Year Five and Following: The Dissertation and Graduation

Upon formal approval of the prospectus, the student commences the writing of the dissertation. Following the approval of the prospectus, at least one chapter of the dissertation per year must be submitted to the advisor. The dissertation should be completed within two years after the approval of the prospectus, but not later than seven years from the date of admission to the program. The length of the dissertation is limited to a maximum of 300 pages, exclusive of bibliography.

When the student is close to being ready to defend, the advisor writes a letter to the Chair of the Standing Committee proposing the dissertation examining committee. The examining committee will consist of at least three faculty readers, two of whom must be members of HDS. Members or past members of the Standing Committee of the Study of Religion are considered de facto as members of HDS. Membership of the examining committee must be approved by the Standing Committee.

Once the examiners have been approved and the student has completed the dissertation, a two-hour oral defense will be arranged. It is the student’s responsibility to provide the examiners with copies of the dissertation by the dates stipulated in the current year’s Information on Submission of the Dissertation (usually around August 15 for receipt of the degree in November, by December 1 for receipt of the degree in March , and by April 1 for receipt of the degree in June).

Th.D. dissertations follow the same formatting guidelines as Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences dissertations.  For more information please refer to the GSAS “Form of the PhD Dissertation” page.  Note that title pages for HDS dissertations differ slightly from GSAS dissertations.  Please refer to the example in the Th.D. Handbook.

Also, please see the ThD Program Administrator for the current Information on Submission of the Dissertation for Th.D. Candidates when you get close to finishing. This lists specific dates for the submission of Degree Applications, the final Draft, and the last possible defense dates for the November, March, and June Degrees.

*If a student's leaves Harvard when the student is at the dissertation stage, that advisor may serve as the main advisor for one year after departure. After one year, students must find a Harvard affiliated advisor. The departed faculty member may continue to serve on the dissertation committee and informally act as co-advisor.


Th.D. Time to Degree Policy

“Normally, a thesis should be submitted within two years of approval of the prospectus, but it must be submitted within seven years from the date of admission to the program.”

In spring 2002, the members of the Standing Committee of the Committee on the Study of Religion and the Faculty of the Divinity School voted to accept an addition to this policy which states:

“After seven years in the Th.D. program, students may petition the Th.D. Director for a one-year extension of time to complete the dissertation. No more than three such petitions for each student will be accepted. Th.D. students will not be permitted to register beyond their tenth year in the Divinity School. However, exceptions to this rule may be made for students who have taken maternity or parental leave or for students with other special circumstances. Students are free to apply for readmission to the Divinity School, so as to re-register for the purpose of receiving the degree, when their thesis is completed. Students no longer enrolled because of this policy will have the status of ‘withdrawn.’”

Please note: This regulation will indeed be strictly enforced. If you are beyond your seventh year in the program, regardless of any Leave of Absences taken, please make sure to submit your petition (addressed to the Th.D. Director, sent care of the Th.D. Administrator) as early as possible in the Spring.


Procedures for termination of candidacy

If a student is not making "satisfactory progress" towards the fulfillment of the requirements for the Th.D. program in the Study of Religion (as this matter is understood in the Harvard Divinity School Catalog), then the Doctoral Subcommittee of the Standing Committee of the Study of Religion is charged to take the following actions which are meant to prompt the student to rectify the deficiencies in his or her program of study but which will end in the termination of the candidacy of the student in the doctoral program if these deficiencies are not rectified:

  1. When a student is not in full compliance with the Th.D. program's progress requirements, he or she will be so notified by the Doctoral Subcommittee or the Director of Th.D. Studies. This notice is meant to serve as an initial warning to the student that he or she has fallen behind in their work and that they are expected to rectify the deficiencies within a specified period of time.
  2. If, after the specified period of time the deficiency in question is not rectified, and in the Doctoral Subcommittee's estimation the matter is deemed sufficiently serious, the student will be placed on probation for at least six months but no longer than one year. This status is designed to provide a final warning to the student that their candidacy in the doctoral program is in jeopardy of being terminated unless he or she meets the particular requirements stipulated by the Doctoral Subcommittee. The student must be notified of this decision by phone and by letter, a copy of which must be sent to the student's adviser. During this probationary period, the student will be subject to Federal regulations concerning satisfactory academic progress in the receipt of financial aid and ordinarily will not work as a teaching fellow or tutor.
  3. If it is not clear that the student has fulfilled the requirement(s) in question, one month before the end of the probationary period the student will be invited to meet with the Director of Th.D. Studies and the student's adviser(s). This will provide the final opportunity for the student to demonstrate that he or she has completely rectified the deficiencies which led to probation. The student must present in a letter a) clear evidence that the deficiencies have been rectified and, b)an outline of a well-defined plan of action for completing the remainder of the program. This letter must be approved and signed by the student's adviser.
  4. The Doctoral Subcommittee will carefully consider all the details relevant to the student's progress at its next meeting. If the student has completely rectified the deficiencies which led to probation, he or she will be taken off probation. If the student has not rectified the deficiencies, and if there are no compelling reasons why these deficiencies have not been rectified, the student's candidacy in the program will at that time be terminated.
  5. If the student is to be terminated from the doctoral program but has already passed General exams, the Doctoral Subcommittee may recommend to the Divinity School faculty to grant a terminal Th.M. degree.

Procedures for reinstatement

Termination is final. This means that a student whose candidacy in the doctoral program is terminated is no longer considered an active member of the Harvard community, and thus he or she can no longer draw upon the resources of that community. Nevertheless, the student may wish to continue his or her studies on an independent basis. If such a course is followed, and if the student is able to rectify the deficiencies which led to termination, he or she may petition the Doctoral Subcommittee for reinstatement in the Th.D. program. The procedures regulating reinstatement are as follows:
  1. The student must submit to the Doctoral Subcommittee: a) evidence that the deficiencies which led to termination of candidacy are completely rectified, and b) a clearly delineated plan of action which shows when and how the student will fulfill the remaining requirements of the doctoral program.
  2. The student must meet with and procure the prior endorsement of his or her adviser and the Director of Th.D. Studies, both of whom must write a letter to the Doctoral Subcommittee on the student's behalf.
  3. The Doctoral Subcommittee will act on this matter at its next meeting. Reinstatement in the doctoral program is not automatic but up to the discretion of the Doctoral Subcommittee. A decision for reinstatement will be based upon, a) the length of time it took the student to rectify the deficiencies which led to termination of candidacy, b) the clarity and reasonableness of the student's proposal to fulfill the remaining requirements of the doctoral program, and c) the likelihood that the student will fulfill the remaining requirements in the time frame which they have proposed.

If the student is reinstated, his or her continued status in the doctoral program will be determined by the student's ability to follow the proposed plan of action and to keep to the time schedule which it contains. A student's candidacy in the doctoral program may be terminated again if he or she is unable to meet the stipulations of his or her proposed plan of action.