DPhil in Theology | University of Oxford
Studying in the library
Studying the humanities in the library
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DPhil in Theology

About the course

The DPhil in Theology is the Faculty of Theology and Religion’s research degree for graduate students in theology and religion. It involves extensive independent study and the opportunity to undertake and present original research at an advanced level. 

You will join the faculty as a Probationary Research Student (PRS) and apply for transfer of status usually within your first year. There is a further assessment of your work and progress in your third year. The degree is awarded on the successful completion of your research thesis and an oral examination.

A supervisor, or supervisors, will provide support and guidance and help you develop your ideas, direction and a programme of research. You will be part of an active and vibrant community of graduate research students within the Faculty of Theology and Religion.

You will be encouraged to attend and contribute to a wide range of research seminars, workshops and conferences held within the faculty and across the wider Humanities Division.

There are opportunities to attend and participate in the faculty’s professional development sessions, preparatory teaching workshops and graduate teaching training scheme.

The DPhil in Theology offers access to a wide variety of experienced specialists in many different fields of theology and religion. The course is designed to provide an extensive range of research skills, as well as in-depth knowledge and expertise in your chosen field of research.

Students admitted to the DPhil will most often have acquired one of the Faculty of Theology and Religion's MSt or MPhil degrees within their area of research, ie theology, religious studies or another closely-related field. It is customary for students to incorporate their master's dissertation into their doctoral thesis.

Students in possession of an equivalent master's degree from another institution may apply to have this requirement waived. The faculty considers such waivers on a case-by-case basis and may recommend applicants to consider an MSt or MPhil degree in their initial application to the University.

Part-time study

Part-time students are required to attend for a minimum of thirty days of university-based work each year. The DPhil in Theology is not available by online or distance learning.

Graduate destinations

Students with graduate qualifications in theology enter a variety of careers. The vast majority of Oxford DPhil students proceed to academic posts in major research universities, liberal arts colleges or church seminaries. Many go on to work for charities and for development, non-profit organisations and think tanks. Some, however, enter pastoral ministry, management consultancy, the media and archival work.

Related courses

Changes to the course

The University will seek to deliver this course in accordance with the description set out in this course page. However, there may be situations in which it is desirable or necessary for the University to make changes in course provision, either before or after registration. For further information, please see our page on changes to courses.

Entry requirements for entry in 2017-18

Within equal opportunities principles and legislation, applications will be assessed in the light of an applicant’s ability to meet the following entry requirements:

1. Academic ability

Proven and potential academic excellence

Applicants are normally expected to be predicted or have achieved a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours (or equivalent international qualifications), as a minimum, in theology, religious studies or another closely-related field.

Students admitted to the DPhil will most often have acquired either the faculty's MSt or its MPhil degree within their area of research. It is customary for students to incorporate their master’s dissertation into their doctoral thesis. Students in possession of an equivalent master's degree from another institution may apply to have this requirement waived. The faculty considers such waivers on a case-by-case basis, and may recommend applicants to consider an MSt or MPhil degree in their initial application to the University.

Entrance is very competitive and most successful applicants have a first-class undergraduate degree and a grade of 66% or above in a relevant master's degree.

For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA sought is 3.7 out of 4.0.

If you hold non-UK qualifications and wish to check how your qualifications match these requirements, you can contact the National Recognition Information Centre for the United Kingdom (UK NARIC).

Dependent on your chosen project, you may be required to have reached a sufficient level in a language or languages relevant to your study such as Hebrew, Greek, Latin or Arabic. 

Other examination results may be submitted alongside degree qualifications. If offered, the minimum Graduate Record Examination (GRE) score sought is 160 and the minimum GMAT score sought is 600.

Other appropriate indicators will include:

Supporting documents

You will be required to supply supporting documents with your application, including references and an official transcript. See 'How to apply' for instructions on the documents you will need and how these will be assessed.

Performance at interview(s)

Interviews are not normally held as part of the admissions process.  However, all applicants who are offered a place will be given a short 20-minute interview via telephone or Skype to gain a better sense of their interests and to facilitate the appointment of an appropriate supervisor. Interviews will normally concern the scope of the applicant's proposal.

Publications

Publications are not required.

Other qualifications, evidence of excellence and relevant experience

Research or work experience in areas of theology may be an advantage, if it demonstrates that you have transferable skills which may be of use during your studies.  

2. English language requirement

Applicants whose first language is not English are usually required to provide evidence of proficiency in English at the higher level required by the University.

3. Availability of supervision, teaching, facilities and places

The following factors will govern whether candidates can be offered places:

  • The ability of the Faculty of Theology and Religion to provide the appropriate supervision, research opportunities, teaching and facilities for your chosen area of work
  • Minimum and maximum limits to the numbers of students who may be admitted to Oxford's research and taught programmes.

