2020-2021 Academic Catalog

All Catalogs > 2020-2021 > School of Theology > Doctor of Philosophy & Master of Theology

Doctor of Philosophy & Master of Theology

Center for Advanced Theological Studies

The Graduate Studies Program at Fuller Theological Seminary traces its beginnings to a rigorous ThM program initiated in the 1950s. Later, a full doctoral program was instituted. In 1988, the program was reconstituted as the Center for Advanced Theological Studies (CATS).

The Center offers programs leading to the degrees of Doctor of Philosophy in Theology (PhD) and Master of Theology (ThM). These programs are offered in the following concentrations: New Testament, Old Testament, and Theological Studies. The Theological Studies concentration integrates work in such areas as Christian Ethics, Historical Theology/Church History, Liturgical Theology, Practical Theology, Public Theology, Systematic Theology, and Theology and Culture.

CATS seeks to prepare women and men for contributing to the global church in a variety of leadership roles, especially as educators, researchers, and other teachers and agents of the church and its mission. CATS programs promote graduate work at advanced levels of scholarship, research, and reflection. This takes place in a diverse community of scholars committed to such study within the context of an ecclesially informed evangelical faith aimed at serving the varied and worldwide body of Christ.

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) Degree

The degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is the highest academic degree awarded by Fuller Seminary. The PhD in theology prepares graduates for vocations as faculty in theological programs in seminaries, colleges, and universities; and as leaders in ecclesial and paraecclesial institutions and organizations devoted to serving the church in the world. The PhD program equips faculty and other leaders through the cultivation of research capacities and skills, global sensibilities, ecclesial commitments, theological discernment, personal and vocational formation, and the craft of teaching and learning.

Graduates from the PhD in theology should evidence:

  • A comprehensive knowledge of their field of theological study
  • Research skills appropriate to an area of theological exploration, sufficient to engage in original research and writing that advances theological understanding in the service of the global church
  • Critical reflection on the vocation of ecclesially informed theological scholarship, particularly with regard to teaching and learning, and research
  • Hospitality toward diverse theological approaches and positions, traditional and emerging, characteristic of the church catholic
  • Capacities for the cultivation of theologically reflective practices of Christian discipleship

Admission Requirements and Application Deadline

Graduate students who seek admission to the CATS PhD program should possess demonstrated academic gifts and should be committed to a Christian calling in a life of scholarly research and theological reflection, leading to vocations such as teaching and publication. Admission to the PhD program is based on superior intellectual ability as demonstrated by the applicant’s grade point average, Graduate Record Examination scores, and a first theological degree.

The “First Theological Degree” Requirement. A first theological degree (Master of Divinity [MDiv]) or its educational equivalent from an institution that is accredited by The Association of Theological Schools (ATS) is required for application to the PhD program. For those who have earned a theological degree from an institution located outside North America, accreditation of institutions and degrees by other agencies may be acceptable; consult Fuller Seminary’s Office of Admissions for details.

An MA degree from an ATS-accredited institution, comparable to Fuller Seminary’s MA in Theology, may also be acceptable for admission, with the exception of applicants in Theological Studies interested to specialize in practical theology. Applicants who want to specialize in practical theology (1) must have a first theology degree that includes at least 16 quarter units (or 12 semester units) of courses in ministry/praxis, not including internships (2) must have had the equivalent of three years of full-time ministry experience. In order to demonstrate ministry experience, applicants must submit an executive summary of paid and volunteer positions held—including church and parachurch, part-time and full-time—sketching primary responsibilities and accomplishments.

Persons with a degree accredited by regional accreditation agencies in the United States may apply to the PhD and ThM programs if the number of prerequisites needed to align that degree with the Center’s pre-doctoral master degree requirement will require less than one year of full-time study. If more than a year of full-time study is required, the non-ATS accredited degree is not accepted.
An overall grade point average of 3.5 or above (on a 4.0 scale) from masters-level study is required for admission to the PhD program.

