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Theological Studies


Students in the Theological Studies area must complete 6822: Nineteenth Century Theology and 6844: Contemporary Theology. They must also take 6840: Seminar in Systematic Theology during each of their first two years of course work.


Students concentrating in the Theological Studies area must demonstrate proficiency in two languages of research, as indicated in the general guidelines for the Graduate Department of Religion. In the area of Theological Studies, these languages are normally chosen from among German, French, or Spanish. Should the student's area of intended research warrant it, he or she may petition the area faculty to count Latin or Greek as one of the two languages.


The Theological Studies area requires the satisfactory completion of four Ph.D. qualifying examinations. They are: (1) Theology: Critical, Constructive, Contextual (two-day exam); (2) Theological Topics (one-day exam); (3) Minor Area; and (4) Dissertation Area Research. Exams Three and Four of these involve individual negotiation between student, dissertation area advisor, and minor area advisor and often take the form of a research paper. Students sit for Exams One and Two, which are fixed in format and involve a combination of a standard reading list and texts selected by the student, with approval of the area faculty, as specified below. These two exams are focused on qualifying students as scholars and pedagogues. Thus, students are expected to demonstrate a depth and breadth of knowledge of the field outside their specific research interests. Exams Three and Four, on the other hand, are narrowly focused on the student’s current primary research interests.

Protocol for Exams One and Two

    1. The student and advisor meet with the TS Area faculty approximately six months prior to sitting for the three days of closed-book, essay exams. The student will present for discussion their tentative selection of texts to be combined with the standard required texts for Exam One, as well as the two or three topics of focus and tentative bibliography for Exam Two. The discussion should help both the student and faculty get a sense of some of the issues (historical, methodological, topical, etc.) the student brings to their study in preparation for Exam One, as well as to help the faculty give approval to the two or three topics for Exam Two.
    2. For these bibliographies, the term “text” refers either to a book or a set of essays by a given author approximately equivalent in scope and importance to a book.
    3. The periodization of Exam One does not mean that students will answer questions only in chronological sequence; rather, the faculty expect students to think in terms of historical periods (contexts) as important to every aspect of theological work.
    4. Shortly after meeting with the TS Area faculty the student and advisor will submit to the TS Area convener the finalized bibliographies and brief descriptions of the issues that interest them as they study for Exams One and Two. The convener will circulate (email) the lists to the TS Area faculty for final approval. The finalized bibliography comprises the exact texts on which the student will be examined. The student’s issues of interest will help provide guidance to the faculty as they compose exam questions.
    5. Throughout this exam protocol, it should be understood that the requirement of the student to consult with their advisor on various points does not imply the student is limited to working only with the advisor. Students are encouraged to avail themselves of the knowledge and wisdom of the entire TS area faculty.
    6. Approximately one month before the scheduled three days of exams, the TS Area convener will coordinate assigning and receiving questions from the TS Area faculty for both Exams One and Two, assuring that a total of six questions be provided for each of the three days.
    7. On the scheduled day for each exam, the student selects three from the six questions provided (following whatever restrictions by pairings the instructions may include). The student has a total of six hours to write the three closed-book essays.
    8. The faculty expect students to compose integrated, thesis-based essays, not encyclopedic reviews of authors. The faculty advisor should clarify this requirement for the student, if necessary, helping them to prepare accordingly.
    9. The entire TS faculty will read the three sets of essays, submitting their evaluation to the TS area convener within two weeks after the exam period. If the faculty agree to assign the grade of “pass” to the exams, the TS area convener then arranges the date and time for the student and faculty to engage in a one-hour conversation about the essays and overall learning accomplished in the exam process.

Exam One: Theology: Critical, Constructive, Contextual


The student will have two, six-hour days to address questions that reflect the historical and contextual nature of theological thought, reflection, and innovation. They will be asked a variety of questions, drawing variably from their entire bibliography, that require them either:

  • to speak to the content and importance of a particular figure in the given historical period;
  • to identify and discuss methodological innovations or characteristic peculiar to a figure or figures or a period;
  • or to think comparatively, either within a given period or across periods.

Periods and Bibliographies

Exam One approaches Christian theology across five historical periods. For each period, there is a required reading list of four-to-six texts. For each period, the student, in consultation with advisor and faculty, will add approximately three-to-five other texts. The expectation is that the total number for the two-day exam is 40 texts (minimum, or in exceptional cases, only slightly more).


Justin Martyr, First Apology

Athanasius of Alexandria, On the Incarnation of the Word

Gregory of Nazianzus, Five Theological Orations

Augustine of Hippo,

Confessions, Enchiridion, Spirt and the Letter, On the Trinity (8-15)




        Cur Deus Homo

     Aquinas, Summa Theologiae

         Ia (qq1-13, 43-45)

         IaIIae (qq109-14)

         IIaIIae (qq1-2, 23)

         IIIa (qq1, 60, 62, 64)

     Nicolas of Cusa, On Learned Ignorance

      Julian of Norwich, Showings



         Heidelberg Disputation

         Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper, Parts I & III

         Brief Instruction on What to Look for and Expect in the Gospels

         Prefaces to OT & NT

         Two Kinds of Righteousness

         Bondage of the Will, Intro, Part VI, Conclusion

         Babylonian Captivity, Part I

         Freedom of a Christian

     Calvin, Institutes (1559)

         Bk I (i-iii, vi-vii, ix, xv-xviii)

         Bk II (i, ii.12-18, iii.3-10, v.14-15, vi, ix, xvi, xvii)

         Bk III (i, ii, xi, xiv.10-12, xv, xix, xxii)

         Bk IV (i-ii, viii, ix.8-13, xiv, xv.14-17, xvii.1-16, 33, xvii.13-17, xx)

     de las Casas, The Only Way


         Dialogues on Natural Religion

         Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Sections X & XI



         Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone

         Critique of Practical Reason

     Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith

         Introduction (paras 1-31)

         Part I (paras 32-41, 46-51, 57-58)

         Part II/1 (paras 62-72, 75-82)

         Part II/2 (paras 86-95, 100-2, 106-7, 109, 113-27, 148-9, 164-72)


         Phenomenology of Spirit, Preface & Introduction

         Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, Parts I & III


         Fear and Trembling


         The German Ideology, Part I

         The Communist Manifesto, Sections 3 & 4



         Fate and Idea in Theology

         The Humanity of God

         Concluding Postscript on Schleiermacher

         Church Dogmatics I/1, plus Sections 57 & 58 from IV/1


         F oundations of Christian Faith

         A Rahner Reader, ed. Gerald McCool

     Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation

     Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation

     Johnson, She Who Is

     Tanner, Theories of Culture

Note: The TS faculty have composed a sizeable list of possible texts the student may want to consider when composing their list of texts to add to the required ones, above. The student should ask their advisor for the Word doc of those TS faculty suggestions.

Exam Two: Theological Topics

The second, one-day, six-hour exam addresses doctrinal or other explicitly theological topics.

  • The student, in consultation with their advisor, identifies two or three topics (doctrinal or otherwise theological) of particular interest to them (but not specifically the subject of their Dissertation Area Research exam).
  • The student, in consultation with their advisor, constructs a bibliography for each topic, with the number of texts for the entire Exam Two totaling 20 or 21.
  • The student will write three essays from a selection of six questions, among which the student must choose at least one requiring them to discuss two of the topics together in some constructive fashion.

Note: The TS Area Faculty have composed a list of doctrinal and other theological topics, along with possible texts, the student might consider. The student should ask their advisor for the Word doc of those TS faculty suggestions.


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.