Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Overview

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Religion is offered through The DU/Iliff Joint Doctoral Program in the Study of Religion.

Purpose and Nature of the Degree Program

The Joint PHD Program prepares persons for independent research and teaching in the fields of religious and theological studies. Special emphasis is given to enabling students to be effective teachers in the study of religion and theology. Some will use these abilities as university, college, or seminary scholar/teachers. Others will find vocational fulfillment within the context of religious organizations, institutes, counseling centers, government agencies or other organizations.

Currently, the Doctor of Philosophy in Religion degree program offers concentrations in:

  • Biblical Interpretation
  • Religion and Psychological Studies
  • Religion and Social Change
  • Theology, Philosophy and Cultural Theory

For more 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).

Admission Requirements

Applicants should submit, with the completed application form, the following information:

  1. Official transcripts of the applicant’s complete academic record from each college, university, and/or seminary attended. An official transcript must include the original signature of the registrar and/or the seal of the issuing institution, and must be enclosed in an envelope with the stamp or signature of the registrar across the sealed flap. Proof of a bachelor’s and master’s degree is required from a regionally accredited college or university.
  2. Graduate Record Examination aptitude scores and the official score of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) for those applicants whose native language is not English. (Note: When reporting scores to the Joint PHD Program, please use the institution code for the University of Denver, #4842.)
  3. Three letters of recommendation are required from qualified persons, including undergraduate and/or graduate faculty familiar with the applicant’s academic work. Letter of recommendation requests are sent to the recommender via email within one business day of the submission of the online application. Applicants will be asked to provide names and email addresses of individuals who will be writing recommendations.
  4. A statement of purpose outlining the professional and/or academic goals of the applicant (may be combined with #5 below). It is strongly recommended to identify specific faculty you wish to work with.
  5. An essay discussing the applicant’s interest and background in the chosen concentration (may be combined with #4 above Combined length is typically three-five pages).
  6. A research paper or essay that represents the applicant’s best effort in an academic field of study directly related to the proposed field of study. (Length is typically 10-20 pages, not to exceed 25 pages).

Other requirements for matriculation are:

  • A completed two-year master’s degree relevant to the student’s proposed concentration(s). In special cases, if a student is admitted with a master’s degree in a field other than Religious Studies, or the like, the student’s Advisory Committee may require remedial coursework that would not count as part of the student’s program. Such course work would not be covered by financial aid.
  • A grade point average from all graduate work of no less than 3.0 (B).

Applications for admission are processed on an annual basis. The complete application dossier is due January 15 and must be accompanied by the application fee.

*The Program provides several forms of financial aid*, for which every student is eligible. Program-sponsored financial aid is awarded on a merit basis. Awards typically range from a percentage of tuition waiver to full-tuition fellowships. It is, however, the student’s responsibility to finance his/her doctoral education while enrolled in the Joint PHD Program. Financial Aid is usually offered only during the coursework phase of the Program. Contact the Joint PHD Program office for more information.

International students in the Joint PhD Program are generally assisted in immigration matters by DU’s International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) office, which issues the necessary F-1 and J-1 visa paperwork. Students also have access to the University of Denver’s Foreign Student Advising Office, which serves many of the needs of international students. All international students are urged to consult with DU’s Office of Graduate Studies or ISSS with questions regarding international admissions.

The Joint PHD Program requires 90 quarter credits and the writing and successful defense of a dissertation. At least 45 quarter credits must be taken in residence in the Joint PhD Program. Within these general constraints, each concentration negotiates specific requirements for course distribution and examinations. All requirements for the degree must be completed during a period equivalent to seven years from the time of the first course taken. A minimum residency of one academic year of full-time study is required.

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).

Degree Requirements

The Joint PHD Program consists of the following requirements:

The preliminary interview is conducted by the student’s Advisory Committee during the student’s first quarter of study in residence. The Advisory Committee is the key to the student’s success. The Advisory Committee will serve as the student’s primary academic and administrative resource throughout the program, from admission to graduation. The Advisory Committee may be modified by mutual consent as interests clarify and change. The Advisory Committee will have at least one member from each school, and usually one member from outside the student’s primary concentration.

Language requirements are designed to give the student access to international scholarly literature relevant to the student’s academic work. The Joint PhD Program requires students to demonstrate competence in two modern languages, one of which is English. The second modern language requirement may be met in the following ways:

  1. A second modern language of scholarly discourse, normally French, German or Spanish; or
  2. A modern research language specifically related to the students’ academic field. In the case of international students this may be an international student’s first language if and only if that language is appropriate for the student’s concentration and research.

In addition to the two modern research languages required of all students in the Program, the Concentrations, through the Advisory Committees, may require additional linguistic tools necessary to conduct research in their disciplines.

Students must take three competency examinations, which may be spread out over the coursework phase of the program. These examinations will be based upon bibliographies and course work negotiated between the student and the Advisory Committee.

PHD degree candidacy recognizes the completion of all required languages, the three competency examinations, and all course work (a minimum of 82 quarter credits). During candidacy all students first prepare and defend a dissertation proposal. The Advisory Committee approves dissertation proposals, after review and comment by the Joint PhD Committee and a public defense of the proposal.

All students must write and defend orally a dissertation. A minimum of four quarter credits, but not more than eight, must be taken for dissertation research.

