Fields of Study
Historical Studies

Note: the following requirements were approved by the historical studies faculty the Spring semester, 2007, and are in effect for all PhD students matriculating in the Fall semester, 2007 and later. Students entering the program prior to Fall, 2007, should consult the previous requirements.

To ensure successful completion of the program, all doctoral students in historical studies are to prepare the following documents with the assistance of their advisor.

1. Program Petition:  No later than the middle of the second semester in residence, each student must submit a Program Petition which includes: 

  • A list of courses taken in the first year of residence and intended in the second; 72 hours are required. At least 15 hours must be completed in the historical period of concentration. 12 hours are assigned to the minor area.  Up to 24 hours credit may be given for graduate work completed prior to admission. Up to 12 hours may be used for dissertation research.
  • Date of languages certified and date of any subsequent examinations; One modern language certification must be completed no later than the first day of classes of the second semester of study.  The second modern language must be completed no later than the first day of classes of the fourth semester of study.  The petition must show a relationship between the chosen language expertise and intended area of research.  Additional languages and the methods of their certification will be included in the dissertation proposal. (See below at #3.)
  • A list of qualifying examinations and proposed examiner.  Three examinations are required in periods of Christian history:  Early and Medieval; Reformation and Modern European; and American Religious History.  The fourth examination should be on a disciplinary approach other than history; a specific school of thought or theory; or narrow historical subject related to your research project.   These examinations will be based on general reading lists adapted to suit the examinee’s research interests. All four examinations must be completed within a two-week period.  Research papers may not be submitted in lieu of examination.
  • A general (no more than 1½  pages) description of a dissertation topic and tentative question for approaching it. 

The Program Petition will be reviewed by the historical studies faculty and revisions may be required prior to its approval. The faculty member specified as the dissertation director will work with the student in making these revisions, if any.

2. Revision of Program Petition:  No later than the second week of the fourth semester of residence and with the assistance of the faculty advisor, the student will update the Program Petition to specify which parts have been completed and which are outstanding.  The entire area faculty will review the student’s progress and decide whether the student may proceed to qualifying examinations.  Students who are not permitted to proceed to exams or who fail their exams will receive the MS upon successful completion of the MA thesis.  

3. Examination Petition. No later than the fifth semester of residence, the student must petition to take the Qualifying Examinations.  The examinations themselves are to be taken no later than the sixth semester of residence.   The Examination Petition must include the following information: 

    • A request for the appointment of a dissertation committee, according to the current regulations of the GDR; 
    • Designation of all faculty who have agreed to administer the four examinations: Early and Medieval; Reformation and Modern; American; and Minor Area 
    • A copy of the reading list for each exam, as approved by the examiner; and   
    • A copy of a research paper written as part of regular coursework.  Please note the paper need not be on the dissertation topic, though some relationship is advisable.  The major purpose of the paper is to demonstrate the student’s ability to present and argue a thesis from appropriate evidence. 

The four examinations will graded by their respective examiner and, with the research paper, reviewed by the entire historical studies faculty.  At a meeting in which at least half the area faculty is present, the successful completion of examinations and the awarding of honors as appropriate will be determined by a vote of no less than four members of the faculty.   Students who successfully pass the examinations will proceed to the dissertation proposal.  The faculty may—but need not—allow the remediation of any deficiency in the examinations.  In such cases, the examinations must be passed by the beginning of the seventh semester of residence.  Those who do not successfully pass the examinations will be awarded the M.A. degree upon the completion of the Master’s thesis and will not continue in the program.

4. Dissertation Proposal:  Upon successful completion of the Qualifying Examinations, the student is to prepare a Dissertation Proposal.  This proposal may be submitted to the student’s dissertation committee for approval at any time, but no later than the end of the seventh semester of studies.  Any revisions required by the committee must be completed no later than the end of the subsequent semester. The dissertation proposal is to contain the following elements:

    • List of faculty who have agreed to constitute the dissertation committee and designation of the first reader;
    • Description of the dissertation project, including hypothesis, argument, availability of resources in support of the argument; and historiographical significance;
    • Chapter outline; and
    • Selected bibliography.

