PHD IN THEOLOGY
Augustine famously linked faith and true understanding. But Augustine was also acutely aware of his own complex cultural context and its impact on both his faith and on the process of understanding.
Retrieving and adapting the Augustinian tradition for contemporary theological reflection is what orients us. For us, theology is interdisciplinary and integrative. Admission to our program necessitates the engagement of two theological subdisciplines and the pursuit of them through their own lens as well as through those of other academic disciplines, all within the broader faith engaging culture framework. Our program also emphasizes the study of theology as lived experience, an emphasis which asks you to join theory and practice and the mind with the heart, so that the ability to analyze, to articulate, and to communicate faith impactfully will become what defines you.
FAITH & CULTURE: LEAD THE CONVERSATION
Applicants seeking program admission (with or without an assistantship) must submit a completed application by January 9, 2023.
We envision a small program that permits us to dedicate resources to fulfilling program outcomes responsibly. Consequently, we admit four funded full-time students, selected competitively, to the program per year. We also admit a limited number of select self-funded full-time and part-time students.
We will review all completed applications for full-time studies in January and aim to notify you of the status of your application during the course of February. We will notify applicants for part-time studies of the status of their applications by mid-April.
Admission to Areas
Because learning in the program is governed by the interrelationship of two primary areas of theological inquiry, applicants are admitted to specific area combinations. It is, however, permitted to change one's specific area combination within the first year of studies. Within the second year, you will concentrate on your two primary areas of inquiry. While further adjustment of one's specific area combination may still be possible after the first year, this will prolong one's studies (because all area requirements must be fulfilled).
Studying Full-time or Part-time
The doctoral program is designed primarily for full-time study. Full-time students normally complete the program in six years.
Because of our goal to prepare students for both the academy and a variety of professions (e.g., careers in secondary school education and ministerial leadership), we also admit a limited number of select students on a part-time basis. Part-time students may take up to 12 years to complete all degree requirements for the combined Master's/PhD program.
Please not that University scholarships are awarded to full-time students only.
The items listed in the following checklist are all that we need in order to review your application. Please do not submit any materials beyond what is requested below. Any additional materials that are submitted will not be considered as part of your application.
You are not required to submit all application materials together. However, we will consider applications only when an application is complete, that is, only after all materials have been received and uploaded. To ensure a timely review, consider submitting your application well ahead of the posted deadlines.
- Completion of Online Application
- Application Fee (Nonrefundable)1
- CV or Resume
- Three Letters of Recommendation (Academic)2
- Bachelor's Degree (completed by June 1 of year of admission)
- 18 undergraduate credit hours in Theology, Religion or the equivalent4
- GPA (UG/G) of 3.75 or higher5
- Application Essay6
- (For non-native speakers of English), a score of 135 or higher on the Duolingo English exam or a score of 100 or higher on the TOEFL English exam.7
- The application fee is waived for the following individuals: 1) Those who already hold a Villanova University degree (undergraduate or graduate). 2) Those who have attended a Villanova Event (open house, virtual or in-person information session). 3) McNair Scholars. We ask McNair Scholars to have their program administrator send a letter or email to us confirming your participation in the program.
- Please contact us if you cannot meet this requirement. Please note that if you are a member of a religious order or have been ordained within a Christian denomination that is governed by bishops, one of these three letters must be requested from your immediate superior or bishop.
- Transcripts of all previous college work (undergraduate and graduate where applicable). Unofficial copies may be uploaded in your online application for review. Official copies are required for international applicants and for all applicants who receive an offer of admission. Have official transcripts sent to:
Office of Graduate Studies
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
800 Lancaster Avenue
Villanova, PA 19085
- We also welcome your application if you majored in other fields in the Humanities, the Social Sciences, the Sciences, Law, etc.
- Please contact us if you do not meet this requirement. In some cases, exceptional applicants with a GPA below 3.75 are considered.
- One single, interesting, well-balanced, and academic essay of between 1,200 and 1,500 words that fully integrates your answers to the following two questions while also demonstrating critical reflection, careful argumentation and your best scholarly writing:
- A Villanova PhD in Theology commits you to studying the intersection of faith and culture within the Catholic tradition. Which two or three texts have done the most to inform your interest in this intersection? How exactly have they done this?
- A Villanova PhD in Theology also commits you to two areas of specialization. Which questions and/or readings have motivated your choice for these two areas? How will studying in these areas improve your ability to understand and/or address them?
- Please contact us if your test score does not meet the relevant requirement. Our program’s evaluation of an applicant’s linguistic competence does not rely exclusively on these tests and, in some cases, exceptional applicants with scores below these thresholds are considered.
Goal 1: Formulate Faith/Culture Relationship(s)
Generate original understandings of the faith/culture relationship(s), with attention to the experiences of diversity/inclusion, power, privilege, & marginalization.
Formulate advanced, interdisciplinary, integrative, and/or inclusive approaches to the analysis of culture(s) & the dimensions of faith and lived experience.
