Religion & Society PhD Program - Princeton Theological Seminary

Religion & Society PhD Program

The Religion and Society Program promotes interdisciplinary reflection that critically examines religious and social life. With “the religious” and “the social” as its two areas of focus, the program equips doctoral students with theoretical resources and diverse perspectives that enhance and deepen their theological studies and Christian practices in church and society. These areas of study are important for structuring the program’s conceptual field and its comprehensive exams.

PhD Studies Current PhD Students

PhD Course of Study

The faculty of the program bring a variety of perspectives and expertise in:

  1. Religious studies (e.g., sociology of religion, history of religion, philosophy of religion)
  2. Social sciences (e.g., sociology, anthropology, political science, economics)
  3. Humanities (e.g., history, literature)
  4. Ethics (e.g., religious, social, theological)
  5. Theology (e.g., systematic, doctrinal, constructive)

Doctoral students are expected to learn from disciplines of the university, even as they focus those disciplines for distinctive concerns and contexts of Christian theological traditions. This program not only enables scholarship at the Seminary to sustain its own community of research into religious and social issues, it also serves as a liaison between the Seminary and Princeton University and, on occasion between the Seminary and other nearby institutions.

The dual focus on religion and society, and its distinctive interdisciplinary work, has traditionally made the Religion and Society Program an important resource for international as well as U.S. scholars. The PhD program places a high value on a functioning diversity of scholars from this country and from abroad, who come together to reflect critically on issues of justice and peace, and on human differences that are not only religious, social, and theological, but also cultural, political, and economic.

The Religion and Society Program has traditionally sought to fuse rigorous reflection with social criticism and prophetic discourse.

  • Critical Issues in the History of Religions
  • The American Jeremiad: American Religion in Cultural Context
  • Methods in Theological and Religious Studies
  • Aquinas on Law and the Virtues
  • Theological Anthropology
  • Race, Racism, and Religion in America

The interdisciplinary ethos of the Religion and Society Program is structured for doctoral students around four comprehensive exams, usually toward the end of the second year of residence. One of these exams should be selected by examinees as their “theory and methods exam,” in which they include special attention to theoretical and methodological options and debates pertinent to that exam.

  1. Religion and religions—This exam should demonstrate excellence in knowledge of religious studies and at least one non-Christian tradition.
  2. Social sciences or the humanities—This exam should demonstrate excellence in one theoretical perspective on the “social” in either the social science or the humanities.
  3. Ethics—This exam should demonstrate excellence in the knowledge of religious, social, or theological ethics.
  4. A Dissertation-related theme or problematic—This exam should demonstrate excellence in analyzing a theme or problem that will be significant in the writing of the dissertation.

The first two exams enable disciplined attention to the areas of study, which set the conceptual field of religion and society. The third exam in ethics is required because analysis of the moral life, and ethical reflection upon it, has been a key site wherein religious and social themes often intersect in theological studies and Christian practice. The fourth exam enables students to focus research and thinking about their dissertations. These exams are “qualifying” exams in that they certify readiness to proceed to the dissertation proposal and writing phases of the program.