Skip to main content


Homiletics and Liturgics


Stephanie Budwey
Luce Dean’s Faculty Fellow Assistant Professor of the History and Practice of Christian Worship and the Arts

Eunjoo Kim
Charles G. Finney Professor in Homiletics

Lisa L. Thompson
Associate Professor and the Cornelius Vanderbilt Chancellor Faculty Fellow of Black Homiletics and Liturgics


A Ph.D. in Homiletics and Liturgics prepares individuals for excellence in both research and teaching that engages practices and leadership within the broad trajectory of religious vocations. The program prioritizes an interdisciplinary approach to the study of theological communication and ritual practices, including but is not limited to traditions of preaching and worship. Studies may prioritize these religious practices within public, cultural, and/or faith contexts. 


1. …excellence in both research and teaching concerned with practices and leadership within the broad trajectory of religious vocations

  • Students will complete area supervised teaching requirements and Graduate Department of Religion requirements on pedagogy.
  • Students will complete a Research Assistantship in their first year of study with an area Faculty member, as required by the Graduate Department of Religion.
  • Students will complete coursework and independent research requirements such as a thesis or dissertation

2. … an interdisciplinary and intersectional approach to the study of theological communication and ritual practices, including but is not limited to preaching and worship.

  • Students will gain knowledge germane to the general study and teaching of homiletics and liturgics, in addition to that which supports their own research agendas and interests
  • Students will engage in the interdisciplinary analysis of religious practices, and incorporate such study into their research, writing, and teaching.
  • Students will gain expertise in practical theological methodology, as they study the connected relationships between homiletical, liturgical, and ritual practices.

3. …. religious practices within public, cultural, and/or faith contexts

  • Students will study these disciplines within the broader contexts of contemporary questions impinging on practical theology and religious studies
  • Special attention will be paid to studying practices and their mediums within and across different religious traditions, cultural contexts, histories, and social phenomena (including, but not limited to, concerns such as interfaith engagement, ecumenism, moral imaginations, communicative and ritual ethics, and embodiment).
  • Students will have the opportunity to study the disciplines at their intersections with the arts, theopoetics, public theologies, and emerging forms of religious practice


Students applying for admission to the program are expected to have adequate preparation to pursue advanced study in Homiletics and Liturgics. Normally students will have completed professional degree level work (for instance, an M.Div.) including work in homiletics, biblical hermeneutics for preaching, practical theology, theology, ethics, and liturgics. Significant study is encouraged in related fields such as rhetoric, literary criticism, myth and ritual studies, education (especially educational psychology, philosophy of education), philosophy (especially philosophy of language and epistemology), and communication and the arts.


Students will have three options to fulfill language requirements:

  1. One foreign language of research (e.g. German, French, Portuguese, Spanish) and one Sacred Text language (biblical Hebrew or Greek; Aramaic, etc)
  2. Two modern foreign languages of research
  3. One modern foreign language of research and an approved graduate level qualitative research course

Typically, a student can satisfy the biblical language requirement with one-semester graduate level introductory courses in biblical Hebrew and Greek with grades of “B” or better.


In order to qualify for dissertation work, students are required to give evidence of competence in Homiletics and Liturgics. Such competence will include problems of method, history, theory, theology, hermeneutics, philosophies of language and rhetoric, performance, the relationship between preaching and worship, practical theology, ethics, diverse contextual perspectives (especially those that explicitly attend to gendered, racial-ethnic, bodily, and cultural matters) pastoral perspectives, and pedagogy. Second in importance is each student’s minor field of study in which a significant complementary relationship to homiletics and liturgics must be established and articulated. Finally, students will be required to demonstrate the ability to develop consistent research methodologies for effectively integrating theoretical disciplines, the study of faith traditions, and the careful analysis of religious practices.


In addition to the language requirement, the Graduate Department requires 72 hours for the Ph.D. degree at Vanderbilt.

By the end of a student’s third semester in residence the adviser will have made any appropriate recommendations for transfer credit. Students are permitted to transfer up to 24 elective hours of previous work to their transcript. The adviser will recommend electives to compensate any deficit in transfer credits.

In addition to the language requirement and transfer/elective hours, homiletics and liturgics study in the Vanderbilt Graduate Department will involve one required GDR core courses, 33 hours of required course work, area specific Pedagogy Requirement, Qualifying Examinations, and the Dissertation.


72 hours total

  • 24 hours of transfer or elective courses
  • 33 hours of required course work (24 of which must be formal course work - not directed study)
  • 3 hours for the Study of Religion course
  • Non-credit earning Center for Teaching training for Teaching Associates
  • Non-credit earning Homiletics Pedagogy Requirement
  • 12 dissertation hours

Work is spread in the following way:

Course Work

GDR Core Courses. All GDR students are required to take the Study of Religion Course or its equivalent and the non-credit earning Teaching of Religion Course or its equivalent offered by the GDR. Normally, the Study of Religion Course or its equivalent is taken during the first year, concurrent with working as a Research Assistant; and the REL 8004.01 Practicum in the Teaching of Religion, Part I (Fall) and REL 8008.01 Practicum in the Teaching of Religion, Part II (Spring) are begun during the second year, concurrent to working as a Teaching Fellow.

Core Courses in Methodology. 6 hours in Ph.D. Methodology Seminars that support HL studies  (These courses can be offered as reading courses depending on enrollment). These requirements may be fulfilled with one of the following practical seminars as they are offered, or other methods seminars approved by area faculty.