Goal 2: Communicate Knowledge
Advance theological knowing in the Catholic Augustinian tradition as a basis for transformative action in the world.
Assume the role of a productive, ethical, intellectual, and socially responsible leader, scholar, and teacher.
To fulfill the requirements of the combined Master’s/PhD program, students complete:
- 78 credit hours in graduate THL course work;
- Up to 6 credit hours in language courses if required;
- 1 dissertation writing course (0 credit hours);
- 9 credit hours in religious/theological education and supervised teaching.
Ordinarily, each student must demonstrate reading and comprehending competency in those languages that are relevant to the student’s fields of study. Precise requirements are determined in consultation with the PhD Program Co-Director for Programming and the two Dissertation Co-Directors as soon as the student has chosen his or her directors.
The student’s continuation in the doctoral program is based on three reviews of the materials included in the Portfolio. The Portfolio is an academic archive, a comprehensive, organized and cumulative electronic record of the breadth and depth of a student’s accomplishments over time in coursework, research, teaching, and other academic and professional experiences in the program.
Dissertation Writing and Co-Direction
Students pursue theology engaging culture through the lenses of two areas of specialization and acquire expertise in both areas. To assure that all students graduating from the program are familiar with, and competent in, studying the relationships between faith and culture from interdisciplinary theological perspectives, each student will have two dissertation co-directors from the student’s two areas of specialization.
For a detailed description of all program requirements, please consult the Handbook.
To relate faith and culture in a critical way, students choose two areas for advanced course work and dissertation research, sufficiently mastering the two for conducting interdisciplinary, integrative research and college level teaching. We offer four areas of specialization.
Biblical studies in the Augustinian Catholic tradition prepares students to reflect critically and theologically upon scripture in research and teaching. Its focus is the deep inner unity of the biblical narrative as a whole as well as the contributions of individual texts to this unity as they shape a theological narrative concerning the relationships among God, human beings, and the world through time and culture(s). Students in the area demonstrate competency in
- the use of a range of analytical methods and critical approaches to the biblical corpus and the scholarship of the field;
- the analysis of the literature, history, culture, and religion pertinent to the interpretation of Old and New Testament texts.
- the study of the theological dimensions of the scriptures as well as their reception in Christian history and thought.
Courses taught in the past in this area have included:
- Wisdom Literature
- Prophetic Tradition
- Gospel of Mark
- The Pauline Tradition
- The Johannine Tradition
- The Bible in Popular Culture
God’s revelation in events, words and especially in the person of Jesus Christ compels systematic and constructive theology to engage with culture. Steeped in the long and rich Christian tradition, systematic and constructive theology explores the diverse layers of that tradition and brings the truths of the tradition to bear on the contemporary situation in language that finds a hearing in that situation. In this way, as theology explores Christian belief and practice, theology and culture engage each other.
This area of theology pursues these questions in a number of ways, understanding that human experience and its diverse cultural expressions and power vectors act as critical resources for theological reflection. It applies the insights of other disciplines as it reflects on the breadth of human experience. This is faith seeking understanding in the Augustinian tradition.
Courses taught in the past in this area have included:
- The Future of Christology
- Trinity and Non-Duality
- God in the Twenty-First Century
- Liturgy and Culture
- Ecclesiology via the Prism of Church Architecture
- Humanity at the Threshold
- Aesthetic Theology
- The Future of Apophatic Theology
The study of spirituality aligns with the Augustinian mission of Villanova. Just as Augustine sought to unite head and heart, belief and practice, mind and body, so does spirituality aim to bring together the plurality of modes in which the divine is known and experienced in human life, from philosophical speculation to cultural praxis.
In the Christian tradition, spirituality has taken its starting point from the Bible, which speaks of the “spirit” (ruach/pneuma) of God and, through it, the promise of new “life.” In a variety of ways, this overarching motif has been explored and developed over the centuries, from the apophatic theology of Gregory of Nyssa to the ecstatic and visionary poetry of Hadewijch of Antwerp to the theme of imitatio Christi in Søren Kierkegaard. And yet, consideration of Christian spirituality takes up not only thought but also practice, including the habits of contemplation, prayer, penance, liturgy, devotion and asceticism. As Bernard McGinn has put it, “The study of spirituality requires a desire to try to appreciate how religious people actually live their beliefs.” Moreover, Christian spirituality ranges into affective life, investigating the purpose and the role of the emotions in religious growth. This holistic approach to spirituality integrates bodily existence. Indeed, despite stereotypes equating spirituality with “individualism,” Christian spirituality is rooted in, if not always in agreement with, the Christian ekklesia (“assembly”) or church. Consequently, spirituality engages social life and extends to socio-political movements and communities.
Given its multifarious concerns, the study of spirituality may be approached from a number of disciplines, including history, anthropology, ethics, philosophy, literary studies, education and theology. Thus, it is an inherently interdisciplinary field, and, for that reason, it often draws on voices of those traditionally marginalized, including laity and women. Furthermore, its objects of study are diverse. To be sure, formal theological reflection is essential, and yet cultural forms such as visual art, film, music, liturgy, popular devotions, novels, hagiography and manuals are increasingly important, shedding new light on familiar ideas and figures.
