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PhD Studies

Areas of Study

The PhD program operates in the following areas of study:

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Program Overview

The program of any particular student may deviate from the following outline at some points, but this sketch indicates in general what may be anticipated.


Orientation and registration for incoming PhD students is held immediately before the opening of the fall term in September. During the preceding May, students will be assigned temporary advisers who will help with first semester registration. Early in the semester a three-person residence committee will be appointed to work with the student throughout the residence period. From this committee and especially its chair, the student should secure counsel regarding courses and other aspects of the program up to the comprehensive examinations. As students plan their programs, they should remember that faculty will not normally be available during the summer recess or during official leaves from the Seminary. At these times members of the faculty have no contractual obligation to advise students, to read drafts of dissertations, or to engage in any other instructional activity. Other appropriate faculty members are normally substituted for residence committee chairs who are on leave.


Language Requirements After fulfilling the initial modern language requirement, the student enters a two-year period of full-time resident study prior to the completion of the comprehensive examinations. During this residence period, students are required to complete successfully a minimum of eight doctoral seminars or their equivalent. Full-time resident study is generally understood as enrollment for two or more seminars, courses, or directed readings per term, in accordance with faculty advisement, with availability Monday through Friday for library research and interaction with colleagues outside of scheduled class meetings. In no case is advanced standing granted at the time of acceptance for admission. In exceptional cases the PhD Studies Committee may later reduce the time of residence preparation for the comprehensive examinations on recommendation of the student's department. Under no conditions will the minimum requirement of two years' full-time tuition be reduced.

First Year Review In the first term of the second year, the student's work is reviewed and evaluated by the residence committee. The student completes the first-year review self-evaluation form through his or her profile in the online campus directory by September 1. After reviewing the student's self-evaluation form and meeting with the student to discuss progress, the chair of the residence committee completes the online residence committee evaluation form by October 1. If the student's committee feels there is cause for concern at the end of the first year, this review may take place in May of the first year. 


Comprehensive Exams The period of resident study culminates in the comprehensive examinations, a series of written examinations, and/or papers, as specified by each department, followed within ten days to two weeks by an oral examination, usually two hours in length. Refer to the "Areas and Fields of Study" section for a more detailed description of comprehensive examinations. Variations in testing procedure must be approved by the PhD Studies Committee. In the oral examination, which is conducted by the faculty in each area, the student's competence across the breadth of the field is assessed, and a determination is made as to whether the comprehensive examination as a whole has been passed, provisionally passed (with required revisions), or failed.

Examinations may be taken in April and May of the second year of residence or in September and October or January of the following year. The examinations may be taken in one of these periods or split between two consecutive periods, as determined by the residence committee in consultation with the student. All seminars must be completed and grades recorded before comprehensive examinations begin. An exception to the requirement for a recorded grade will be made for any seminars in which a student is enrolled during the term in which comprehensive examinations are being taken. Upon successful completion of the comprehensive exams, the student becomes an official PhD candidate.

Dissertation Proposal The student is urged to give thought to possible dissertation areas and topics from the very beginning of residence.  Seminar and course paper topics may be selected in part to explore such possibilities. After the successful completion of all required written and oral comprehensive examinations, the PhD candidate is eligible to form a dissertation committee. The process for forming the dissertation committee may vary by department or program but should involve consultation between the candidate and those faculty members who are to serve on the dissertation committee. Once the committee's composition is determined, the chair of the department is responsible for recommending the composition of the dissertation committee to the appropriate department or program, which formally acts on that recommendation and reports the resolved action to the Office of Academic Affairs, PhD Studies. The dissertation committee is normally composed of three members of the Princeton Theological Seminary faculty, one of whom is to serve as chair of the committee and main adviser of the dissertation. In cases where the dissertation project anticipates needing to engage areas of expertise not adequately supported by current members of the Seminary faculty, a non-PTS affiliated scholar (of appropriate qualification and rank) may be appointed to serve as a third member of the dissertation committee (in place of a PTS faculty member) at the discretion of the department or program. The external member of a dissertation committee (except for Princeton University faculty) is entitled to a small honorarium. Such an appointment, as in the case of the dissertation committee's composition more generally, is to be reported to the Office of Academic Affairs, PhD Studies, which then offers the formal invitation. In all cases, the chair of the dissertation committee and main adviser of the dissertation is to be a full-time member of the Princeton Theological Seminary faculty. Variations in the composition of the dissertation committee beyond what is described above are subject to the approval of the PhD Studies Committee upon the recommendation of the appropriate department or program. Under the guidance of the dissertation committee, the candidate develops a formal dissertation proposal that is submitted to the appropriate department or program for approval by the time of the next to last department or program meeting of the year. The comprehensive examinations must be passed and the dissertation proposal approved no later than the last meeting of the PhD Studies Committee in the third year. Failure to meet this deadline may result in dismissal.

Faculty are expected to read, assess, and return students' dissertation work within six weeks of submission. During the summer recess or during official leaves from the Seminary, faculty members have no contractual obligation to advise students, to read drafts of dissertations, or to engage in any other instructional activity. Other appropriate faculty members may be appointed as substitutes for dissertation committee chairs who are on leave.


Dissertation The PhD Studies Committee has set a maximum length of 250 pages for a Princeton Seminary dissertation. Permission of the dissertation committee is required in advance for a significantly longer work. Final manuscripts of all dissertations should be prepared using the current PTS Dissertation Style Guide. The student's dissertation committee, led by the chair of the committee, is responsible for determining that a dissertation is defensible and thus ready to be circulated to an external reader for evaluation.

Dissertation Defense & Degree Completion Upon satisfactory completion of the dissertation defense and receipt of all required documentation by PhD Studies, the dissertation committee recommends the candidate to the faculty for the PhD degree. The degree may be conferred only after the satisfactory completion of all degree and graduation requirements.

Degree Duration The PhD program is designed to be completed in no more than five years of full-time study. In those cases in which candidates are allowed to study on a part-time basis during the dissertation stage, all degree requirements are expected to be completed within six years of entry into the program. The candidacy will be terminated if the dissertation is not successfully defended within nine years of the date of entrance into the program.

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