Joint Doctoral Program in the Study of Religion

Degree Overview

The DU/Iliff Joint Doctoral Program in the Study of Religion

We are excited to announce that, beginning in fall 2015, The University of Denver/Iliff School of Theology Joint Doctoral Program (JDP) will implement a newly structured program. The new program is more integrated than the previous program, which located students in one of four distinct concentrations.

Visit the DU/Iliff Joint Doctoral Program website.

The JDP assumes that innovative and exciting academic inquiries depend on conversations between people who approach the study of religion from different angles. For this reason, the program is not structured according to discrete concentrations; it is designed to foster collegial relationships between students and faculty who have overlapping approaches to the study of religion but locate themselves in different areas of specialization. The core curriculum of the program is therefore structured around three colloquia where these overlapping approaches come together to create conversation among those who study different places, spaces, texts, rituals, images, and religious traditions. For more details, see Program Structure and Requirements.

The program draws on the various strengths of faculty members at both the Iliff School of Theology and the University of Denver. In addition to DU’s department of religious studies, faculty from philosophy, anthropology, literature, art history, media studies, psychology and international studies play an active role in the JDP.

With the guidance of faculty, students define their academic specializations through course work, comprehensive exams, and the completion of a dissertation

Prospective Students – Welcome to the JDP!

The Joint Doctoral Program in the Study of Religion (JDP), housed at the University of Denver and the Iliff School of Theology, has been developing leaders in the field of religion for over thirty years. The program offers students a rich and rigorous, yet flexible and interdisciplinary, environment for academic conversation and study. Students in the JDP benefit from a strong sense of community. Our students participate in a range of colloquia and general collegiality that promote innovative and relevant scholarship that prepares students for careers in academia, religious communities, governmental organizations, counseling centers, and a variety of other vocational venues. Through close peer and faculty relationships and support, students develop their professional identities within the academic study of religion.

Across various specializations, JDP faculty are committed to educating all our students in the critical study of religion and to helping them develop the ability to understand their areas of specialization as a part of the discipline of religious studies.

The curriculum of the JDP seeks to prepare students to understand and participate in conversations about key ideas, themes, theories, questions, problems, and recurring topics in the study of religion. Engaging in such conversations as they relate to the broader field of religion as well as within specialized foci of students as researchers and practitioners reflects the trends of the study of religion, including trends within professional organizations such as the American Academy of Religion.

Sphere of Inquiry for Interdisciplinary Study

The academic program utilizes lenses for study and research called spheres of inquiry.

  • Lived Religion (persons and communities)
  • Conceptual Approaches to Religion (issues, concepts, and social and cultural phenomena)
  • Religion in Text, Image, and Artifact

The spheres are not discrete tracks of study but are intended to create spaces for conversation among faculty and students who have different areas of specialization. Each year, three colloquia will be offered, one for each sphere, focusing on a different theme. One faculty member will serve as moderator, but several faculty will participate as determined by their research interests. During their course work, students must take one colloquium in each sphere, though they may take more than one if they choose, since the themes will vary year to year.

Degree Curriculum

For curriculum information, please visit our website at, or contact us at 303-765-3136 or 800-678-3360, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Program Strengths for In-depth Study

Like any PhD program, the JDP has resources to offer specialized study in a limited number of subject areas. The strengths of JDP faculty determine the most productive opportunities for study and for directed research, such as dissertation projects. The academic areas listed are not distinct concentrations, but rather areas of strength among the current faculty of DU and Iliff. Students are encouraged to read faculty publications as they explore the various areas of strength listed below. See academic areas of strength.

Degree Requirements

For students who enter the program after fall 2015

These are the common requirements for all students entering the JDP in fall 2015 and later:

Advising & Mentoring

All entering students meet with the program advisor quarterly to help navigate academic requirements. In the first quarter, students also identify a faculty mentor, who may ultimately become their dissertation advisor. Students are responsible for knowing the requirements.

90 Quarter Hours of Academic Credit

This normally includes 82 hours of courses and 8 hours of dissertation credits. The academic year is divided into three quarters of 10 to 11 weeks. Most classes receive 4-5 quarter hours of credit, meaning that they meet that many hours per week in the classroom and at least double that many hours of work is expected out of the classroom. Summer is a separate, optional term.

