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History & Ecumenics

The PhD program in history and ecumenics offers two tracks: (1) History of Christianity, and (2) Mission, Ecumenics, and History of Religions (MEHR). 

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PhD Student Profiles | History & Ecumenics

PhD Course of Study | History & Ecumenics

History of Christianity

At PTS, the history of Christianity is an integrative, interdisciplinary program that encompasses social, theological, institutional and cultural history of the world’s Christian communities, their ideas and practices. It also offers resources from related fields in the history of religions, history of worship, sociology of religion, missiology and ecumenism. The program’s goal is to train scholars to develop an area of specialization within a context of breadth, balancing particular interests with an attention to Christianity’s larger history and global expansion. 

Areas of Specialization 

Early Christianity and Its World 
Beginning as a sectarian movement within Palestinian Judaism, Christianity emerged through a process of religious, social and cultural encounter both within the Roman Empire and beyond its borders to the east. Within a few centuries Christian communities had developed in Europe, Africa and Asia, and their members had produced a broad array of literature (theological, exegetical, historical, hagiographic and liturgical) in a plethora of languages (Arabic, Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopic, Georgian, Greek, Latin and Syriac). They also created a rich trove of material culture from jewelry to liturgical implements to massive structures for community worship. Study of this period of Christian history rests on a foundation of linguistic, cultural and religious knowledge about the ancient world, and it embraces the theological, exegetical, liturgical and archeological study of Christian communities from the New Testament period through the rise of Islam. Our program offers many points of entry into this complex field of study.

Medieval Christianity and Its World 
By “medieval” Christian history we mean an entire millennium, from 500 to 1500. In this era, the history of theology (and philosophy) is inseparable from the institutional history of Christianity, its worship and art, especially in the encounter with Islam. Although the idea of “middle” ages stems from Western Europe (in the middle between antiquity and the Renaissance) we here include the Eastern Orthodox churches not only in Byzantium and Russia but also in Asia, North Africa, and Ethiopia.

Reformation and Its World 
The major religious changes of the Reformation were one of the most significant factors in the early modern era (1450-1650), and they were not confined to western Europe, or to theology or church structures alone. The Reformation and Its World covers church, social and theological history, Christian life, worship, and mission in a global frame. Titles of courses and doctoral seminars indicate some of the wide-ranging themes addressed and specific topics treated in depth in this area of specialization, as well as how this era forms an integral part of the wider history of Christianity in the world.

Modern Europe 
The history of Christianity in modern Europe covers the period from the end of the Thirty Years War (1648) to the present. This is a time of dramatic social, economic, intellectual and political changes, in which Europe passes from a region in which the church and Christian identity were central to social, cultural and political life, to one where the church to a significant extent has been displaced by a broad variety of practices, ideas and institutions out towards the margins of national, social and even personal life. In an effort to form a deeper understanding of this transformation the study of the history of Christianity in modern Europe focuses in particular on the interface of the church and Christianity with broader aspects of European society and culture.

Modern North America 
The history of Christianity of North America is a rich tapestry of movements, denominations, and communities. The study of American Christian History involves an interdisciplinary approach reflective of the complexity of American society. Diverse research methods, including the use of archival study, literature, and primary texts, reveal a picture of the important themes, events, and leaders that have shaped religious faith from America’s founding until today. Situated in a multicultural and multi-faith context, the history of Christianity in North America provides a model for understanding the cycles of growth, decline, and influence of Christendom in the global context.

Residence Requirements The program in Church History and History of Doctrine includes five eras: the early church, the medieval church, the Reformation, the modern European church, the American church. Over the two years of residence, a student must successfully complete eight doctoral seminars. The purpose of coursework is to develop historical breadth, hone research skills, and to prepare for comprehensive exams.

Students must choose these seminars in consultation with their advisers to constitute a coherent core of studies while meeting the following distribution requirements:

1. A departmental seminar or individual tutorial on historical method.
2. Church History seminars in at least three different eras (early, medieval, Reformation, modern, American).
3. One seminar chosen from doctoral offerings at Princeton University.
4. At least one seminar from among the Department’s broader offerings, such as mission, ecumenics, history of religions and sociology of religion.
5. Two electives, chosen from doctoral courses of the Department, the rest of the Seminary, or the University.

PhD candidates are free to audit other courses in the Seminary catalogue, such as those offered in the Master’s program. If such courses are taken for PhD credit, additional work will usually be required.

Language proficiency in French and German is required. PhD candidates are also encouraged to develop further language skills through auditing Seminary courses or enrolling in appropriate University courses. These opportunities, however, do not count toward the eight seminars.