Practical Theology Seminar I. In this seminar, led by HL faculty or related practical theology faculty/adjuncts, students will present papers and projects that investigate ways to correlate and integrate the wide variety of methodological partners for doing research in practical theology: including, but not limited to rhetoric, communication theories, performance studies, ritual studies, phenomenology, philosophy, literary criticism, semiotics, ethics, hermeneutics, and history. Papers will explore the importance of homiletical and liturgical topics to the analysis of religious traditions and to the academic study of religion as a whole. Special attention will be paid to the relationship between homiletic and ritual practices and larger public, academic, cultural, and ecclesial questions about religion in society today.

Practical Theology Seminar II. In this seminar, students will present projects and papers demonstrating the ability to analyze critically religious practices - for example, sermons in a specific context, public or private rituals of worship and devotion, forms of sacred speech, or religious speech embedded within ordinary or public discourse, etc. These practices can be studied from a variety of disciplinary angles including history, rhetoric, theology, ritual theory, semiotics, sociology, psychology, anthropology, ethnography, case study, and comparative religion. A field work component will normally be required for papers and projects in this course, and students will be encouraged to make contacts across the university, within and beyond GDR, for research purposes.

HL Courses. 

15 hours of coursework in Area Courses, or courses outside the Area approved by the Ph.D. residence advisor. Note, an introductory course or core readings course in homiletics and/or liturgy is recommended for students with little or no background in liturgics and/or homiletics. A course outside the Area must be approved by the student’s residence advisor in consultation with the faculty person offering the course.

Minor Field Courses

12 hours of coursework in a minor field within the Graduate Department of Religion (Worship, the Arts, and Contemporary Culture, Practical Theology, Hebrew Bible, New Testament, Historical Studies, Theological Studies, Ethics, Religion, Psychology, and Culture, Critical Studies in Asian, Islamic, and Jewish Traditions, or Jewish Studies) or in another department of the University (by approval).

Worship, the Arts, and Contemporary Culture Minor

It is possible for students to do a minor in Worship, the Arts, and Contemporary Culture. This minor is coordinated by the HL Area, Historical Studies Area, and the Religion in the Arts and Contemporary Culture Program, and includes courses that emphasize history of liturgy, art history, aesthetics, cultural studies, and the integration of homiletics and liturgics.

Minor Field Certification

Competence in the minor field must be certified prior to the student's moving forward to qualifying examinations. Certification (by examination, paper, or other appropriate instrument) will be determined by the faculty in the minor field in consultation with the student and HL advisor. The advisor will notify the GDR office when the requirement has been satisfactorily completed so that the student may continue on to the Qualifying Examinations.

Homiletics Pedagogy Requirement

In addition to coursework, and in addition to the GDR pedagogy requirement, each student will be required to engage in a non credit-earning H&L pedagogy requirement. Qualifying work will involve opportunities for peer-learning and supervision in teaching. The experience should provide feedback, valuable lessons, and opportunities to explore individual supervision, teaching, mentoring, coaching, teaching technologies, professional ethics, and group process connected to the specifics of the field and/or the student’s research.

Academic Prospectus

One semester prior to taking the Qualifying Examinations and (generally) no later then the end of the fourth semester following matriculation, the student will meet with Area faculty to present a prospectus for the remainder of the course of study. Upon approval of this prospectus by this faculty, the student will be allowed to continue toward QE's and dissertation proposal preparation. A copy of the prospectus will be filed in the Area office. The prospectus will include the following items:

  1. Course program sheet (showing completion of language requirements, required coursework including methodology seminars, Area approved coursework, minor area coursework, electives, transfer courses, and non-credit requirements (e.g., pedagogy requirement).
  2. Statement of how the bibliography and perspectives of the minor area will be integrated into the Qualifying Examinations (although not through a separate exam) and how competence in the minor area will be certified. This statement must be approved and signed by the minor area advisor. Note: student's competence in the minor area must be certified prior to taking the Qualifying Examinations (see discussion under minor area requirements).
  3. Identification of which Qualifying Examination will be taken orally.
  4. List of projected Ph.D. committee members (specifying first reader, second reader, GDR member outside HL area, and any non-GDR member of the Graduate School Faculty). The minor area advisor normally will also be a member of this committee.
  5. Preliminary statement of the dissertation topic (approximately 250 words).
  6. Reading lists for the Qualifying Examinations.

Qualifying Examinations

Qualifying Examinations will occur within no more than four semesters after the fourth semester following matriculation, and after the filing of the Academic Prospectus. One qualifying examination will be taken orally. All others are written examinations.

Normally, the components of the Qualifying Examinations are as follows. Appropriate revisions can be made for those whose work is focused significantly on a liturgical practice or medium of theological communication other than preaching, or ritual beyond traditional worship spaces.

  1. Practical Theology and Pedagogy
  2. History and Theology
  3. Theories and Methods
  4. Cultural Hermeneutics and Theological Ethics
  5. Religious Practices and Contemporary Contexts (i.e. global concerns, the arts, aesthetics, theopoetics, social movements, interfaith and interreligious engagement, etc.)

Dissertation Proposal

In most cases, the student will present the dissertation proposal to the Ph.D. committee three to six months after successful completion of the Qualifying Exams. The proposal is prepared in consultation with the primary adviser(s), is then to be reviewed and approved by the Ph.D. Committee.

Upon approval by this committee, the proposal will be distributed for full GDR faculty consideration and approval, for no less than two full calendar weeks (during the academic term).

Guidelines for the preparation of proposals are available in the Departmental office.


During the writing of the dissertation the student should, as appropriate, consult with members of the committee. For details on submitting the final draft of the dissertation and arranging the defense, consult the Departmental guidelines.

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.