Overview of Program Requirements

Study for the degree of Doctor of Theology extends through four stages: course-work, general examinations, prospectus, and dissertation. Candidates for this degree must fulfill the following:


Two years of doctoral study in residence are required. During those two years, students must register for and complete at least four credit courses per term. A student must have achieved the minimum grade point average of "B" in each academic year and meet all regulations governing enrollment of incompletes.


Student progress will be monitored by the doctoral subcommittee of the Committee on the Study of Religion in cooperation with each student’s advisor. Once the prospectus for the dissertation is approved, the dissertation shall be written under the supervision of one or more advisers approved by the Committee.

Language Requirements

All doctoral students must achieve at least intermediate reading competence in two modern languages of secondary scholarship relevant to their course of study (such as French, German, Japanese), in addition to whatever primary source languages are required in their field, either for textual or ethnographic study. The student and advisor shall consult to decide upon the two modern languages. All language requirements must be met before General Examinations are taken


First-year students are required to take the Common Doctoral Seminar (HDS 4599). Its purpose is to introduce major questions and/or problems in the study of religion and to offer an opportunity for critical reflection on the nature and boundaries of religious and theological inquiry. In addition, students must take the graduate seminars required by their field of concentration, as well as other courses and seminars determined in consultation with an academic adviser.

Second Year Review

An oral second year review (one-and-one-half hours) occurs in the third, or at the latest, in the fourth semester of study. The purpose of this review is to consider and clarify the overall design and progress of a student’s academic program and to assess the student’s academic progress in general.

General Examinations

After the satisfactory completion of two years of full-time study, all language requirements, required coursework, and the second year-review, a student prepares for the General Examinations. Th.D. students are normally expected take their General examinations by the end of their third year, except in special cases (e.g., Hebrew Bible and Comparative Religion) where deferment has been previously formally granted. The examination process includes three written exams and one oral exam arranged according to the student’s context of study and specialization. Students in Comparative Religion are required to sit for an additional written examination in Theory and Methods. Students in Hebrew Bible/Old Testament follow the exam rubric required by the Near Eastern Languages and Civilization Department.

Prospectus and Dissertation

Within twelve months of passing the General Examinations, all candidates must submit a written dissertation prospectus of not more than 3000 words (plus bibliography), formulating a project. Upon formal approval of the prospectus, the student commences the writing of the dissertation. The length is limited to 300 pages. Once the dissertation is completed and approved by the adviser, the candidate must pass an oral dissertation defense with a committee of at least three faculty members before the Th.D. degree is awarded

Thesis Defense

If the thesis is deemed acceptable by the student's advisor and the Director of Th.D. Studies, the Standing Committee will appoint a committee for the oral defense. If the examining committee accepts the thesis and its defense, and the examination is sustained by the Standing Committee, the original and the first copy of the thesis in bound form, together with their abstracts, and an unbound, boxed copy for University Microfilms International, should be submitted to the Registrar, and a short summary, prepared for publication, should be submitted to the Editor of the Harvard Theological Review, prior to the awarding of the degree.

Leaves of Absence

At the discretion of the Doctoral Subcommittee, the calendar of requirements as noted above may be interrupted by a maximum of one year's leave of absence. The candidate must pay a $100 program fee during a year on leave.


A student who has not met degree requirements or an established deadline may with the endorsement of the Director of Th.D. Studies be granted an extension, normally for one year.