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2024-25 Catalog


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The Master of Theology (ThM) program affords an opportunity for students who have received the Master of Divinity (MDiv) degree or its equivalent (three years of graduate theological study) to pursue advanced theological studies for one year. The program is especially recommended for students who seek to gain additional competence for the ministry beyond that provided by the master of divinity degree. It is equally appropriate for those who, after some years in ministry, teaching, or another field, wish to return to a theological institution to clarify their thinking, to prepare themselves for new tasks, or to acquire further competence in a specific area of study.

This one-year program offers 19 areas of focus, and includes course work, a language requirement, and an oral examination requirement. It is strongly recommended that applicants to the ThM have prior knowledge of the language they plan to use to meet the language requirement.

Please note that loans are the only financial aid available for the ThM program.

African and African American Religious Studies 
Courses in this area explore various dimensions of the religious experiences and expressions of the African and African American peoples, including the African diaspora. Focusing on interdisciplinary perspectives—historical, sociological, phenomenological, literary, and theological analysis—courses also examine the interplay of the lived religious traditions of black peoples in local and global contexts. 

Buddhist Studies 
Courses in this area foster the understanding of Buddhists and the life-worlds they have created, historically across Asia as well as in contemporary settings around the globe. This understanding is cultivated through self-reflective interpretations of Buddhist ideas, values, texts, languages, institutions, practices, and experiences, with the expectation that these interpretations will lead to both appreciation and critique of Buddhism, in all its diversity, as a human heritage. 

Comparative Studies 
Courses in this area include the comparative study of religion and anthropology, comparative theology, and comparative ethics. They involve the disciplined study of the complex relationships among themes and concepts, as well as the study of texts, practices, and images, in two or more religious traditions. Such studies by definition involve a self-reflexive, critical analysis of comparison itself. Some courses may be entirely methodological and/or theoretical in content, but the emphasis is normally on concrete comparative practice. Students are urged to cultivate knowledge of at least two traditions by the study of them throughout their program. 

East Asian Religions 
Courses in this area cover the diversity of East Asian Religions—primarily Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, Shintoism, and Christianity—from a variety of methodological perspectives—historical, philosophical, literary, and anthropological. While many courses focus on a particular religious community and/or tradition, others consider the richly complex interactions among various religious communities in China, Japan, and Korea. Students in this area are encouraged to explore the religious cultures of the region broadly, including relevant classical and/or modern languages, and to avail themselves of the wide range of courses offered through the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. 

Hebrew Bible/Old Testament 
Courses in this area introduce students to the writings that constitute the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, with attention to their setting within the ancient Near East, to their literary characteristics, and to their significance for contemporary communities of faith and ethical commitment. The courses are designed to serve both students with no knowledge of biblical languages as well as those who have studied Hebrew, Greek, and/or other ancient languages relating to the Bible and who seek to continue building their linguistic foundation for further study. 

Hindu Studies 
Courses in this area foster the understanding of Hindu thought and practice both in India and throughout the global Hindu diaspora. Students in this area are encouraged to explore Hindu texts, ideas, values, and practices from a wide variety of disciplinary perspectives—history, theology, philosophy, literature, and anthropology. Students are also encouraged to undertake the study of Sanskrit and other relevant languages. 

History of Christianity 
Courses in this area study Christianity in its evolving institutional, theological, devotional, social, cultural, and intellectual expressions from the first century to the present. In addition, the area offers courses in historical method, historiography, and interpretive issues in secondary literature. 

Islamic Studies 
Courses in this area study different dimensions of the long and varied history and contemporary reality of the Islamic tradition. Islamic art, law, politics, and theology, Islamic mysticism, Islamic constructions of gender, pre-modern Islamic culture, and other topics are explored within the Arabic-, Persian-, and Turkish-speaking societies of the Muslim-majority world, South, Central, and Southeast Asia, Africa, and/or the modern Western world. 

Jewish Studies 
Courses in this area explore the Jewish tradition as it has developed over the millennia. In historical terms, it involves five broad periods—biblical, Second Temple, rabbinic, medieval, and modern. Methodologically, it makes use of a number of diverse but interrelated approaches: literary, historical, theological, philosophical, and sociological. The language most relevant to Jewish Studies is Hebrew, though for work in some areas, others, such as Aramaic or Yiddish, may also prove essential. 

New Testament and Early Christianity 
Courses in this area focus on the interdisciplinary study of Christian literature (canonical and extracanonical), history, exegesis, and theology in the context of the ancient Mediterranean world, with special emphasis on hermeneutics, feminist interpretation, and material culture. 

Philosophy of Religion 
Courses in this area engage in the philosophical interpretation and evaluation of religion, religious belief, and religious practice. Questions include the nature of religion, religious experience, and religious language; the status and justification of religious belief; the relationship between religion and ethics, and between religion and aesthetics; and theories of practice relative to the interplay of religious subjectivity and ritual. Work in this area can be pursued in relationship to European and American philosophy, the philosophical traditions of Asia, and/or comparative studies. 

Religion and the Social Sciences 
Courses in this area attempt to explicate and account for connections between religious phenomena and several aspects of society including the organization of cultural, political, economic, and reproductive life. This area approaches forms of religious faith, religious experience, and religious organization from post-enlightenment perspectives associated with the disciplines of anthropology, sociology, social psychology, political and economic science, and sociobiology. 