Within the 90 hours, students take 6 required classes (24 quarter hours):

  • Theories and Methods in the Study of Religion
  • Lived Religion Colloquium
  • Conceptual Approaches to Religion Colloquium
  • Text, Image, and Artifact Colloquium
  • Pedagogy and the Teaching of Religion
  • Dissertation Proposal Seminar

Within the 90 hours, students will choose at least 54 quarter hours of electives:

Students may take any course from the 3000-level through the 6000-level at DU or designated 4000-level courses at Iliff plus any 5000- and 6000-level Iliff course. Examples of courses regularly offered may be found here.
Residency and Time Limits

The JDP is a residential program. Although a few courses are offered online, this is not a distance learning program and all students must be in residence until advancement to candidacy. Full-time status requires enrollment in at least eight credit hours per quarter, and the completion of course work, including comprehensive exams and the dissertation proposal, within 3 years. The dissertation may take from 2 to 4 years. All students have a 7-year time limit from the start of course work.

Modern Language

Typically French, German, or Spanish, this language allows the student to read scholarship in the field of religious studies. To complete this requirement, all students take a reading comprehension and translation exam at a level equivalent to two years of college language. Courses taken to meet this requirement will not count toward the 90 credits needed for the PhD degree and are not covered by program-awarded financial aid. The Center for World Languages and Cultures provides independent-learning language software and administers the exam.

Students focusing in biblical studies must acquire additional languages such as Hebrew, Greek, and/or Aramaic, as primary content in their field.

Comprehensive Exams

Comprehensive exams are taken at the end of the course work. These written exams are designed to test the student’s knowledge of foundational concepts, methods, and bibliographies in religious studies as well as the student’s specific areas of focus. There are four exams, each administered within the context of a four-credit comprehensive review class. Together, the exams comprise a major component of the program. Passing them will be recognized as a milestone in working toward the degree. One retake is allowed per exam and failure the second time on any exam means automatic termination from the program.
Advancement to Candidacy

Advancement to candidacy occurs after completion of course work, all comprehensive exams, all required languages, and successful public defense of the dissertation proposal.


Normally researched and written within 2-5 years after advancement to candidacy under the guidance of the chosen dissertation advisor and committee. Eight hours of dissertation credit are distributed over these years as the student prefers. An oral defense of the dissertation occurs no less than 3 weeks before graduation.

Degree Options

Cooperative Degree With The Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Denver

Iliff offers several professional degree programs which provide foundational knowledge and expertise in pastoral care and counseling for parish ministry as well as for community work in non-profit and for-profit settings. Students who wish to obtain a counseling license or those interested in more extensive training in community organizing and leadership should consider combining the Iliff degree with further training in clinical and community work.

A cooperative arrangement between the University of Denver (DU) and Iliff School of Theology and The Graduate School of Social Work (GSSW), allows qualified students to pursue concurrently the Master of Divinity, the Master of Arts in Social Change, the Master of Arts in Pastoral and Spiritual Care, the Master of Theological Studies or the Master of Arts degree with the Master of Social Work (MSW) degree. The Cooperative Degree Program offers students the opportunity to apply theological learning to social service settings.

Admission Requirements

Students may apply for participation in the Cooperative Program before beginning study on either degree or after having begun work on one of the two degrees. Admission to the program is not possible after requirements for either degree have been completed.

Admission requirements of both schools must be met. Admission to one degree program is not contingent on admission to the other. Provisions of the cooperative arrangement apply only to students who are admitted to both programs. Students pursuing both degree programs must notify in writing the Registrars at both Iliff and the GSSW of their cooperative status.

Tuition and Financial Aid

Students will seek financial aid and pay tuition and fees to each school. Federal financial aid, however, cannot be drawn from both schools simultaneously. Each year students in the cooperative program will have a school of primary registration. Students who require financial assistance will apply to the school of primary registration for that assistance on a yearly basis. In rare instances, students will be allowed to adjust their primary school of registration on a quarterly basis.

Length of Study

Each school allows students to transfer a predetermined number of credits from one degree program into the other. This allows students to complete both degrees in a shorter amount of time. For example in the Master of Divinity cooperative degree students transfer 20 quarter credit hours from the GSSW (DU) to Iliff and transfer 15 credits from Iliff to GSSW. Thus, students who attend full-time can finish at least one quarter early from each degree program. Students may elect to take courses over a longer period of time or shorten the period by enrolling for courses in the summer.