PhD: Rel Thght
PhD: Rel & Sc
ThD: Theology

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Boston University Graduate School
Division of Religious and Theological Studies

SPR Degree Requirements in Detail

General Information

Other Important Links

For information about Division-wide requirements, visit the Virtual Red Book. For the SPR qualifying examination reading lists, visit the Green Book. For past SPR examination questions, visit the Past Examination Archive.

Credit Calculations

Some credit hours are earned from required courses and yet do not count toward the total required for the degree. The table below explains how credits count.


DRTS: Division of Religious and Theological Studies
R&S: Religion & Science
MA: Master of Arts
PB-PhD: Post-Bachelors PhD
PM-PhD: Post-Masters PhD
N/A: Not Applicable


Research Competency
Lab Placement
Qualifying Examinations
Managing Your Budget


The following table presents information about credit requirements in the three DRTS Religion & Science degree programs. Note: A "0" indicates that the course is required but that no credits accrue toward the degree total, regardless of the number of credits on the transcript. "NotReq" means that the requirement does not apply to the degree program in question. The other numbers indicate the number of credits that can be counted toward the degree for that course. In some cases (Core Texts and Science Literacy) only 4 credits are allowed to count even though the work involved amounts to 8 credits—this is because some of the work is essentially remedial. In other cases, 0 credits are allowed (as in the language requirements).

Note that additional courses may be imposed as corequisites upon entry to the degree program, on a student-by-student basis, and that credit hours for corequisite courses increase the total credits required for the degree.

Degree Requirement MA PB-PhD PM-PhD

Total credits required for degree

32 64 40
DRTS required courses 8 8 8

Track 4 required courses:

      Core Texts and Motifs (1 year)

      Science Literacy (1 year)

      R&S Proseminar (1 semester)






Track 4 research competencies:

   Research Language

   Science Research Competency










Track 4 lab placement NotReq 4 4
Credits remaining for elective courses 24 32 16


The MA requires demonstrated competency in one language (see below for details) plus 32 credits of coursework, including two of the four DRTS 4-credit courses in Theoretical Approaches to the Study of Religion (see Track IV: Religion & Science at the DRTS site). There are no other requirements.

The post-Masters PhD degree requires 40 credits, and the post-Bachelors PhD 64 credits of coursework. The doctoral programs have four required classes, as follows.

  • Every DRTS student (including every Religion & Science student) must take two of the four DRTS 4-credit courses in Theoretical Approaches to the Study of Religion. These courses prepares give students a solid background in the academic study of religion and also help prepare students to teach the "Religion 101" course in a college or university context.
  • Every doctoral student in the Religion & Science program must take a one-semester, 4-credit proseminar in Science, Philosophy, and Religion (STH TT921). This course introduces students both to the main issues of concern at the intersection of science, philosophy, and religion and to the most important literatures for studying those issues.
  • Every doctoral student in the Religion & Science program must take a year-long course in science literacy (STH TT871; a maximum of 4 credits count toward the total credit requirement for post-masters PhD students; others can count up to 8 credits, 4 credits per semester). This course aims to prepare people to read science, religion and science, and philosophy of science literature. This course covers the biological and the physical sciences and involves extensive mathematics training and remedial work as needed. It also covered boundary questions bearing on ethics, religion, and philosophy that arise within the sciences.
  • Every doctoral student in the Religion & Science program must take two religion courses: Core Texts and Motifs West and Core Texts and Motifs East (RN723, RN724). Each of these courses contributes a maximum of 2 credits toward the total credit requirement for post-masters PhD students; others can count up to 4 credits per semester. This course is a requirement for students in some other DRTS tracks as well. The point of the sequence is to provide Religion & Science students with enough background in the sacred texts and fundamental ideas of other religions that their reflections can achieve a significant degree of cross-cultural sophistication.

The Track 4 Faculty recommends that doctoral students consider three other courses (or types of courses) as vital preparation for qualifying examinations:

  • Philosophy of Science with Prof. Alisa Bokulich,
  • History of Religion & Science with Prof. Jon Roberts, and
  • Philosophical Cosmology with Prof. Robert Neville.

Research Competency

Another family of requirements for the Religion & Science degrees aims to equip students with the competencies necessary for research in their specialty.

abacus.jpg (11691 bytes)Every Religion & Science student (MA and PhD) needs to pass a translation examination in a modern European language, usually German or French. This provides students access to literature in that language, which is particularly important in the humanities aspects of the program. Should a student’s research topic require access to literature in another language, petition can be made to the Religion & Science core faculty to substitute that language for German or French.