Early in the period of residence, students should begin to think of possible thesis topics and should be prepared to submit a research topic statement to the Department by the end of the second year, following the departmental guidelines available from the residence committee.

Comprehensive Examinations During their first two years of residence, candidates choose three historical eras of specialization from among the five (early, medieval, Reformation, modern European, modern American), and communicate this to their residence committee. There will be a total of four written exams, one of which may be submitted as a research paper. Any one of these exams will combine the era with another field of study of the department (e.g. ecumenics, history of religions, missiology, sociology of religion). After the written exams are completed, there will be a comprehensive oral examination based on all four of them. The four exams will be based on the chosen eras and include the following:

1. One specialized exam in the areas defined as requisite background for the proposed dissertation. This typically falls within one of the three chosen eras. (If a candidate’s dissertation topic involves more than one era, adjustments to the exam structure may be made by the residence committee).
#2-4. Three examinations, one in the era of the dissertation; two based on the other eras of choice, one on each. One of the three examinations will include half of the exam on one of the department’s broader offerings (mission, ecumenics, history of religion, and sociology of religion).

All examiners are appointed by the Department in consultation with the student and his or her residence committee. Bibliographies for the examinations are compiled by the student in consultation with the examiner. Interdisciplinary exams involve one examiner for each discipline. In all cases, the instructors setting the examination have final responsibility for determining the bibliography.

Mission, Ecumenics, and History of ReligionS (MEHR)

MEHR integrates the fields of Mission (history and theology), Ecumenics (history and theology), and History of Religions to promote the interdisciplinary study of Christianity as a cross-cultural, global phenomenon. Capitalizing on the Seminary’s diverse resources, MEHR nurtures a broad perspective on Christianity’s historical and contemporary expansion and expression throughout the world, including representative theologies emanating both from the global South and North. Additionally, MEHR pays special attention to the ecumenical interrelations of the global Christian communion as well as to its interactions with believers from other faith communities. As a whole, MEHR provides a rigorous scholarly foundation for a multifaceted study of world Christianity.

Missional and Ecumenical Theology involves rigorous theological engagement with the mission of the church as understood within the comprehensive context of God’s salvific mission for the world. Working from the assumption that the “church is missionary by its very nature,” this discipline addresses the Biblical foundation and formation of mission, the historical approaches to mission, and the contemporary challenges to mission. Of particular concern are the re-orientation of western Christianity to its post-Christendom reality as well as the theological implications of the rapid globalization of the Christian movement. Missional theology is especially informed by the emergence of the ecumenical movement in the 20th century.

Residence Requirements Students are expected to complete eight seminars during two years of residence. These seminars will include at least one from each of the three major fields in the program: Mission, Ecumenics, and History of Religions. The remaining seminars may draw on courses in the MDiv program (with enhanced requirements) that have a bearing on the student’s area of concentration. The program may be rounded out by doctoral seminars offered elsewhere in the Seminary or at the University. The resulting program will be tailored individually by the candidate in consultation with her or his residence committee. The candidate is expected to participate in the monthly colloquium for PhD students and faculty conducted by the Department of History and Ecumenics. Candidates are expected to develop an area of dissertation research during their period of residence. The candidate’s residence committee will provide advice and formal guidelines. 

Comprehensive Examinations Following the two-year period of residence, the candidate will take a series of comprehensive examinations. Passing these examinations qualifies the candidate to submit her or his dissertation proposal and to begin concentrated work on the dissertation. Methods and specific contents of the exams will be negotiated with the residence committee. There will be a total of four comprehensive examinations:

  1. History of mission and ecumenics
  2. Theology of mission and ecumenics
  3. Theory and methodology for the History of Religions in relation to one particular religious tradition, or with special application to interreligious dialogue, comparative theology, or theology of religions
  4. Social science theory and methodology for the study of world Christianity

Examinations must include at least one from each of the three program areas (exams 1 through 3). However, in lieu of an examination in social science theory and methodology, or in addition to it, students may consider submitting an essay indicative of a major theme or topic that might be treated in a post-defense dissertation. 

Submission of Dissertation Proposal Following successful completion of the comprehensive examinations, the candidate is expected to submit a dissertation proposal to the PhD Studies Committee for approval. Guidance will be provided by the candidate’s residence committee.

View list of PhD Graduates

Educating faithful Christian leaders.

Pastor at Grace Presbyterian Church, Crystal City, Missouri

Joshua Noah, Class of 2015

“Through my field education placement at Trinity Presbyterian Church in East Brunswick, New Jersey, I discovered my gift to minister to all age groups. ”