May 20, 2024  

Religion, Adventist Studies Concentration PhD

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Thomas Shepherd, Director

The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD): Religion program prepares teacher-scholars in focused theological fields of study, primarily for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in its institutions of higher learning around the world. 

Areas of Specialization

  • Development of Adventist lifestyle
  • Development of Adventist theology
  • General Adventist history

Each area of study is to be supplemented with one of the cognate areas listed below. The cognate should be taken in a department other than the one which offers the major area of study.

  • Biblical Archaeology and History of Antiquity
  • Christian Ministry
  • Church History
  • Mission
  • New Testament
  • Old Testament
  • Religious Education
  • Theology
  • Area selected from approved graduate-level studies 

PhD: Religion

The PhD: Religion program builds on expertise and training developed in approved master’s programs. It provides individuals equipped with skills and methods appropriate to genuine scholarship to do original and responsible research, and it promotes the proficient application of sound and valid principles of biblical interpretation and historical research. It acquaints students with the Judeo-Christian heritage and the findings of various branches of biblical scholarship and communicates the religious and ethical values of that heritage as found in Scripture and as understood by conservative Christians, in general, and the Seventh-day Adventist Church, in particular.

This degree is not earned by the mere accumulation of credits. It is conferred on those who demonstrate clearly and capably, in written and oral form, mature and independent research marked by discriminating analysis, careful evaluation of evidence and theories, and sound interpretation of available data. The PhD in Religion is granted only to those who give evidence that they have attained a distinctly superior level of expertise in their principal area of study and the supplementary cognate area. One who holds a PhD in Religion will possess the following competencies:

  • Faithfulness to God and Scripture within the church and the community of scholars
  • Mastery of content relevant to the chosen discipline
  • Advanced research and writing capability in the chosen discipline
  • Ability to produce scholarly presentations and publications
  • Expertise in teaching and other forms of communication

Total Credits - 64

In order to fulfill the requirements for the PhD degree, students must

  • Register for 64 credits by completing 48 or more credits of formal course work in lecture, seminars, directed-study and reading courses, and 16 credits for the dissertation

Concentration - 33

Area of Cognate - 9

Requirements for cognates may be obtained from the PhD/ThD office.

Degree Core

Research - 3

Dissertation Proposal:

The student may prepare his/her dissertation proposal by taking GSEM 854  or by taking up to 3 dissertation credits during the coursework phase.  In the case of the first option, the 3 credits of GSEM 854  count toward dissertation credits.


The proposal must contain a basic survey of pertinent literature, a clear statement of the problem, a succinct purpose statement, a description of the methodology to be employed, a list of tentative chapter and subsection titles, and a preliminary bibliography.


If the dissertation proposal has not been approved by the PhD/ThD Committee by the time comprehensive examinations have been passed the student registers for GSEM 888  every semester, and pay a continuation fee until the dissertation proposal is completed and the review is held.


  • The student’s dissertation committee is formed by a collaborative process involving the student, the department chair, the professors to serve on the committee, and the PhD director as described in the PhD/ThD student handbook.
  • At the conclusion of the collaborate process the PhD/ThD committee appoints the student’s dissertation committee.

Comprehensive Examinations

The comprehensive examinations determine a students proficiency in the major area of emphasis and in the cognate area of study, familiarity with pertinent literature, and skills in criticism and analysis. Students are expected to demonstrate greater proficency in the major area of emphasis than in the cognate area. Students are required to pass five comprehensive examinations within a four week period scheduled by the PhD/ThD office.  Four of these examinations are set in the principal area of study and one in the cognate area.

  • All 48 credits of coursework must be completed a minimum of 6 months prior to taking the comprehensive exams.
  • The student’s comprehensive exam schedule and all comprehensive exam contracts must be approved a minimum of 6 months prior to taking the comprehensive exams.
  • The student must clear all DG grades a minimum of 3 months prior to taking the comprehensive exams.
  • The comprehensive exams will be offered three times per year (Fall, Spring and Summer semesters).
  • When the comprehensive exams have been successfully completed and the dissertation proposal has been approved by the PhD/ThD committee, the student is formally advanced to candidacy by the PhD/ThD committee.
  • During semesters of preparation for comprehensive exams the student registers for:

  • Credits: 0
  • During the semester in which the student takes the Comprehensive exams the student registers for:

    Below is a table that indicates what months the student has to acomplish the above reqirements in order to take the exams at the appointed time.  The PhD/ThD office will abide by these deadlines.


    Table of Dates for Comrehensive Exams
      Fall Comps Spring Comps Summer Comps.
    Complete Coursework April July December
    Turn in Schedule & Contracts April July December
    Clear DG’s June September March
    Take Exams October/November January/February July/August

    *Comprehensive exams are scheduled by the PhD/ThD office. Check with the office for the starting dates for the exams.