Biblical and Other Research Languages Requirement. Generally, if the applicant’s previous study has not included at least two quarters each of Biblical Hebrew and New Testament Greek, if admitted the student must demonstrate competence by examination or coursework during the first year in order to remain in the program. Applicants who want to specialize in Christian ethics, practical theology, or theology and culture may meet the Biblical language requirement with only one language (either Greek or Hebrew).

Completion of other research languages is not a prerequisite to apply to the PhD program. However, during the first stage of the program PhD students are required to acquire skills in other research languages (e.g., German, French, Latin, Aramaic) as needed for their specific concentration and research area. In anticipation of this work, applicants are strongly encouraged to begin their work on research languages before beginning the program. Once admitted to the program, students may receive recognition of their research language competence either with a transcript or by passing a language exam.

GRE, TOEFL, and IELTS Exams. All applicants (including those applicants whose first language is not English) must have taken the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) within five years preceding the date of PhD application. A verbal score of 160 (600 on the prior scale) and a writing score of 5.0 are normally considered a minimum entrance requirement. The GRE quantitative score is also considered in the admission process and for granting scholarships to incoming students.
Applicants whose first language is not English must provide an official record of scores earned on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test. Only test scores earned within two years preceding the submission date of the applicant’s current PhD application will be acceptable. TOEFL overall scores of at least 100 (internet-based) or 600 (paper), or IELTS overall scores of 7.0 meet the minimum English language entrance requirements.
Applicants wishing to have their transcripts evaluated officially should contact the Office of Admissions for details. Consult the appropriate concentration section in this handbook for further details regarding specific requirements for admission to each concentration.

Writing Sample. All applicants are required to submit a major writing sample of ca. 7000–10,000 words completed within three years of the time of making application, in the field of proposed study. This essay will be evaluated in terms of clarity of its thesis, ability to sustain an argument, critical engagement with pertinent primary and secondary sources, and professional presentation.

Application Deadline and Matriculation Expectations. The application process opens each year on August 1. Applications for admission with all the required supporting documentation must be received by Fuller’s Office of Admission no later than the January 2. The supporting documentation submitted by this date must include transcripts, references, GRE and, if needed, TOEFL or IELTS scores, and the sample paper.

Notification of a decision is sent out by March 15. During the application process applicants are encouraged to contact faculty members with whom they would like to work to discuss their interests. Decisions concerning acceptance and appointment of mentors are made by the CATS Committee. Once admission has been granted and accepted for a particular year, new students must matriculate during the following Fall Quarter. Deferment of matriculation is not permitted. Admitted students must participate in the general orientation to the program offered to new students once every year, at the beginning of the Fall Quarter.

In rare and extreme situations, the Associate Dean for CATS and the CATS Program Director may grant deferment of matriculation for up to two quarters in consultation with the student’s mentor. Deferment of matriculation for more than six months is not permitted for any reason.

PhD Program Structure

The PhD is awarded upon successful completion of research language requirements; coursework consisting of 64, 800-level units through seminars, expanded directed reading courses, or directed readings; comprehensive examinations; a dissertation proposal; and a scholarly dissertation based on research in the area of the student’s major concentration.

The PhD program is divided into two stages, with comprehensive examinations placed between the stages and the submission of a successful dissertation after the completion of all coursework.

Stage One

Stage One consists of a minimum of 46 units, including a four-unit course devoted to Formation, Research, Teaching and Learning, and Professional Development, and a six-unit methods course or other foundational course in the student’s major concentration. Some major concentrations have additional core requirements that should be taken in Stage One. Research languages specific to each concentration must be completed during Stage One as well, as early as possible in the program.

During the student’s third quarter (typically, the Spring Quarter of the first year), he or she will participate in a mentor-led First-Year Review, the purpose of which is to ensure that the student is making adequate progress in research and writing as a PhD student.

