Doctoral Program Design

Applicants are strongly encouraged to begin discussions with the program director as soon as possible in order to ensure that the application process proceeds as well as possible. The program director will work with all applicants and accepted students to ensure that their initial preparation for the commencement of doctoral studies is as strong as possible. For this to happen, both applicants and newly admitted students are highly encouraged to be in close conversation with the program director.

Pre-candidacy extends from the student’s commencement in the program through the successful completion of candidacy examinations. The period of study includes 42 credit hours of doctoral coursework. It is designed to engage the student with the length and breadth of the literature necessary for joining the scholarly conversation.

Precandidacy coursework revolves around eight core courses of four credits each, designed to explore contemporary practical theology and method (STM 811), practical theology’s engagement with hermeneutics and methodology (STM 821), show how to work with sources of Christian practical theology from scripture and tradition (STM 831), and the critical and mutually enriching relationship between contemporary practical theology and social science, including critical theory (STM 841). Students also integrate their experience in a praxis-based learning context that examines classic arenas of practical theological engagement such as spirituality and formation (STM 911), community life and pastoral practice (STM 921), public theology (STM 931), and ritual and culture (STM 941). They are meant to build around the four-fold practices of marturia (including didache and kergyma), koinonia, diaconia, and leiturgia, respectively.

These eight four-credit courses are offered over a two year rotation in the fall and spring semesters, totaling 32 credits. Precandidacy course work includes an additional four credit core course (Advanced Practical Theology, STM 851), offered in the summer before candidacy examinations. In addition, precandidates also complete six elective credits, which may include course electives specifically offered by the doctoral program, doctoral transfer credits, or independent study courses taken as directed doctoral reading or research or supervised teaching. Such credits are typically taken in the summer after the first year of study, though they may also be taken as additional credit hours during the fall and spring semesters.

Only those who have fully completed all pre-candidacy course or other program requirements may sit for candidacy examinations, which consist of three separate assessments. The first is a project completed by or before August 1, comprising a complete design of a course of the students’ choosing, including a syllabus, assessment rubrics, assignments and examinations, and lecture or class activity notes. The second assessment is a time-limited, on-site written exam designed to be written over the course of eight hours without benefit of notes or texts. It is administered on the first Saturday after Labor Day. The third assessment is an approximately two hour long oral examination before a panel of doctoral faculty. This is scheduled for the week following the written exam. All three assessments draw on the candidacy examination bibliographies, though in various ways. Results are reported for the entire set of examinations rather than for any single portion. Students must pass the entire set of examinations as a whole. Students are given a “pass,” “fail,” or a “pass with distinction.” Students who fail may retake them at the discretion of the examining doctoral faculty, but not sooner than three months after the examinations were taken.
Candidacy examinations assume an in-depth familiarity within three distinct bibliographies: (I), foundations of practical theology, including core works, key areas, and major substantive work; (II), practical theological methodology, including hermeneutics and empirical research methods; and (III), the student’s particular field(s) of specialization, ordinarily understood as the area(s) of inquiry most related to a student’s dissertation. Each bibliography typically includes about thirty original scholarly texts. The first two bibliographies are the same for all those students being examined at any one time. The first two bibliographies, and even the third, naturally and unavoidably overlap a great deal in terms of topics and kinds of works. The overall examination is therefore about all three bibliographies together, though there is some difference in relative emphasis. The first half of the Saturday written examination focuses a bit more on the first bibliography, the second half of the written examination focuses a bit more on the second bibliography, and the oral exam tends to focus a bit more on the third bibliography. The student is encouraged to build on the field, as represented in these three bibliographies, in the development of the course materials that are due August 1.

The first two bibliographies are created by the faculty, primarily but not exclusively on the basis of key texts in the various precandidacy courses. The third bibliography is developed by each student separately in close conversation with specialists, ideally including some who may eventually serve on that student’s dissertation committee. Each student should develop an active, working relationship with one faculty member in the School of Theology and Ministry for the purpose of developing this bibliography and exploring which specialists outside the University should be consulted. Each student is also encouraged to find a conversation partner outside St. Thomas University, ordinarily someone who would be qualified to potentially serve as a member of that student’s dissertation committee. This outside scholar would then review, offer feedback, and support the development of the third bibliography of that student. This allows the student an opportunity to work with a faculty member in ways analogous to the dissertation process.