Dissertation - 16

After the dissertation proposal is approved and the student has passed the comprehensive examinations, he/she registers for GSEM 995  for 1-16 dissertation credits (1-13 credits if GSEM 854  is taken) for up to six semesters. If the dissertation is not completed after all 16 dissertation credits have been taken, the candidate must register for GSEM 888  every semester, and pay a continuation fee until the dissertation is completed and the defense held, or until time has expired.

The dissertation prepared by the student must:

  1. Make an original contribution to scholarship.
  2. Demonstrate the candidate’s competence to do independent research.
  3. Reveal the candidate’s familiarity with and proficiency in handling the pertinent literature.
  4. Present a logically organized, methodologically sound, and readable account of the investigation, findings, conclusions, and implications of the study.
  5. Not exceed 100,000 words in content and footnotes, excluding bibliography.

Oral Defense of Dissertation

The oral defense of the dissertation normally cannot be made earlier than 12 months after passing the comprehensive examinations. The date is set and advertised by the director of the PhD/ThD programs.

At least six weeks before the time of the defense, the program director, in consultation with the dean of the Seminary, appoints two additional members to the doctoral committee. One of those persons, the “external examiner”, is normally a scholar from another graduate institution.

The oral defense is conducted by the dissertation defense committee and is held no later than four weeks before the degree is conferred.

To pass the oral defense, the candidate must receive a vote of approval from at least four of the five examiners. The committee votes in one of the following ways:

  1. Acceptance of the dissertation as presented
  2. Acceptance of the dissertation subject to minor revisions
  3. Acceptance of the dissertation subject to major revisions
  4. Rejection of the dissertation

Normally, rejection of a dissertation terminates the student’s doctoral candidacy, but the PhD-ThD Committee may consider whether to allow him/her to prepare and submit another dissertation and what specific requirements would apply (including possible further course work and additional comprehensive examinations).


After the defense:

  • The student makes all corrections
  • The deadline for dissertations to be submitted to the Dissertation Secretary with the signed approved page is no later than Wednesday, 10 days before graduation.

Strict adherence to this deadline is essential or graduation is postponed.

For more detailed guidelines and scheduling see the PhD/ThD student handbook. A copy by be accessed on-line at:



Maintaining Academic Standing


  • Take at least two semesters of formal full-time study consecutively and in residence, registering each semester for no fewer than 8 credits. At least 33 credits (of the minimum 48 course work credits) must be taken in residence.


Coursework Levels:

  • Take all course work at the Seminary on the 800, & 900 levels; some non-seminary graduate courses may be approved by the student’s doctoral committee in consultation with the director of the PhD/ThD program.
  • Up to 9 Transfer credits at the 600 level may be approved if the work is done at the doctoral level, the credits do not apply to another degree, and a grade of B minimum is achieved.


Seminary Worship:

  • Attend seminary worships.


Grade Point Average:

  • Achieve grades of B (3.00) or better and/or S.  Only such grades are credited toward the degree requirements. No more than 15 credits in courses with an S grade may be applied to the program requirements. If the student falls below the minimum GPA of 3.0, he/she is placed on probation and can regain regular standing only after having again reached the B (3.00) level. The matriculation of a student with grades below B may be terminated after review by the PhD/ThD Committee. A student who accumulates more than three grades of C or below (2.00 or below) is not allowed to continue in the doctoral program.


Full Course Load:

  • The full-time load for regular course work is 8 to 12 credits per semester. Students with full-sponsorship are expected to take a full load of 12 credits per semester. On-campus students who are registered for GSEM 880 , GSEM 844 , GSEM 888 GSEM 885  (non-credit courses) are counted as full-time students. Students who register for GSEM 995  are also counted as full-time students if the work is done on campus and they register for 16 credits in a maximum of six semesters.


Transfer of Credits:

  • Transfer of credits may be considered for students having done post-MA or post-MDiv work in an approved institution if the work is appropriate to the program, carries grades of B or above, and was taken within six years of the students’ first enrollment in the PhD/ThD program. Credits earned toward the MA and MDiv degrees are not considered for transfer. The director of the PhD/ThD program determines the appropriateness, relevance, and currency of the work considered for the transfer of credits and authorizes such transfers. In no case is the minimum residence requirement reduced.


Time Limits:

  • The maximum time limit for completion of the PhD/ThD is ten years from first enrollment. Regular course work and the comprehensive exams must be completed within five years of first enrollment. The dissertation must be completed within five years of passing the comprehensive exams

Admission Requirements

All applicants must meet the Graduate Programs Admission  requirements, and the Seminary Admission Requirements . Admission to the PhD: Religion program is granted by the PhD-ThD Committee to applicants who