Advanced research in the theological disciplines requires competence in one’s primary language as well as in the languages in which relevant primary texts are written and essential secondary materials are available. Each concentration has designated research languages appropriate to the normative literature in the field. Research language requirements prepare students not only for the research and writing of a thesis or dissertation but, indeed, for life-long professions in a global context.

Students are encouraged to learn an additional language or languages necessary for use in teaching, whether internationally or in the US. However, CATS program language requirements concern research language requirements only.

The program distinguishes between the biblical languages requirement (normally a prerequisite to enter the program – see above) and research languages requirement (not a prerequisite to enter the program, although it is advantageous if such languages are studied prior to entering the program) completed during the first stage of the PhD program. Required research languages depend on the student’s major concentration and track. With the approval of the faculty overseeing the concentration in question, students may petition the CATS Committee to substitute an alternative modern language in cases where this will be more relevant to their immediate and long-term research.

Comprehensive Examination. Upon satisfactory completion of at least 46 units through seminars or directed readings and of all research language requirements, the student’s performance will be subject to review by the CATS Committee and he or she will take four comprehensive examinations. A student may retake up to two failed exams. If a student fails more than two exams or fails one or more retake exams the student’s status will be referred to the CATS Committee for review. Passage of the comprehensive examinations and approval by the CATS Committee advances students to candidacy (Stage Two) in the PhD program.

Stage Two

Stage Two consists of the completion of the remaining 18 units, typically through directed readings supervised by the student’s First or Second Mentor. Work conducted during the second stage of the program is related to dissertation research and writing. The first course after passing the comprehensive examinations is a directed reading with the objective of completing and passing a dissertation proposal. Remaining coursework must be designed to support the actual writing of the dissertation on the basis of the approved proposal.

Dissertation

The writing and approval of a dissertation is the heart of the PhD program. Dissertations are judged according to the following criteria:

  • Does it evidence research skills appropriate to the area of study, sufficient to engage in original research and writing that advances theological understanding in the service of the church, academy, and/or society?
  • Does it evidence sympathetic and respectful understanding of positions held by diverse scholars?
  • Does it evidence appropriate form, style, and literary presentation?
  • Does it evidence knowledge of the field of study and related literature?
  • Does it evidence independent research and originality in making a contribution to the field?

Credit Transfer and Advanced Standing

Transfer credit is not given toward the PhD degree. However, advanced standing may be granted for doctoral-level work completed at an accredited school. Up to a maximum of 18 units of advanced standing (the equivalent of three graduate seminars) in the CATS PhD program may be given after approval by the CATS Committee. This credit may be applied to Stage One or Stage Two of the program, depending on the specific advice of the student’s mentor after admittance into the program. Students must petition the CATS Committee for advanced standing to be granted and must provide a copy of the relevant transcripts. Students awarded Advanced Standing are held to the same language, comprehensive examination, and dissertation requirements as all other CATS students. Advanced Standing is for coursework remission only.

Mentors and Concentrations

Upon admission, students are assigned by the Associate Dean for CATS to a primary mentor. A student’s primary mentor is normally a professor working in the major field of the student’s research. A second mentor is selected by the student’s primary mentor following comprehensive examinations to provide further supervision, and to serve as the second internal reader of the dissertation. Under the guidance of the primary mentor, the student designs a 64-unit program consisting of seminars, courses and directed readings (DRs).

Minors in the PhD Program

In addition to a major concentration, students, in conversation with their mentors, may choose a minor field of study. Students who elect a minor concentration are required to take no less than 12–18 units in their minor field during the first stage, the remaining first-stage courses being in the major field. Requirements for minor concentrations are set by each concentration (see Section Three, below).

Residency Requirement and Degree Duration

The residency requirement for the PhD program is defined as at least two years of full-time study (or in the case of part-time students, at least six, 6-unit seminars or directed readings) on Fuller Seminary’s Pasadena Campus.