Religion & Science PhD students (but not MA students) also need to demonstrate competence in a basic science-related skill such as mathematics, computer programming, neural modeling, or logic, depending on the specialization. For example, a student specializing in certain aspects of the biological sciences may need the ability to understand computer programming just to understand what is at stake in such research as computer models of protein folding and the like. Someone working in physics would usually need competence in mathematics. A student working in ecology would probably need expertise in environmental modeling software.

Lab Placement

During the period of coursework, each Religion & Science PhD student undertakes a lab placement of some appropriate sort. This placement involves about 6-8 hours of work each week for two semesters for a total of about 200 hours.

During the placement (and continuing afterwards, optionally), the student takes on the insider-outsider role of being involved in the work of the lab in basic ways while trying to interpret that work for those both inside and outside the laboratory context.

0004202.jpg (24784 bytes)Each student is assigned an advisor within the lab. Within the Religion & Science program, a cooperative learning arrangement is adopted whereby people in lab placements meet regularly as a group with Religion & Science faculty. Students should register for the Lab Placement Seminar while they are in a Lab Placement. The aim of these meetings is to discuss how to interpret what is going on in their labs in relation to their growing mastery of the history and philosophy of science, and with their growing understanding of the humanities.

This requirement cultivates practical expertise in observation and interpretation of the social setting of research science. It furnishes the student with an ideal context within which to reflect upon the more abstract studies of their program. And the training provided is an indispensable part of understanding the practical character of modern scientific research.

Qualifying Examinations

After coursework, Religion & Science PhD students must take four written qualifying examinations and one oral examination.

  • The first covers Philosophy of Religion, treating major themes
    in the philosophical and theological study of religion.
  • The second covers Philosophy and History of Science, treating debates in philosophy of science and the history of science, with particular attention to the history of interactions between sciences and religions.
  • The third covers Religion and Science, treating the core literature of the religion and science field.
  • The fourth exam, a multidisciplinary specialty exam, is customized to treat the literature surrounding the student’s multidisciplinary research specialty (e.g. cosmology and theistic creation, ecology and Buddhist ideas of nature, cognitive science and religion, theology and biomedicine, etc.).
  • The oral examination is an oral review of all of the qualifying examinations with some attention to the student’s intended path of dissertation research.

For further information about qualifying examinations, check out the guidelines and reading lists in the Green Book and review the list of Religion & Science qualifying examination questions in the Web QE Question Archive.


Following the successful completion of qualifying examinations, the student writes a dissertation prospectus. Once approved, the dissertation itself is then written and defended.


The usual timeline for doctoral students' progress in the Track 4 or SPR program is laid out in the table below. To proceed beyond the 6th year in a PM-PhD and  beyond the 7th year in a PB-PhD, a program extension is required. MA students have three years before a program extension is required. Further program extensions are required for each subsequent year. After these degree completion deadlines pass, continuing registration fees (i.e. post-coursework registration fees) increase significantly.

Degree Requirement PB-PhD PM-PhD
Plan of Studies submitted semester 1 semester 1
Foreign Language completed semester 2 semester 2
Science Competency completed semester 4 semester 4
Lab Placement completed semester 6 semester 4
Coursework completed semester 6 semester 4
First two qualifying exams completed semester 7 semester 5
Proposal for third (specialty) exam approved semester 7 semester 5
Third (specialty) qualifying exam completed semester 8 semester 6
Fourth (oral) qualifying exam completed semester 8 semester 6
Dissertation prospectus approved semester 9 semester 7
Dissertation successfully defended semester 12 semester 10


Prerequisites for the post-masters Ph.D. include serious background in two of the three disciplines with good reason to think that the third is within reach. A little more flexibility may be possible for M.A. applicants. The post-bachelors degree is often a good option for doctoral candidates—even for those with masters degrees in one of the three fields. The extra courses are usually needed to establish a solid basis for interdisciplinary research and a masters degree can be picked up along the way.

When the background is almost but not quite what is needed, extra prerequisites or corequisites may be stipulated.

Some of the special requirements (such as math, logic, programming, computer modeling, environmental modeling, economic modeling, statistics) often are covered in undergraduate degree programs. As with languages, however, an examination typically would be required in order to ensure that sufficient competence has been achieved. Because the type of lab experience we are seeking to provide is a distinctive and important part of the degree program, the lab placement (see below) would not be waived even for someone with previous lab experience.

Managing Your Budget

There are ways to save money in DRTS degree programs and many arrangements have been made to help you do that. For the basics, read the "Stretching your Dollars" document. For more advanced strategies, please consult with Prof. Wildman.

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