
--one seminar on the history of religions
--one seminar on intercultural theologies
--one seminar on early Christianity, medieval Christianity, the Reformation, or Religion in the Americas

Students will choose their courses in consultation with their advisers in order to ensure a coherent and maximally useful course of study. PhD students are free to audit other courses in the Seminary catalogue, such as those offered in the Master’s program. If such courses are taken for PhD credit, additional work will usually be required.

In addition to their coursework, students in residence are required to attend the departmental colloquium.

Language requirements vary by track, as follows:

Early Christian Studies
Students must demonstrate proficiency in four languages--two ancient and two modern--by the end of their 2nd year in the doctoral program. Students must demonstrate proficiency in at least two of these languages prior to matriculation. Ancient languages: Greek and one of the following: Latin, Coptic, or Arabic Modern languages: French and German

Medieval Christianity
Students must demonstrate proficiency in Latin, French, and German by the end of their 2nd year in the doctoral program (when appropriate, an alternative modern language, e.g. Spanish, may be approved). Students must demonstrate proficiency in two of the languages (including Latin and either French, German, or an alternative modern research language) prior to matriculation.

Reformation and the World
Students must demonstrate proficiency in Latin, French, and German by the end of their 2nd year in the doctoral program. Students must demonstrate proficiency in two of these three languages prior to matriculation.

Religion in the Americas
Students must demonstrate proficiency in one modern research language by the end of their 2nd year in the program. Ordinarily this language will be Spanish or Portuguese, though, when there is a clear and compelling rationale, students may petition their residency committee to count a different language toward this requirement. This petition must be approved by the end of the 1st year.

World Christianity and the History of Religions
Students must demonstrate proficiency in one modern research language by the end of their 2nd year in the program. This language, which will ordinarily be relevant to the dissertation, will be determined in consultation with the residence committee.

PhD students are also encouraged to develop further language skills through auditing Seminary courses or enrolling in appropriate University courses. These opportunities, however, do not count toward the eight seminars.

Comprehensive Examinations

Across tracks, doctoral students in History & Ecumenics will take four comprehensive exams. The format and content of three of the exams may vary and will be determined in consultation between the student and their residency committee. Possible formats include:

  • a course research and design proposal
  • a 36-hour, open book/notes, take-home exam, with questions on topics, figures, and texts agreed upon in advance. This exam will give the student a chance to exhibit control and clear understanding of a field of knowledge---its key texts, figures, controversies, and problematics. Such an exam will typically be 15-25 double-spaced pages.
  • a 6-hour (8 total, with a 2-hour break), seated, closed book/closed notes examination. Such an exam will typically be 10-15 double-spaced pages, though sometimes longer.
  • a 2 or 3 question exam completed over 5 weeks. The start date will be agreed upon by the student and their examiners. Books and notes allowed. Each question will require roughly 10-15 pages (double-spaced) of text.

In every case, the fourth will be a dissertation-related paper of 20-25 pages, which should, whenever possible, represent a significant step toward the crafting of a dissertation proposal. Finally, note that at least three different formats must be used across the four exams. Only one exam may be a course research and design proposal.

All examiners are selected through consultation between the student and their residency committee. A first and second reader will be assigned to each examination. Bibliographies for the examinations are compiled by the student in consultation with the first reader. Each of the four bibliographies will include between 40 and 100 sources/books/articles. After the written exams are completed, there will be a comprehensive oral examination based on all four of them. Students will receive feedback on the written examinations at least three days prior to the oral examination. At the conclusion of a successful oral defense the student will work with their residence committee chair to select a dissertation committee, which will be approved by the department and will help to guide them through the rest of the program.

Track-specific requirements regarding the content of examinations are as follows:

Early Christianity and its World
--one exam on early Christianity
--two exams focused on two of the other four tracks: medieval, Reformation, Religion in the Americas, and/or World Christianity

Medieval Christianity and its World
--one exam on medieval Christianity
--two additional exams, each focused on one of the other four tracks: early, Reformation, Religion in the Americas, and/or World Christianity

Reformation and its World
--one exam on Reformation
--two additional exams, each focused on one of the other four tracks: early medieval, Religion in the Americas, and/or World Christianity

Religion in the Americas
--one exam on North American religious history
--one exam on Latin American religions
--one exam developed in accordance with the students’ research interest (options include but are not limited to: theories of religion, a religion other than Christianity, world Christianity methodologies, early Christianity, medieval Christianity, the Reformation)

World Christianity and the History of Religions
--one exam on the historiography of World Christianity (in relation to one or more of the global South areas covered by the faculty)
--one exam on theory and methodology for the History of Religions; and social science theory and methodology for the study of World Christianity (in relation to one or more religious traditions found within the global South or diaspora areas covered by the faculty)
--one exam on intercultural theory, methodology, and theology applied to the study of World Christianity (in relation to one or more of the global South areas covered by the faculty)

Dissertation Proposal

Following successful completion of the comprehensive examinations, a PhD candidate is expected to submit a dissertation proposal for approval, first by the newly-constituted dissertation committee, which will guide the process, and then by the department. The proposal will typically be 20-25 pages and will include an overview of the research question and approach; an overview of the existing literature; and an initial attempt to describe the way that the argument will develop and the chapters will unfold. The proposal must be approved by the department prior to the end of the student’s 3rd year.

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List of History & Ecumenics PhD Graduates

Educating faithful Christian leaders.

Associate Pastor, Faith Lutheran Church, Bismarck, ND

Sylvia Bull, Class of 2015

“My field education placements lifted up my gifts for ordained ministry, and the dual-degree program helped me develop the skills for ministry.”