Geographical proximity to campus is important for several reasons. The development of professional relationships is a salient feature of scholarly life in the academy. Maintaining a regular presence on campus allows students and faculty to network, share ideas, collaborate, build friendships, and attain spiritual support. For these reasons, CATS recommends that students identify their scholarly community or communities and participate with them in some manner. Participation in these communities may mean attending specialized academic conferences and various Fuller Seminary colloquia, but it may also include—less formal and equally important—interactions with faculty and peers around the campus, library, and coffee shop.

The PhD degree must be completed within eight years of matriculation. Petitions for exceptions are evaluated by the CATS Committee.

Graduate Assistantships and Fellowships

A number of tuition fellowships are awarded annually to PhD students. Awards are based on merit, with the strength of all application documents used as a basis for evaluation for incoming students, and progress and GPA in the program used as a basis for evaluation for returning students. There are several awards made each year. Awards are also given specifically to international students. Dilworth Fellowships and Stassen Jubilee Fellowships are awarded annually to international students who intend to work in their country of origin. The George Gay Memorial Fellowships are awarded annually to Hispanic students, and the Mark Hatfield Fellowships are awarded to students working in the area of public life or public theology. Inquiries regarding CATS fellowships should be directed to the CATS office.

Financial aid covering part of the tuition cost is also available to graduate students in the form of research and teaching assistantships, where remuneration is given for academic assistance offered to faculty members.

Continuation Fees

Students in the PhD program must register each Fall, Winter, and Spring Quarter. Registration for Summer Quarter is not required (unless necessary due to loan deferment or visa requirements). Students who do not register for course work or language study are required to pay a continuation fee as well as any applicable seminary registration fees. Students who do not register for two successive quarters (not including summer quarter) may be dropped from the program. In order to reenter the program, the student must petition the CATS Committee, which will determine if and how re-entrance is possible.

Course Listings

Graduate seminars and directed reading courses offered in the PhD program are designated by 800 numbers. A partial list of research areas covered by the directed reading courses and a list of the specific graduate seminars to be offered in the coming year are available from the office of the Center for Advanced Theological Studies.

Master of Theology (ThM) Degree

The Master of Theology (ThM) degree is designed to enable qualified graduates in theology to broaden and deepen their theological knowledge and competencies beyond the MDiv level. The ThM prepares graduates for vocations as leaders in ecclesial and paraecclesial institutions and organizations devoted to serving the church in the world. Although completion of the ThM may serve some graduates in their preparation for further graduate studies, this degree is designed as a self-contained terminal degree.

Graduates from the ThM program should evidence:

  • A substantive understanding of the discipline of their field of theological study appropriate for advanced academic study in the service of the church
  • The capacity to formulate research questions and to use research methods and resources appropriate to the discipline, with a focus on scholarship that advances theological understanding in the service of the global church
  • Capacities for the cultivation of theologically reflective practices of Christian discipleship
  • Hospitality toward diverse theological approaches and positions, traditional and emerging, characteristic of the church catholic

ThM Degree Admission Requirements and Application Deadline

Applicants for the ThM degree should possess an MDiv degree or its educational equivalent, or an MA degree comparable to Fuller Seminary’s MA in Theology, from an institution that is accredited by The Association of Theological Schools (ATS), with an overall grade point average (GPA) of at least 3.5 (on a 4.0 scale).

At least two quarters of instruction in at least one biblical language (two biblical languages for students in New Testament, Old Testament, and certain specializations within Theological Studies—see Language Requirements section, below). Students who do not have a biblical language already may make this up as part of their ThM coursework.

All applicants, including those applicants whose first language is not English, must have taken the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) within five years preceding the date of ThM application. A verbal score of 160 (600 on the previous scale) and a writing score of 5.0 are normally considered a minimum entrance requirement.

Applicants whose primary language is not English must provide an official record of scores earned on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test. Only test scores earned within two years preceding the submission date of the applicant’s current ThM application will be acceptable. Overall TOEFL scores of at least 100 (internet-based) or 600 (paper), or IELTS overall scores of at least 7.0, meet the minimum English language entrance requirements.