The provision of supervision, where required, is subject to the following points:

  • The allocation of graduate supervision is the responsibility of the Faculty of Theology and Religion and it is not always possible to accommodate the preferences of incoming graduate students to work with a particular member of staff
  • Under exceptional circumstances a supervisor may be found outside the Faculty of Theology and Religion. In such circumstances, a second internal supervisor may be appointed.

Where possible your academic supervisor will not change for the duration of your course. However, it may be necessary to assign a new academic supervisor during the course of study or before registration for reasons which might include sabbatical leave, maternity leave or change in employment.

4. Disability, health conditions and specific learning difficulties

Students are selected for admission without regard to gender, marital or civil partnership status, disability, race, nationality, ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation, age or social background.

Decisions on admission are based solely on the individual academic merits of each candidate and the application of the entry requirements appropriate to the course.

Further information on how these matters are supported during the admissions process is available in our guidance for applicants with disabilities.

5. Assessors

All recommendations to admit a student involve the judgment of at least two members of academic staff with relevant experience and expertise, and additionally must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies or Admissions Committee (or equivalent departmental persons or bodies).

Admissions panels or committees will always include at least one member of academic staff who has undertaken appropriate training.

6. Other information

Whether you have yet secured funding is not taken into consideration in the decision to make an initial offer of a place, but please note that the initial offer of a place will not be confirmed until you have completed a Financial Declaration.

Resources

The Faculty of Theology and Religion is based in the Gibson Building, which is situated in the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter on the Woodstock Road. Facilities there include teaching, seminar and lecture rooms, a graduate common room, graduate workspace and faculty administration. The Philosophy and Theology Faculties Library (PTFL) is located near by on the ground floor of the Radcliffe Humanities building.

Libraries

Oxford has a wide and rich range of library resources for theology and religion graduates. You will not only have access to the resources of your college and faculty, but also the Bodleian Libraries. This has been a legal deposit for 400 years, which means it can claim a copy of any book or journal published in the UK or Ireland.

The Philosophy and Theology Faculties Library (PTFL) is located in the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter on the same site as the Gibson Building. The PTFL is a lending library primarily for staff and students of the two faculties, in support of research, teaching and learning. It has a collection of c. 30,000 books for loan on open access, with a further 20,000 available by request from remote store. It is also a delivery location for books from the Bodleian stacks for reference use in the library. Many books are now also available in electronic format; some are downloadable for 24-hour loan.

Languages

The Oxford University Language Centre (OULC) at 12 Woodstock Road offers excellent facilities and free courses to members of the University who wish to learn or improve a foreign language relevant to their academic work – or indeed for their general interest and education. Courses are offered in Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), French, Georgian, German, Modern Greek, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Welsh, and English as a Foreign Language (EFL). Most courses consist of two single fifty-minute classes each week or one double class. 

Courses begin in October and continue throughout the academic year. If a course is required for study or research, there is a priority enrolment scheme.

Funding

There are over 1,000 full graduate scholarships available across the University, and these cover your course and college fees and provide a grant for living costs. If you apply by the relevant January deadline and fulfil the eligibility criteria you will be automatically considered. Over two thirds of Oxford scholarships require nothing more than the standard course application. Use the Fees, funding and scholarship search to find out which scholarships you are eligible for and if they require an additional application, full details of which are provided.

The Ertegun Scholarship Programme and the Humanities Research Council (AHRC) each provide a number of awards every year, to support graduate students across a range of disciplines. To be considered for these studentships you must apply by the relevant January admissions deadline.

Costs

Annual fees for entry in 2017-18

Full-time study

Fee status

Tuition fee

College fee

Total annual fees

Home/EU
(including Islands)
£6,085£3,021£9,106
Overseas£16,770£3,021£19,791

Part-time study

Fee status

Tuition fee

College fee

Total annual fees

Home/EU
(including Islands)
£3,045£1,511£4,556
Overseas£8,385£1,511£9,896

The fees shown above are the annual tuition and college fees for this course for entry in the stated academic year; for courses lasting longer than one year, please be aware that fees will usually increase annually. For details, please see our guidance on likely increases to fees and charges.

Tuition and college fees are payable each year for the duration of your fee liability (your fee liability is the length of time for which you are required to pay tuition and college fees).

Following the period of fee liability, you may also be required to pay a University continuation charge and a college continuation charge. The University and college continuation charges are shown on the Continuation charges page.

For more information about tuition fees, college fees and fee liability, please see the Fees section of this website. EU applicants should refer to our dedicated webpage for details on the impact of the result of the UK referendum on its membership of the European Union.

Additional information

Full-time study

There are no compulsory elements of this programme that entail additional costs beyond fees and living costs.  However, please note that, depending on your choice of research topic and the research required to complete it, you may incur additional expenses, such as travel expenses, research expenses, and field trips. You will need to meet these additional costs, although you may be able to apply for small grants from your department and/or college to help you cover some of these expenses.

