The Catholic University of America

Doctor of Philosophy in Historical Theology

The doctorate in historical theology represents an achievement in theological scholarship and research. The Ph.D. program is designed to prepare graduate students to make significant contributions to knowledge in historical inquiry while broadening their understanding of other areas of theology. By means of research seminars, advanced level courses, language skills, comprehensives, and an extensive research project, the program is designed to develop graduates who are capable of thorough theological understanding and careful research.

In addition and specific to the general requirements outlined for obtaining a Civil Degree, the Historical & Systematic area requires the following:


  • At least twelve credit hours of undergraduate or graduate philosophy. Normally, these credits should be in four of the following areas: ancient philosophy, medieval philosophy, modern philosophy, epistemology, metaphysics, ethics.
  • At least fifteen credit hours of undergraduate and/or graduate courses in theology of religious studies at a B grade level or above. These should include courses in the Old and New Testaments, church history, and systematic and moral theology. Upon review of an applicant's previous studies, some prerequisite courses may be required at the discretion of the admissions committee.

Course Requirements

  • A minimum of thirty-six hours of course work after the M.A. degree
  • Eighteen hours (including TRS 760A: Theological Foundations) are to be taken in the historical theology at the 700-level (lecture) and 800-level (seminars). At least twelve of these eighteen hours are to be taken in 800-level seminars which require major research papers.
  • Twelve hours of electives that may be taken in any of the academic areas of the School of Theology and Religious Studies.
  • Six hours in a minor area outside the major area of concentration (see below). With the approval of the academic area director, these courses may be taken in other graduate schools of the University.
  • Students who enter the Ph.D. program with an inadequate background are encouraged to audit 600 level courses in order to complement their courses at the 700 and 800 level.

Minor Area

Students in Historical Theology are encouraged to take a minor (6 credit hours) in some area other than Historical Theology.  They are encouraged to select Church History as a minor area of concentration. 

Language Requirements

Candidates for the Ph.D. must demonstrate a reading knowledge of the following languages:

  • Latin
    • Reading knowledge of Latin must be demonstrated by successful completion of the Latin Proficiency Exam administered by the Historical/Systematic area or by a course in Patristic or Medieval Latin. Ordinarily, the Latin requirement should be satisfied during a student's first fall semester in the program.
  • Greek
    • Reading knowledge of either biblical or patristic Greek must be demonstrated either by the successful completion of a reading course in biblical or patristic Greek-depending upon the student's area of concentration-or by an examination administered by the Historical/Systematic area.
  • German
    • Reading knowledge of theological German must be demonstrated either by passing an examination administered by the Historical/Systematic area or by passing TRS 504 Theological German.
  • a major Romance language
    • Reading knowledge of a modern Romance language (French, Italian, Spanish) must be demonstrated by passing an examination administered by the Historical/Systematic area

Ph.D. Comprehensive Examination

The examination will be based upon a reading list drawn up by the student in consultation with the three members of the examining board. The list should include approximately fifty substantive titles drawn from both primary and secondary sources as well as works by authors in other Christian traditions. Titles may be books, or a combination of articles by a single author, equivalent to book length. The reading list in historical theology should consist of fifteen books in the student's major historical period, ten books in each of the two other historical periods, and fifteen books in the student's theological area.

The PhD comprehensive exam in historical theology has the following format:

  • Day 1: Major Historical Period (Patristics, Medieval, Modern) - three responses chosen from a list of six questions.
    • A student will choose to specialize in one of these historical periods and will also choose a particular theological topic in its development through all three periods (e.g., Christology in the patristic period, anthropology in the medieval period, ecclesiology in the modern period).

  • Day 2: Minor Historical Periods - one response from the first set of three questions; one response from the second set of three questions; one at the student's option.
  • Day 3: Theological Area - three responses chosen from a list of six questions. The third day will focus on the topic the student has chosen in its development.