Applications for admission with all the required supporting documentation must be received by Fuller’s Office of Admission no later than January 2. The supporting documentation submitted by this date must include transcripts, references, GRE and, if applicable, TOEFL or IELTS scores, and a specimen of scholarly work (that is, a writing sample on a topic related to the concentration to which one is applying, no more than 8000 words, completed within five years of application).

Notifications of admission decisions are sent out by March 15. Prior to or during the application process applicants are encouraged to contact faculty members with whom they would like to work to discuss their interests. The CATS Committee makes all decisions concerning acceptance into the ThM Program. Once admission has been granted and accepted for a particular year, new students must matriculate during the following Fall Quarter. Deferment of matriculation is normally not permitted, with only rare exceptions in extreme situations. Deferment of matriculation for more than six months is not permitted for any reason.

ThM Degree Program Structure

The ThM program consists of 32 units of academic study and the successful passing of a ThM thesis. Enrolling in 6 units of 800-level coursework, or in 12 units of 500-level coursework, constitutes full-time enrollment in the ThM program.

Coursework

All courses in a student’s ThM program are chosen under the advice of the mentor.

Students must take at least 20 units at the 800-level, including a 2-unit thesis proposal and 4-unit thesis. Other courses may be taken at the 500- or 800-level. The 500-level courses allow students to extend their basic theological knowledge and competencies in one or more areas. The 800-level courses are designed to deepen knowledge and competencies in a specialized area and provide opportunity for participation in doctoral seminars and expanded directed reading courses.

Students are required to take at least three-fourths of their coursework (24 units) in the designated field of concentration. This may be achieved through a combination of 500- and 800-level courses. One of the courses in the area of concentration must be a methods or other foundational 800-level course in that field. Students are required to write a thesis on an approved topic in their area of concentration as their final course in the program.

When a student enters the ThM program in order to undertake interdisciplinary study, with mentor approval he or she may take up to 12 units outside of his or her designated field of concentration.

In order to encourage breadth and also to utilize the rich diversity of the seminary’s course offerings, ThM students are permitted (subject to the needs of the student’s concentration, the advice of the mentor, and overall program requirements) to take any 500-level course offered on any of Fuller Seminary’s campuses, or online, in fulfillment of their degree requirements. All 800-level coursework must be taken on Fuller Seminary’s Pasadena Campus, and all 800-level seminars, expanded directed reading courses, and directed readings must be supervised by a member of the CATS Faculty.

At least 20 units of all required coursework for the ThM must be completed in seminars and/or classes on the Pasadena Campus. Independent studies and directed readings (DRs) are not counted toward this requirement.

Language Requirements

Students who want to enroll in the New Testament or Old Testament concentrations, and Theological Studies students who want to specialize in Theology or Historical Theology/Church History, must have completed no less than two quarters each of Biblical Hebrew and New Testament Greek prior to admission. All other students must have completed no less than two quarters of either Biblical Hebrew or New Testament Greek.

Students may take Biblical Hebrew or New Testament Greek for credit as a part of their ThM coursework. A maximum of 8 quarter units of language study (biblical and research languages combined) may be applied toward the ThM degree requirements. (ThM students wanting to enroll in languages offered through Fuller Seminary’s ANE program take these courses at the 800-level, with each counting two units toward the degree.)

Completion of the ThM requires competence in a research language in addition to the biblical languages. The ThM thesis should demonstrate knowledge of theological literature in the designated language as evidence of a student’s ability to engage in advanced study. All language study must be completed prior to passing the thesis proposal.

The ThM Thesis

The thesis is designed to demonstrate the student’s competence in his or her area of concentration. It should deal with a specific topic in a way comparable to a paper published in a professional journal or presented at a scholarly meeting. The thesis will be evaluated on the basis of the following criteria:

  • Does it evidence a substantive understanding of their field of theological studies appropriate for advanced academic study in the service of the church?
  • Does it evidence the capacity to formulate research questions and to use research methods and resources appropriate to the discipline, with a focus on scholarship that advances theological understanding in the service of the global church?
  • Does it evidence hospitality toward diverse theological approaches and positions, traditional and emerging, characteristic of the church catholic?
  • Does it evidence independent research and originality in making a contribution to the field?
  • Does it evidence appropriate form, style, and literary presentation?