Part-time study

Please note that you are required to attend in Oxford for a minimum of 30 days each year, and you may incur additional travel and accommodation expenses for this. Also, depending on your choice of research topic and the research required to complete it, you may incur further additional expenses, such as travel expenses, research expenses, and field trips. You will need to meet these additional costs, although you may be able to apply for small grants from your department and/or college to help you cover some of these expenses.

Living costs

In addition to your tuition and college fees, you will need to ensure that you have adequate funds to support your living costs for the duration of your course.

For the 2017-18 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between £1,002 and £1,471 for each month spent in Oxford. Full information, including a breakdown of likely living costs in Oxford for items such as food, accommodation and study costs, is available on our Living costs page. If you are studying part-time your living costs may vary depending on your personal circumstances but you must still ensure that you will have sufficient funding to meet these costs for the duration of your course.

How to apply

You are strongly encouraged to familiarise yourself with the research interests and expertise available in the faculty prior to application. You may contact the subject co-ordinator of the relevant research grouping prior to application to discuss the viability of your proposed project and whether supervision may be available should your application be successful.

The set of documents you should send with your application to this course comprises the following:

Official transcript(s)

Your transcripts should give detailed information of the individual grades received in your university-level qualifications to date. You should only upload official documents issued by your institution and any transcript not in English should be accompanied by a certified translation.

More information about the transcript requirement is available in the Application Guide.

CV/résumé

A CV/résumé is compulsory for all applications. Most applicants choose to submit a document of one to two pages highlighting their academic achievements and any relevant professional experience.

Research proposal:
Around two pages

The research proposal is a crucial element of a DPhil application. It should communicate, not so much your personal autobiography, as your academic commitment and seriousness. Assessors are looking to be persuaded that you know the field in which you propose to conduct research, are committed to spending several years working in it, understand what study in Oxford could offer to you, and have considered the aptness of Oxford’s resources to the proposed research.

Content

Each proposal will be read and carefully evaluated by specialists, and should contain an outline of the research you plan to undertake and what you intend to achieve. 

All proposals should be submitted in English. A selective bibliography may be included and is not included in the overall page count.

You should explain, within your proposal:

  • the specific field of theology and religion in which you propose to conduct research, ie study of religions, Old Testament, New Testament, history of Christianity, patristics, historical and systematic theology, philosophical theology, Christian and religious ethics, science and religion;
  • how you intend to structure and undertake your research;
  • the questions, problems, issues and debates with which you expect to engage;
  • how you see the proposed research building on your previous study;
  • your knowledge of any languages required for your research project - if you are unsure which languages might be required, see the entry requirements for the faculty's master's degrees or contact the faculty directly; and
  • what you hope to do with an Oxford DPhil.

You may also wish to include a provisional title for your dissertation. While it is normal for plans to change in the course of developing a project, you should make your best effort to define your intended research, identify the focal question or problem to which it will constitute an answer or solution, specify a finite body of core texts or sources, and explain the methods involved.

Assessment

This will be assessed for your reasons for applying, the coherence of your proposal, the originality of your project; evidence of motivation for and understanding of the proposed area of study and your ability to present a reasoned case in English.

A research proposal is assessed in terms of the intellectual coherence and academic originality of the project; evidence of the applicant’s motivation and understanding of the proposed area of study; the demonstration of aptness between the proposed research and Oxford’s resources, and the feasibility of successfully completing the project in the time available for the course (up to three years full-time or six years part-time).

The faculty will also assess your commitment to the subject beyond the requirements of the degree course, preliminary knowledge of research techniques, capacity for sustained and intense work, evidence of reasoning ability, and ability to absorb new ideas, which are often presented abstractly at a rapid pace.

Written work:
Two essays of 2,000 words each

Academic essays or other writing samples from your most recent qualification, written in English, are required. Extracts of the requisite length from longer pieces are accepted if prefaced by a note which puts them into context.

The topic of your written work is expected to relate closely to the proposed area of study. The word count does not need to include any bibliography or brief footnotes.

This will be assessed for an appropriate intellectual standard, including good theological understanding, conceptual sophistication, analytical and critical skill and the ability to sustain a cogent argument. 

References/letters of recommendation:
Three overall, generally academic

Whilst you must register three referees, the department may start the assessment of your application if two of the three references are submitted by the course deadline and your application is otherwise complete. Please note that you may still be required to ensure your third referee supplies a reference for consideration.

References should generally be academic. Professional references are acceptable but limited in what they can demonstrate about academic ability; you should submit no more than one such reference.

Your references will support your academic ability, your relevant background knowledge and language skills, and overall suitability for your chosen course.