Core Courses

To provide unity to the program, and prepare students for multi-disciplinary teaching and research, three core courses are required. These are offered annually.

THEO 6001/RLGS 4000: Theories and Methods in the Study of Religion
This course covers “representative” theories of religion in the modern period, and highlights important contemporary theoretical debates in the academic study of religion.

THEO 6002/RLGS 4010: Pedagogy and the Teaching of Religion
This course will look at pedagogical methods as they relate to the teaching of religion. Students will design syllabi and materials appropriate for the teaching of religion in at least two different contexts. In addition, the course will cover theoretical issues related to the teaching and learning process.

THEO 6003/RLGS 4090: Dissertation Proposal Seminar
This seminar will focus upon the range of research topics and methods in religious and theological studies by examining dissertations and dissertation proposals related to the Joint PhD Program at Iliff and the University of Denver. Bibliographic and research methods and matters of style and format will receive particular emphasis. Students will present their own dissertation proposals for discussion.

For further information on this degree program contact the Joint PHD Office at (303) 765-3136, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), or visit


Biblical Interpretation Concentration

This research program focuses on Hebrew Bible and early Christian (canonical and apocryphal) literature. Students in this concentration will have competence to teach undergraduate and graduate courses in the literature, history and religion of ancient Israel and early Christianity. In addition to teaching competencies, graduates will be prepared to conduct research and scholarship in biblical studies. Students may specialize in select areas of either Hebrew Bible or the New Testament and their cognate literatures.

A specialization in this concentration requires demonstration of advanced competency in biblical languages (Hebrew and Greek) along with usage of each language within the past three years. The application process for this concentration also requires a research paper in biblical studies, preferably an analysis of a biblical text, and it assumes general background in biblical literature and history.

The student develops a study plan in consultation with an Advisory Committee. Comprehensive exams will assess the student’s grasp of critical issues and biblical interpretation generally, and his/her readiness to pursue dissertation research. The student and advisor in consultation with concentration faculty develop the questions.

Concentration Faculty

Course List

Religion and Psychological Studies Concentration

The concentration in Religion and Psychological Studies has two emphases: (a) Religion and Behavioral Sciences and (b) Pastoral Theology and Care. Other combinations are possible.

(a) The Religion and Behavioral Sciences track is designed to help persons explore the relationship of behavioral sciences, personality theory, and religion. Students in this track will be prepared to do research and teach in the fields of religion and personality and psychology of religion. Graduates from this track would, therefore, be in a position to teach at the college, university, or seminary level in the general field of psychology of religion. Successful degree candidates will be conversant with other disciplines and methods of inquiry in religious studies.

(b) The Pastoral Theology and Care track is designed to train persons critically and constructively to relate theological and psychological resources to spiritual/pastoral care, clinical work, teaching, and research in the field of pastoral theology and care. This track is not designed to prepare persons to meet the requirements for licensing in any mental health discipline, including psychology.

Preference in admission will be given to those entering the Religion and Behavioral Sciences emphasis who have at least an undergraduate major in psychology or its equivalent. Preference in admission will also be given to those entering the Pastoral Theology and Care emphasis who have more than one unit of Clinical Pastoral Education, and who have had clinical experience in Pastoral Counseling.

Concentration Faculty

Course List

Religion and Social Change Concentration

The concentration in Religion and Social Change is an interdisciplinary research program focusing on the relation of religions and societies. Religion functions sometimes to conserve values in the midst of change; sometimes to inhibit urgently needed change, and sometimes to empower and motivate qualitative change. The concentration provides a scholarly context for pursuing descriptive, analytic and constructive examination of these complex interrelationships between religions and societies. A commitment to explore the ways religious thought may contribute to responsible engagement with contemporary societal and global challenges is a major dimension of this concentration. A critical aspect of this exploration is the systemic whole of globalization within which particular contexts and problems are located.

Academic disciplines especially germane to this interdisciplinary concentration are social sciences (e.g. sociology, anthropology, international studies); religious, intellectual and cultural histories; and critical reflection (ethics, philosophy, theology, cultural theory). An assumption of this program is that the interrelationships of religions and societies are most fruitfully understood through a combination of descriptive, historical and critical theories and methods.

Within this concentration, special resources are available in:

  • Religion, politics and social change in varied societal contexts (e.g. Europe, First Nation Peoples, Middle East, North America, South Asia, and Southern Africa)
  • Religious and cultural diversity in varied societal contexts (see above)
  • Postcolonial thought and critiques of globalization
  • Critical theory pertaining to systemic analysis
  • American Indian cultures and religious traditions
  • Human rights
  • Latina/o Religion and Religion on the Border

Concentration Faculty

Course List

Theology, Philosophy and Cultural Theory Concentration

Four subfields comprise the concentration in Theology, Philosophy and Cultural Theory:

  • Theology: modern and contemporary theology and Western religious thought;
  • Philosophy: Western philosophies that have had a major impact on developments in theology and the study of religion;
  • Comparative Studies: theories of cross-cultural comparison and their application to the study of non-Western religion and philosophy;
  • Cultural Theory: modern theories and critiques of religion and culture.

Students graduating from this concentration will have developed competency to teach at least one undergraduate course in each of the four subfields. They will also be prepared to do research, publish, and teach in their subfield of specialization. Admission into this concentration presupposes master’s degree with an appropriate background for study in the subfields.

Concentration Faculty

Course List

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.