Religion, Ethics, and Politics 
Courses in this area focus on a range of normative issues that arise within political cultures. This area encourages students to understand the many social, cultural, and political contexts in which human agents are formed and take action. Special attention is given to the distinctive role that religious beliefs, practices, codes, and mores play in shaping ethical subjects or instructing their dispositions and choices. The area is intentionally interdisciplinary and exposes students to normative issues within a variety of the world’s religious traditions. 

Religion, Literature, and Culture 
Courses in this area provide students with the historical and critical methods necessary to analyze literary texts from a variety of genres (poetry, biography), religious traditions (Buddhism, Christianity), and cultural perspectives (Latin America, South Asia). Recognizing the intersectionality of religion, literature, and culture, this area combines literary and cultural criticism with theological and religious analysis. It also recognizes the aesthetic dimension of religion as a basis for understanding such themes as myth, ritual, and transcendence in much of world literature. 

Religions of the Americas 
Courses in this area explore the diverse religious traditions and expressions of the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, and Latin America. Historical, ethnographic, and comparative approaches are brought to bear on immigrant, indigenous, diasporic, and new religions. While some courses take broadly hemispheric and multireligious perspectives, others focus in depth on particular geographical areas, traditions, or themes.

Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean
Courses in this area focus on religious phenomena in Mediterranean cultures between the sixth century BCE (including classical Greece and post-exilic Judaism) and the eighth century CE (including early Byzantine and early Islamic topics). “Mediterranean” is taken broadly, extending to Persia, Western India, and as far as northwestern Europe in some cases. The area is capacious, cutting across traditional academic designations to include, for example, Second Temple Judaism and Late Antiquity. Much of the work in the area is historical, although engagement with other approaches (e.g., archaeology, critical theory, gender studies, or religious thought) is expected.

South Asian Religious Traditions 
Courses in this area cover the diversity of South Asian religious traditions—primarily Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity—from a variety of methodological perspectives, including: historical, philosophical, theological, literary, and anthropological. While many courses focus on a particular religious community and/or tradition, others consider the richly complex interactions among various religious groups in South Asia and the South Asian global diaspora. Students in this area are encouraged to explore the religious cultures of the region broadly, including relevant classical and/or modern languages. 

Courses in this area focus on all modes of the Christian tradition’s self-understandings of its faith and practice in historical, contemporary, and comparative contexts. The study of theology involves the articulation of diverse understandings of central topics such as God, salvation, and the Church; analyses of the contexts of, constraints on, and methods of theological reflection and reasoning; the relation of Christianity to other religions; and the relation of theology to other pursuits of knowledge and practices of self-understanding.  

Women, Gender, Sexuality, and Religion 
Courses in this area use gender and/or sexuality as categories of analysis across the disciplines of religious and theological studies. The area engages feminist theory in relation to the experiences, thoughts, texts, and practices of both men and women as well as highlighting previously neglected areas of women’s religiosity. 

ThM students focus their studies around a central area of interest within 19 established areas of focus. (See «Focus Areas.»)

Below are the basic course requirements of the degree.  Additional requirements and details of those below may be found in the HDS Handbook for Students.

  • One year of full-time study
  • Eight half courses (four credits)
  • Four courses within the student’s declared area of focus, at least one of which must be a seminar or colloquium
  • Four electives (may be within the student’s area of focus)
  • Intermediate level reading competency in a language that is relevant to the student’s area of focus determined by either course work or through examination
  • Oral examination based on one large paper or two smaller papers written for courses

Language requirements

ThM students must satisfy a language competency requirement by demonstrating intermediate reading competency in a language of scholarship in theological and religious studies. Students in these programs are not limited to the languages taught by the School and may meet their requirement with another language, subject to the approval of the appropriate curriculum committee. ThM students may additionally be required to demonstrate competency in a second language based on their area of concentration and particular topic of study. There are four ways ThM students may demonstrate intermediate-level reading competency to satisfy the language requirement with one of the seven languages examined by HDS:

  • By passing an HDS language qualifying examination (given in September and April; in addition, French, Spanish, and German will be offered in January). Samples of previous qualifying exams are available for practice.
  • By completing with a grade of B- or better the second semester of an HDS intermediate-level course in Greek, Hebrew, Pali, or Arabic (e.g., 4021 Intermediate Classical Hebrew II, 4221 Intermediate Greek II, 4055 Intermediate Pali II, or 4361 Intermediate Arabic II) or one semester of an HDS advanced intermediate-level course in Latin (e.g., Readings in Christian Latin: Hildegard of Bingen and the Gospels).
  • By receiving a grade of A- or higher on the final exam in a modern language course in the School’s Summer Language Program.
  • By receiving an A- or better in 4414 Advanced Intermediate German Readings or 4454 Advanced Intermediate French Readings or 4464 Advanced Intermediate Spanish Readings.

For languages taught at Harvard University other than those offered and examined by the Divinity School, the same principles will apply for satisfying the language requirement. Students must achieve intermediate competency, which is usually measured as finishing with a B- or better the fourth semester of a language course that follows the four-semester model. For languages that do not fit the four-semester model, the student should consult with the director of language studies and provide a description of the courses from the FAS catalog or from the instructor.

ThM students who wish to have a language other than the usual seven meet the language requirement must receive approval from the appropriate curriculum committee. On such a petition, the student must demonstrate that the language is essential to their academic program.

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