The dissertation must be completed and approved no later than four years following the successful completion of Qualifying Exams.


Summary Timeline   (Note these are all “no later than’s”):

      • Mid 2nd semester – Submit Study Petition
      • Beginning of 4th  –  Program Petition update
      • End of 5th  –  Examination Petition
      • End of 6th –  Exams
      • End of 7th  –  Dissertation Proposal

      Courses and Faculty:

      Course offerings focus on European and North American church history and thought. The several faculty members have specialized areas of research and teaching that provide the program’s particular strengths. Professor Lewis Baldwin specializes in the history of American Christianity, with a focus on slave religion, the Black church, and Southern religion and culture. Professor J. Patout Burns concentrates his work on the early and medieval periods and the broader Catholic tradition. Professor Paul DeHart teaches regular courses on Luther, Calvin, and Schleiermacher and has particular interests in the theological history of the Reformation period and of nineteenth-century Germany. Professor Kathleen Flake teaches courses in American religious history and has particular interest in modern American religion, including research on how religious communities order and reorder themselves over time. Professor James Hudnut-Beumler teaches courses in the areas of 19th and 20th century American religious history and has special interest in popular religion, material culture, the economics of religion, and the Reformed tradition in America. Professor Paul Lim focuses on Reformation and modern European movements and thought. Professor James Byrd specializes in American religious history, with particular attention to the colonial period, theology in America, and religion and war in America. Professor M. Douglas Meeks offers courses in the history of the Wesleyan tradition and its antecedents. Courses taught by faculty members in theological studies are also often relevant to the interests of students in historical studies. Other departments of the University, especially history, philosophy, classics, and sociology, provide opportunities for a minor area, supplementary course work, and/or advice and support for dissertation research and writing.

      Other departments of the University, especially history, philosophy, classics, and sociology, provide opportunities for a minor, supplementary course work, and/or advice and support for dissertation research and writing.

      Requirements for students matriculating prior to Fall, 2007

      Historical studies in the Vanderbilt Graduate Department of Religion are pursued in two broad areas, History of Christianity and History of Christian Thought, with each student opting for one or the other. After a minimum of 24 hours of course work (most students take more), the student prepares for general and then qualifying examinations: the first set tests breadth of understanding, the second the depth of knowledge in a special area of study.

      For students concentrating in History of Christianity, general examinations are taken in three of the following areas: early and medieval, Reformation and modern European, North American, and history of Christian thought. Qualifying Examinations include the fourth area in the above list (the one closest to the student's special area of study), a special topic or period within that area of study, and the minor concentration. An alternative to satisfying the general exam set involves taking three of the foundation courses in church history (Formation of the Catholic Tradition, Christianity in the Reformation Era, Modern European Christianity, and History of Religion in America) as reading courses and sitting for examinations at the end of the particular semester in which the work is done. A student who takes this alternative for general examinations will then add one more to the Qualifying Examinations in his/her area of focus, on a subject relating to gender, race, or another religious tradition than Christianity. After completing the two sets of examinations, the student moves to the dissertation.

      For students concentrating in History of Christian Thought, two general examinations are taken prior to the Qualifying Examinations: history of Christian thought from the second through the 18th century, and 19th and 20th century theology. Both examinations focus on broad themes as well as major thinkers and the literature of the field. The latter examination may be completed by satisfactory performance in two courses, Protestant Theology in the 19th Century and Contemporary Theology. The Qualifying Examinations include five parts tailored to the student's special interests and cover written examinations and papers on topics appropriate to the student’s specialized area of study.

      NOTE: This description of requirements supplements The Bulletin of Vanderbilt University Graduate School and "The Guidelines of the Graduate Department of Religion." Students are expected to meet all of the common requirements of the graduate program as described in those publications.

      Students in Historical Studies are eligible for fellowships in Theology and Practice.


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