History & Ecumenics PhD Program

The PhD program in history and ecumenics offers two tracks: (1) History of Christianity, and (2) World Christianity and the History of Religions (WCHR).

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PhD Course of Study | History & Ecumenics

History of Christianity

At PTS, the history of Christianity is an integrative, interdisciplinary program that encompasses social, theological, institutional and cultural history of the world’s Christian communities, their ideas and practices. It also offers resources from related fields in the history of religions, history of worship, sociology of religion, missiology and ecumenism. The program’s goal is to train scholars to develop an area of specialization within a context of breadth, balancing particular interests with an attention to Christianity’s larger history and global expansion.

Areas of Specialization

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.

Modern Europe
The history of Christianity in modern Europe covers the period from the end of the Thirty Years War (1648) to the present. This is a time of dramatic social, economic, intellectual and political changes, in which Europe passes from a region in which the church and Christian identity were central to social, cultural and political life, to one where the church to a significant extent has been displaced by a broad variety of practices, ideas and institutions out towards the margins of national, social and even personal life. In an effort to form a deeper understanding of this transformation the study of the history of Christianity in modern Europe focuses in particular on the interface of the church and Christianity with broader aspects of European society and culture.

Modern North America
The history of Christianity of North America is a rich tapestry of movements, denominations, and communities. The study of American Christian History involves an interdisciplinary approach reflective of the complexity of American society. Diverse research methods, including the use of archival study, literature, and primary texts, reveal a picture of the important themes, events, and leaders that have shaped religious faith from America’s founding until today. Situated in a multicultural and multi-faith context, the history of Christianity in North America provides a model for understanding the cycles of growth, decline, and influence of Christendom in the global context.

Residence Requirements
The program in Church History and History of Doctrine includes five eras: the early church, the medieval church, the Reformation, the modern European church, the American church. Over the two years of residence, a student must successfully complete eight doctoral seminars. The purpose of coursework is to develop historical breadth, hone research skills, and to prepare for comprehensive exams.

Students must choose these seminars in consultation with their advisers to constitute a coherent core of studies while meeting the following distribution requirements:

1. A departmental seminar or individual tutorial on historical method.
2. Church History seminars in at least three different eras (early, medieval, Reformation, modern, American).
3. One seminar chosen from doctoral offerings at Princeton University.
4. At least one seminar from among the Department’s broader offerings, such as mission, ecumenics, history of religions and sociology of religion.
5. Two electives, chosen from doctoral courses of the Department, the rest of the Seminary, or the University.

PhD candidates 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.

Language proficiency in French and German is required. PhD candidates 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.

Early in the period of residence, students should begin to think of possible thesis topics and should be prepared to submit a research topic statement to the Department by the end of the second year, following the departmental guidelines available from the residence committee.

Comprehensive Examinations
During their first two years of residence, candidates choose three historical eras of specialization from among the five (early, medieval, Reformation, modern European, modern American), and communicate this to their residence committee. There will be a total of four written exams, one of which may be submitted as a research paper. Any one of these exams will combine the era with another field of study of the department (e.g. ecumenics, history of religions, missiology, sociology of religion). After the written exams are completed, there will be a comprehensive oral examination based on all four of them. The four exams will be based on the chosen eras and include the following:

1. One specialized exam in the areas defined as requisite background for the proposed dissertation. This typically falls within one of the three chosen eras. (If a candidate’s dissertation topic involves more than one era, adjustments to the exam structure may be made by the residence committee).
#2-4. Three examinations, one in the era of the dissertation; two based on the other eras of choice, one on each. One of the three examinations will include half of the exam on one of the department’s broader offerings (world christianity and the history of religions, and sociology of religion).

All examiners are appointed by the Department in consultation with the student and his or her residence committee. Bibliographies for the examinations are compiled by the student in consultation with the examiner. Interdisciplinary exams involve one examiner for each discipline. In all cases, the instructors setting the examination have final responsibility for determining the bibliography.

World Christianity and the History of Religions (WCHR)

The program 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 program 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 program 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 program 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 program provides a rigorous scholarly foundation for a multifaceted study of World Christianity’s many worlds.

Residence Requirements
Students are expected to complete eight seminars during two years of residence. These seminars will include at least one from each of the three major components of the program: World Christianity, the History of Religions, and Intercultural Theologies and at least one seminar each from History of Christianity and Princeton University. The remaining seminars may draw on courses in the MDiv program (with enhanced requirements) that have a bearing on a student’s area of concentration. The program may be rounded out by doctoral seminars offered elsewhere in the Seminary or the University. The resulting program will be tailored individually by students in consultation with their residence committee. Students are encouraged to participate in the monthly colloquium for PhD students and faculty conducted by the Department of History and Ecumenics. During their two-years of course work, students are expected, in consultation with their advisory committee, to craft a research topic having the potential for approval as a dissertation once the comprehensive exams have been passed.

Comprehensive Examinations
Following the two-year period of residence, students will take a series of comprehensive examinations. Passing these examinations qualifies a PhD candidate to submit her or his dissertation proposal and to begin concentrated work on the dissertation. Methods and specific content of the exams will be negotiated with the residence committee. There will be a total of four comprehensive examinations, with an option for a fifth:

  1. Historiography of World Christianity (in relation to one or more of the global South areas covered by the faculty).
  2. Theory and methodology for the History of Religions in relation to one (or more than one) religious tradition found within the global South areas covered by the faculty.
  3. Theory and methodology for the study and practice of Intercultural Theologies (in relation to one or more of the global South areas covered by the faculty). Alternatively, the exam may have a more specific focus on one or more of the following: interreligious dialogue, comparative theology, theology of religions.
  4. Social science theory and methodology for the study of World Christianity (in relation to one or more of the global South areas covered by the faculty).

Note that in lieu of an examination in social science theory and methodology, or in addition to it, an essay may be submitted illustrative of a theme or topic that might be treated in a student’s doctoral dissertation.

Submission of Dissertation Proposal
Following successful completion of the comprehensive examinations, a Ph.D. candidate is expected to submit a dissertation proposal for approval, first by the residence committee, which will guide the process, and then by the department.

View list of 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.”