The student must receive approval for their third bibliography from the doctoral faculty of the School of Theology and Ministry no less than three months before candidacy exams are taken. The file containing the proposed bibliography should be submitted electronically to the program director under a file name that includes the student’s name and the formal title of the third bibliography. The title of the bibliography will be listed on the student’s academic transcript upon successfully passing candidacy examinations, though the space on the transcript has fewer than 30 characters available. The doctoral faculty together approves the proposed third bibliographies, reflecting the fact that the doctoral faculty acting as a panel is responsible to examine each student.

Certain alternative forms of evaluation may be accepted in lieu of the first, project-based assessment due August 1. Students may substitute an article in a peer-reviewed journal specifically in practical theology or an allied field written since they entered the doctoral program. Students working on an article for publication in a peer-reviewed journal may also request that this article under development be substituted, though this is granted only under some conditions. There must be clear evidence that the article is publish-ready and the doctoral faculty must approve the request. In making the request to the doctoral program director on behalf of the faculty, students should be sure to identify the three peer-reviewed journals that they see as most likely to publish their work. The journals must be specifically in practical theology or an allied field and may not be in a generic multidisciplinary studies journal such as that published by St. Thomas University.

Dissertation Writing
The capstone of the Ph.D. program is the proposal, writing, and successful defense of a doctoral dissertation worthy of the name. All efforts in coursework and candidacy examination preparation, including all reading, writing, note-taking, presentations, electronic archiving, and any other activity should be directed toward potential usefulness in the conceptualization, writing, or execution of the dissertation. Each student should prioritize the development of an intimate familiarity with library and on-line research procedures as well as the Chicago Manual of Style (sixteenth edition) in all its complexities. Students should prepare themselves for effective field research and related methods as well, including the IRB process, in order to prepare themselves for effective dissertation work.

While the precise dissertation plan structure is not formally set until the dissertation proposal has been successfully defended, a student may anticipate likely directions and should plan accordingly. Every book and article read, each scholarly conversation, all notes taken and archived, and everything else related to their doctoral study should be seen as part of a scholarly agenda and trajectory of which the dissertation is the major part. Students should be in conversation with faculty as well as others in the program, including doctoral candidates writing their dissertations, to get a better idea of the process as soon as possible.

Studying for the candidacy examinations gives students an ideal opportunity to look over the coursework in light of a maturing vision of their scholarly agenda and dissertation research. Students should utilize the opportunity to take the initiative to develop relationships with faculty outside of their coursework. Each student should develop a relationship with a faculty member who might serve as a guide while the student explores possible dissertation topics. Such work ideally begins during precandidacy, though students should not overly focus on their dissertation during this period. Instead, they should cultivate a broad competence in practical theology even as they aim themselves toward a specific scholarly agenda. Faculty members can serve as conversation partners with individual students in this endeavor. Students should seek to develop a proper balance and discipline appropriate to doctoral studies. By the end of the second year of precandidacy, and ideally sooner, students will have the third bibliography for candidacy examinations, as described below. They will likely have been thinking about many of these texts since the start of the program or before. The student’s work to finalize the third bibliography is critical work that anticipates the ultimate direction of the dissertation and the student’s future scholarly agenda.

Candidacy examinations are the critical gateway to the dissertation. Successfully passing of these multi-day, multi-format preliminary examinations for the doctoral degree, with the final examination being the dissertation defense) confer a new status: that of a candidate for the doctorate. Candidates are eligible to create and submit a dissertation proposal, otherwise known as a prospectus. This is generally written during the first full semester of candidacy as part of the three-credit Prospectus Seminar (STM 961). During this time, working with a prospective chair of the candidate’s dissertation committee and the dean of the School of Theology and Ministry, the candidate identifies potential members of the dissertation committee. After defending the prospectus before an approved dissertation committee, candidates formally begin the process of researching and writing a dissertation. All students and candidates are, of course, encouraged to conduct research and work within their selected topic area as far in advance as possible, up to and including the very beginning of their doctoral studies.

During the writing phase, candidates participate in dissertation seminars (STM 871, 881, 891) designed to assist and support them in their writing and in learning about scholarly work, including panel presentations, workshops, publications, grant writing, and related skills.

Successful defense of the dissertation takes place before the dissertation committee by a candidate who has met and completed all other requirements regarding credit hours and the candidacy examination, and who is in good standing, is the requirement for conferral of the Ph.D. degree. At the time of the successful defense, the dissertation is approved by the committee for publication. It may not be sent to ProQuest to be made available as a successfully completed dissertation, however, until a format check has been completed and the work approved by the Library personnel designated for that purpose. The Ph.D. cannot be conferred until the ProQuest has officially received the approved dissertation for publication.