  • Hold either an MDiv degree (or its equivalent), or an MA in Religion (or its equivalent) from an approved seminary or university. The applicant’s transcript(s) will be reviewed by the PhD/Thd office for applicability to the program’s prerequisites. Additional coursework may be required to make up deficiencies.
  • Show high promise of future usefulness to church and society.
  • Read proficiently in ancient and/or modern languages as noted in the Language Requirements.
  • Minimum GRE score of 288
  • Demonstrate the ability to handle doctoral-level work in English according to the following guidelines:
    1. Applicants for whom English is not a primary language of communication are required to take the TOEFL exam and must achieve the entry level score of 90 for iBT TOEFL exam (equivalent to a paper based ITP TOEFL exam score of 575) for regular admission to the PhD program.
    2. Applicants who have received a bachelor’s or higher degree in the past 5 years from an institution where English is the medium of instruction are exempt from the requirement to take the TOEFL exam.
    3. All international students applying to the PhD programs are required to have a language evaluation interview with the program director whether or not they are required to take the TOEFL exam. The content of this interview may include reading and listening comprehension components and writing and speaking components. The interview can be in person or via Skype if the applicant is not in the Berrien Springs area. A proctor will be involved in any reading and writing components of the interview.
    4. Based on the results of the language evaluation interview the applicant may be required to take ESL courses to enhance their English language ability in one or more of the areas covered in the interview (reading, listening, speaking, writing).
    5. For an iBT TOEFL score between 80 and 89 (equivalent to a paper based ITP TOEFL score between 550 and 574), the applicant is eligible to enter the Seminary ESL Bridge program in which the student takes two courses with ESL and one 3 credit course in the PhD program. This is counted as full time student status.
    6. For iBT TOEFL scores below 80 (550 for ITP TOEFL) the applicant is ineligible for the Seminary ESL Bridge program.
    7. For further details regarding the Bridge program and its policies see the ESL website.
  • Complete and return the Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire.
  • Have 15 prerequisite credits in the chosen area of concentration.
  • Depending upon the applicant’s academic background, the PhD-ThD Committee may also require proficiency examination(s) before granting admission to the doctoral program.
  • Have completed GSEM 620 - Research Methods .

Time to Apply. Students who desire to enter the program in the autumn semester (the normal entry point), or, summer semester must submit all application materials to the Office of Graduate Admissions by December 15 of the preceding year. Students may also enter the program in the spring semester, in which case the application materials must all reach the Office of Graduate Admissions by June 15 of the preceding year.

The number of students who may enter the program in any given year is limited. Rarely is one accepted who applies late. Students whose applications are late may request consideration for admission in the following year.

Items to Submit. In addition to submitting the items required of all graduate students , applicants to the PhD-ThD programs must also submit

  • A 300-word personal statement including their philosophical perspective, the relationship of their religious concerns and ethical values to their responsibilities as a teacher-scholar and leader in the church; an indication of what they hope to accomplish professionally in the future, and a topic for the dissertation if one has already been selected.
  • A significant research paper (30-40 pages in length), normally written during MA or MDiv studies. The topic of this paper should coincide with the area of concentration. This paper should have the following characteristics:
    • A problem in the area of research is described that analyzes primary sources and engages the debate in the secondary literature
    • A clear thesis is stated
    • The case for the thesis is argued succinctly and logically, taking into account the discussion in the current secondary literature
    • Conclusions are presented clearly and convincingly
    • The paper is in good English prose without grammatical, syntactical or spelling errors.

Dual Enrollment. Dual enrollment in undergraduate or other graduate degree programs is not allowed in the PhD in Religion Program.

Language Requirements. Applicants must demonstrate proficiency in specified foreign languages either by passing language proficiency examinations or by taking specified graduate level language courses at Andrews University and earning a grade of B or above. Languages listed as Prerequisite must be passed by examination or course work before the student is accepted into Regular Status. Languages listed as Required are taken as part of the area of concentration. The language requirements are listed below.

  • Prerequisite: Intermediate OT Hebrew, Intermediate NT Greek, and a relevant modern language other than English (approved by the student’s advisor and by the director of the PhD program).


Schedule of Meeting Language Proficiency Requirements.  All language prerequisites should be completed before entrance. If that is not possible, a student may be required to take a reduced load in order to meet these prerequisites. Language prerequisites must be met by the end of the third consecutive semester in the program (including summer). Students who fail to meet this schedule take no further regular course work until all the language prerequisites are met. Because of the amount of study and the length of time usually required in developing prerequisite-level skill in languages, the PhD-ThD Committee may require applicants to clear all the language prerequisites prior to admission.

In addition to these prerequisite language requirements, students in any of the six areas may be asked to study other languages. When warranted by the student’s program, a language substitution may be made with the approval of the student’s advisor and the director of the PhD Program.


Program Outcomes

  1. Articulate an integrated theology and philosophy of faithfulness to God and Scripture, objectivity in research, and integrity in relationships.
  2. Provide evidence of a broad understanding of the content area of the chosen major discipline and competency within the area of the minor discipline.
  3. Demonstrate ability to propose a delimited topic of original research, carry out the investigation under faculty mentorship, and produce a logical and coherent written report of the study.
  4. Write scholarly research, make a professional presentation and submit for publication.
  5. Display teaching ability appropriate for college and university settings.

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