Degree Duration and Graduation

The ThM degree may be completed in one calendar year of full-time study or its equivalent. It must be completed within three years of initial enrollment. Petitions for exceptions are evaluated by the CATS Committee.

Students must have fulfilled all course, language, and thesis requirements in order to be eligible to participate in the commencement ceremony. Students may be cleared for graduation during any quarter of the academic year provided that all degree requirements have been met.

Credit Transfer in the ThM Program

The CATS Committee allows students to transfer a maximum of 12 units of MA/MDiv coursework taken at Fuller Seminary into the ThM program. The 12 units may count toward the ThM degree only if they do not apply toward any other degree program and are taken before the applicant is officially accepted to the ThM program. Such coursework must have received a grade of B or better; courses taken Pass/Fail may not be transferred. Transfer credit is not otherwise possible.

Relation to Other School of Theology Degree Programs

The ThM is designed as a self-contained terminal degree. However, the ThM may be viewed as a complement to the DMin program, in view of the fact that the latter concentrates on competence in the practice of ministry in such areas as church growth, counseling, preaching, management, etc. The ThM provides an opportunity for pastors and others to pursue advanced study in theological disciplines, as well as to extend their knowledge and competence in the wide variety of courses offered by Fuller on the Pasadena campus and at its other sites.

Master of Theology students who wish to earn the PhD do not transfer directly to the PhD program. A new application for admission to the PhD must be submitted as one nears graduation from the ThM program. Entrance to the PhD program is subject to meeting the entrance requirements in effect at the time of application in competition for available places. Only students who have earned a cumulative GPA of 3.7 or higher for their ThM work will be considered for admission to the PhD program.

Students in the PhD program may transfer to the ThM as a terminal degree, either for personal reasons or because their performance in the PhD program does not warrant continuance in it. PhD students who have completed 32 or more units in the first stage, including research language units, may submit a ThM thesis without registering for the designated directed studies for the thesis proposal or the ThM thesis. PhD students who have completed one or more comprehensive examinations may receive two units of credit against the ThM degree for each exam graded “Passed” or “Passed with Distinction.” Three comprehensive exams graded “Passed” or “Passed with Distinction” may replace the requirement to submit a ThM thesis.

For more information on the ThM degree and its policies, please refer to the CATS Student Handbook.

Mentors

At the outset of a student’s program the CATS Committee will assign a member of the Graduate Faculty as the student’s mentor. The mentor, who teaches in the area of the student’s concentration, is responsible for advising the student about courses, and for supervision and examination of the thesis. The student is required to take at least the 6-unit thesis course with the mentor. All Full, Associate, and Contributing Members of the CATS Graduate Faculty are eligible to serve as mentors.

Continuation Fees

Students in the ThM program must register each Fall, Winter, and Spring Quarter. Registration for Summer Quarter is not required (unless necessary due to loan deferment or visa requirements). Students who do not register for course work or language study are required to pay a continuation fee as well as any applicable seminary registration fees. Students who do not register for two successive quarters (not including summer quarter) may be dropped from the program. In order to reenter the program, the student must petition the CATS Committee, which will determine if and how re-entrance is possible.

Course Listings

Graduate seminars and directed reading courses offered in the PhD and ThM programs are designated by 800 numbers. The 4-unit courses which ThM students may take as a part of their curriculum are designated by 500 numbers. A list of 500-level (4-unit) courses may be found in the Courses of Study section. A partial list of research areas covered by the directed reading courses and a list of the specific graduate seminars to be offered in the coming year are available from the office of the Center for Advanced Theological Studies.

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