The First Two Years: ThD Pre-Generals

Th.D. Requirements

Th.D. Plan of Study

  • The student must, in consultation with the advisor, submit a Plan of Study during their first term by early November to the program administrator. This plan will be reviewed by the Director of ThD studies.


  • two modern languages of secondary scholarship
  • other languages as required for specialization


  • courses required for specialization
  • Common Doctoral Seminar (first semester)

Second Year Review

  • to occur by the end of the fourth semester

Th.D. Coursework and Residency

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 have met the regulations governing enrollment with incompletes.

The Common Doctor of Theology Seminar (Divinity 4599) is required for every Th.D. student. It is offered in the fall term each year in conjunction with the Ph.D. Common Seminar (Religion 2001) for entering Th.D. and Ph.D. students in the Study of Religion. This course is intended to examine various theories and methods, themes and problems common to religious scholarship.

In addition, candidates must take the graduate seminars required for their field concentration. Other required courses will be determined in consultation with the academic advisor. Students may continue to take courses as long as they are registered as students at the Divinity School.

Additional information:

Doctoral students who have completed course work may register in absentia if they reside and work outside the greater Boston area. They also may waive the health fee by filing the appropriate waiver form in the Registrar’s Office each semester. In absentia registration materials must be requested at least four weeks in advance of the start of the semester.

Part-Time Th.D. Candidates:

Once admitted and under certain circumstances, a Th.D. candidate may petition the Committee on the Study of Religion to work as a part-time student in order to take less than four credit courses per term during the first two years. Part-time students are charged at a per-course rate.

Students must petition the Committee on the Study of religion prior to registration. Separate petitions must be filed for each academic year. On the petition, Th.D. candidates should indicate the reasons part-time status is sought and the number of courses for which they wish to register each term. Part-time study ordinarily is approved for the following reasons:

  • pregnancy or having to care for small children at home
  • personal ill health
  • severe illness of other family members
  • outside employment (but ordinarily not until after one year of full-time study)
  • extreme financial strain in cases which the student has dependents

Part-time students are subject to the same requirements and regulations as full-time students.

Th.D. Language Requirements

  1. All doctoral students—in consultation with their advisors—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. (Note that languages needed for ethnographic or other research, requiring verbal competence, are for primary scholarship and thus may not be used as one of the modern languages of secondary scholarship.)
  2. The requirement in modern languages of scholarship commonly taught and examined at Harvard University (French, German, Spanish, etc.) can be met either by achieving a grade of B+ or better in two semesters of a second-year language course (in either HDS or FAS); by receiving a grade of A- or better in the Harvard Divinity School one-semester advanced intermediate language reading courses in French, Spanish, and German; or by achieving a “high pass” on an HDS qualifying exam. Students whose first language is not English may meet the requirement with a “pass” on the language exam.
  3. In the case of modern languages of scholarship for which there is not an intermediate 2-semester course at Harvard or a qualifying exam at HDS, the number of years required to achieve “intermediate reading competence” and the equivalent of “high pass” on language examinations will be determined by faculty in the relevant field. This involves an exam comparable to the HDS qualifying exam: translating a text of moderate difficulty in a one-hour exam with one dictionary, using a text of religious or historical significance or a scriptural text. The student will arrange the administration of the exam with the HDS Registrar, and consult with the Faculty Director of Language Studies about the academic guidelines for the exam.
  4. All language requirements must be met before General Examinations are taken.

Passed by HDS Faculty 4/23/2012. Reported to Standing Committee 5/11/2102.

Guidelines for the Foreign Language Certification Course, HDS 4999

Additional information about languages:

Students having extraordinary difficulty in passing language requirements are encouraged to contact both their program administrator and the Director of Language Testing.

Language exams taken while a doctoral student was in a masters program at HDS may be used to fulfill the language requirement if the required grade has been achieved. However, final exam results for the language courses in the Summer Language Program or the full-year German tutorial are not acceptable: doctoral students must take the official language exam.

Language Exams: Language competency exams are given three times a year, in early September, early February and late April. A passing level on a language exam attests that a student has sufficient knowledge and skill to use the language in scholarship. Some mistakes in recognizing grammar or vocabulary are allowed if they do not seriously undermine the student's ability to understand the language in question.

During the one-hour exam, students are asked to translate a one to two page text of intermediate difficulty. Students may use a dictionary. Language exams are normally given for Hebrew, Greek, Latin, German, French, and Spanish. Students wishing to be tested in another language should consult the Director of Language Studies at HDS.

If you have any preparation in the required languages, you are strongly urged to sign up for and take one (or more) of the language qualifying exams given in early September of your first year. You may find that you pass the exam, but even if you do not, you will be much better prepared to choose an appropriate course or study on your own before trying again. A failure is recorded on your internal record sheet, but is never released on a transcript.

Th.D. students may take summer language courses without paying extra tuition during the summers immediately preceding and following their first year.

Second Year Review

All Th.D. students are required to participate in a Second-Year Review with at least two faculty members. The Th.D. administrator will remind all first year students before the beginning of their second year of this requirement. An “Intent to Take Second Year Review” will be sent to the students and must be returned as soon as possible. Ideally, this review will take place fall semester of the second year.

The main purposes of the Second-Year Review are 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. Two weeks in advance of the Second-Year Review students must submit to the 2 participating faculty members the following: 1) a two-page statement of academic purpose, and 2) two major course papers, one of which should be in the student’s major field and the other in a different field or discipline.

Guidelines for Second Year Review

The main purpose of the Second Year Review is to consider and clarify the overall design and progress of a student’s academic program. To this end, a student participating in the Second Year Review must prepare a 2-page statement of academic purpose, to be shared in advance with the faculty who will participate in the review. A copy of this statement should be submitted to the Th.D. Program Administrator with the “Intent to take Second Year Review Form.”

A second purpose of the review is to assess the student’s academic progress in general but also in regard to the degree requirements, including foreign languages. A student participating in the Second Year Review must submit two major course papers to their reviewers two weeks in advance. One of these papers should be in the student’s major field and the other in a different field or discipline.

A third purpose of the Second Year Review is to review the fields that the student is proposing to cover on the General Examinations.

The Second Year Review is to occur either in the third or at the latest, in the fourth semester of study. At the end of a student’s second semester, the program administrator will write a letter to the student and the advisor reminding them of when the Second Year Review should take place.

The Second Year Review should, as needed, lead to any or some of the following recommendations: clarifying the timetable for completing any remaining requirements, specifying any further coursework to be taken, the addressing of any issues in advising, clarifying the fields and timetable for General Examinations. A written summary of all such recommendations should be sent to the student as soon as possible after the review, with a copy also sent to the program administrator.

March 2004