Courses taught in the past in this area have included:
- The Rise of American Spirituality
- (Post)Modern Spirituality
- Affect and Devotion
- Mysticism, Mourning and Melancholia
- Spiritual But Not Religious
- Conversion / Transformation
- Protestant Mysticism
- Spanish Mysticism
Christian ethics is the branch of theology explicitly tasked with articulating the moral, social, political and economic implications of Christian faith for both Christian disciples and the broader public sphere. The discipline thus underscores and elaborates on the nexus between theological beliefs and their significance for personal and communal living in particular cultural contexts. Christian ethics evaluates the positive influence of culture on Christian beliefs and practices, such as the modern human rights and environmental movements.
At the same time, it also develops critiques of culture, and its influence on the church, in the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and Christian theological doctrines. For example, Christian ethicists reflect upon and challenge elements of culture such as the “culture of death,” racism/white privilege, consumerism, jingoism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, imperialism, economic oppression and environmental degradation. At the heart of such critiques is the belief that God became human, thereby establishing the ongoing “indwelling” of Jesus Christ in all of God’s creation. Sacred scripture and Christian tradition generate norms and virtues to guide us towards respecting the presence of Christ’s Spirit in all of creation.
However, Christian ethics done in the spirit of Augustine also utilizes tools and sources such as philosophy, the social sciences, the physical sciences, literature and the arts, to interpret the Christian faith and the existential realities of the world, and to specify and apply the moral wisdom of the tradition to the pressing problems of God’s creation. In short, Christian ethics engages culture to both infuse it with the spirit of the incarnate God and to learn from its positive achievements how to better understand and enhance the situation of the human person and the created order.
Courses taught in the past in this area have included:
- Faiths, Cultures and Sexuality
- Racism and the Catholic Church
- Catholic Sexual Ethics
- Moral Philosophy and Christian Ethics
- Prisons, Punishment and Ethics
- Economic Ethics
- Ethics of Higher Education
- Christian Environmental Ethics
The Heart of Teaching provides graduate students with instruction, supervision, and mentorship in pedagogical theory and practice, as well as mentoring in professional and leadership competencies. In light of our Augustinian identity, graduate student formation in theology at Villanova prioritizes an apprenticeship-in-community model of education set within the context of friendship.
The Department recognizes the need for educational leaders committed to the common good who can teach effectively in various contexts, including schools, colleges and universities, as well as parishes, congregations and parachurch and community organizations.
Higher education today demonstrates increasing concern for pedagogy, with the recognition that how people learn affects what they learn - and who they become. Moreover, as a discipline that integrates theory and practice, theology calls for educators who critically reflect on the mutual mediation of subject matter and pedagogy.
For PhD students, the Heart of Teaching curriculum includes coursework in Theological Pedagogy and Contextual Education, in addition to a Teaching Practicum. The Heart of Teaching also sponsors recurring pedagogical workshops for faculty and graduate students.
Timothy Hanchin, PhD, serves as the director of The Heart of Teaching.
Further details about this program can be found in the Heart of Teaching manual.
STUDENT SPOTLIGHT - REV. REBECCA IRWIN-DIEHL
"I have always said I would be a professional student if I could afford to be! But after completing my seminary degree, I was immersed in career and family for the next 15-20 years. Only after an “Xtreme” season in parenting, and at a time when I was seeking significant vocational transition, did my dream of pursuing doctoral studies reawaken.
I found Villanova’s program by a circuitous route. I was exploring distance-learning options because my full-time job and family excluded relocating for a traditional program. But while scouring the Internet for doctorates in Christian spirituality, I was also reading Into the Silent Land, a book on contemplative prayer by none other than Villanova’s Martin Laird, OSA. The book inspired my visit to Nova’s website to see if Dr. Laird was speaking at a public event I could attend. Instead, I discovered Villanova’s PhD in Theology, offering an interdisciplinary focus in Christian spirituality and ethics. The perfect combination for an American Baptist pastor with a bent toward practical theology!
My ongoing sojourn in this learning community has been both a place of scholarly enrichment and growth and a village of compassionate support when I suffered family tragedy last winter. We have learned much from one another, this Roman Catholic university and I, and for that I am deeply grateful. "
Ready for the Next Step?
January 9: For admission to the PhD program with or without assistantship
February 1: For admission to master's programs with funding consideration
August 1: For admission to master's or certificate programs without funding for the fall
December 1: For admission to master's or certificate programs without funding for the spring
If you have missed a master's or certificate program deadline, please contact the program coordinator Lauren McLaughlin to discuss your options.
Céire Kealty (PhD candidate) was named by Sojourners Magazine as one of 8 Christian Women Shaping the Church in 2023 for her studies on the humanitarian and environmental impacts of the global garment industry.
Trevor Williams (PhD candidate) won the Founder’s Circle Prize for first place as part of the Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality. His paper presented a liturgical interpretation of Albert Camus.