Doctor of Sacred Theology

There is a remarkable trajectory to the pursuit of knowledge, from a Bachelor’s degree to a Master’s degree, and eventually to a Doctoral degree in Sacred Theology, which marks the pinnacle of knowledge. The academic journey is more than just a series of degrees; it’s a transformative journey into the heart of theology, spirituality, and faith’s intricate tapestries. If you’re drawn to unraveling the profound mysteries that underlie human beliefs and their historical contexts, the path from a Bachelor’s degree onward to a Doctor of Sacred Theology is a captivating voyage awaiting your exploration. 

What is a Doctor of Sacred Theology degree?

Doctor of Sacred Theology degrees (S.T.D.) represent the highest level of academic achievement in theology and religious studies. Typically, individuals who pursue this advanced degree have already earned a Master’s degree or equivalent in theology or a related field and are seeking significant contributions to theological discourse, advanced scholarship, and in-depth research. 

Upon completion of a Doctor of Sacred Theology program, graduates are able to critically analyze complex theological issues, make original contributions to theological knowledge through extensive research and scholarly writing, and often serve as key members of academic institutions, religious organizations, and research centers where advanced theological expertise is valued. One’s mastery of theological thought as well as their commitment to advancing sacred understanding on a profound level make them a valuable asset in the world of theology and religious scholarship with this degree.

How do I get a Doctorate in Sacred Theology?

Obtaining a doctorate in Sacred Theology, often referred to as a Doctor of Sacred Theology (S.T.D.), is a prestigious and intellectually demanding endeavor that requires a deep commitment to scholarly research and theological exploration. As an expert in the field, I can guide you through the essential steps and considerations for pursuing this advanced degree.

Educational Foundation

In order to obtain an S.T.D., it is necessary to possess a solid grounding in theology. Most individuals who pursue an S.T.D. have already earned a Master of Divinity (M.Div.) or its equivalent, which typically includes studies in theology, biblical studies, Christian ethics, and church history.

Research Focus

As part of an S.T.D. program, selecting a specialized area of research within the field of sacred theology is crucial. Your doctoral studies will be centered around this area of focus, and it is recommended that you select a topic that is both relevant to your interests and aligns with the expertise of any potential faculty advisors.

Choose the Right Institution

Look for universities or seminaries renowned for their theology and religious studies programs. Investigate the faculty’s expertise and the resources available for your research. The program’s reputation and the opportunities it offers for academic collaboration and networking are also important factors.

Language Proficiency

For those interested in theological research, it may be required that you have a good understanding of ancient languages, like Latin, Greek, Hebrew, or other ancient languages, in order to access primary sources and conduct an in-depth analysis of theological texts.


The coursework that you take in S.T.D. programs includes coursework designed to help you gain a deeper understanding of theological concepts as well as research methods. These courses are designed to prepare you for the rigorous research and writing demands of your dissertation.

Dissertation Proposal

Crafting a compelling and well-defined dissertation proposal is a critical step. Your proposal should outline your research questions, methodologies, and a clear argument for the significance of your study within the broader field of theology.

Dissertation Writing

The heart of an S.T.D. program is the dissertation. This substantial piece of original research contributes new insights to your chosen field. The process involves extensive literature review, data collection (if applicable), analysis, and coherent argumentation. Regular interactions with your advisor and committee members are essential for guidance and feedback.


As soon as you have completed your dissertation, you will be asked to defend it before a committee of experts in the field, which will involve you presenting your research, answering questions from the committee, and demonstrating your expert knowledge and understanding of this subject area.

Contribution to Scholarship

An S.T.D. dissertation is expected to make a significant contribution to theological scholarship. It should offer fresh insights, challenge existing paradigms, and expand the understanding of the topic.


A great deal of candidates choose to publish a part of their dissertation or the whole thing in academic journals or as a book in order to contribute to the academic community and establish himself/herself as an expert in the field.

Doctor of Sacred Theology Courses

There is a possibility that specific programs and courses will differ from one institution to another, and the availability of courses may change over time as well. Here are some types of courses that can be found in a Doctor of Sacred Theology program:

  1. Systematic Theology: Courses in this area focus on the study of fundamental theological concepts and doctrines, such as the nature of God, Christology, ecclesiology, eschatology, and more.
  2. Historical Theology: This category covers the history of Christian thought, doctrine development, and the evolution of the church over time.
  3. Moral Theology/Ethics: Students are given the opportunity to gain an understanding of ethical issues from a theological perspective, and learn how religious principles inform their moral decision-making as well as their social orientation.
  4. Liturgical Theology: Study of liturgy, worship practices, sacraments, and the role of rituals in religious life.
  5. Patristics: A course examining the writings and teachings of the early Church Fathers, looking for how they contributed to the development of doctrine and theology as a whole.
  6. Philosophy of Religion: Exploration of philosophical questions related to the existence of God, faith and reason, the problem of evil, and more.
  7. Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue: Study of the relationships between different Christian traditions and other religions, as well as efforts to promote understanding and cooperation.
  8. Spirituality and Mysticism: Exploration of spiritual practices, contemplative traditions, and mystical experiences within Christianity.
  9. Dogmatic Theology: In-depth study of specific dogmas and doctrines of the Catholic Church or relevant denominational context.
  10. Research and Dissertation: A significant portion of the program is often dedicated to independent research and the completion of a doctoral dissertation. This original research contributes to the academic and theological community’s understanding of a specific topic.

Universities Offering Doctor of Sacred Theology 

Because Doctor of Sacred Theology (S.T.D.) programs are highly specialized and research-intensive, they are usually offered on campuses rather than online. An S.T.D. program involves close interaction with faculty mentors, collaborative research, and in-person interactions. Here are a few universities that were known for their doctor of sacred theology programs

The Doctor of Sacred Theology (S.T.D.) is a prestigious academic degree that is granted to individuals who have demonstrated a solid theological foundation and proven expertise in a specialized area. This degree signifies the candidate’s capability for advanced scholarly research and publishing. To achieve an S.T.D., candidates are required to complete twelve semester hours of credits through doctoral seminars relevant to their chosen area of focus. These seminars, typically at the 800-level, offer specialized knowledge within the candidate’s academic domain and necessitate a substantial research paper of approximately 25 to 30 pages. 

Furthermore, all candidates are obliged to participate in a Proseminar in Research and Dissertation Methodology during their first semester, a non-credit course aimed at equipping them with effective research techniques and dissertation composition skills. Candidates who hold an S.T.L. (Licentiate in Sacred Theology) from the Department of Theology might be exempt from certain requirements. Throughout the S.T.D. program’s four semesters, candidates can enroll in a maximum of six credit hours of coursework per semester, alongside guidance for their dissertation, totaling nine semester hours of coursework.

The Doctorate in Sacred Theology represents the culminating phase within the ecclesiastical degree program, designed to encompass comprehensive theological education, particularly through the composition of a doctoral dissertation. The S.T.D. stands as the pinnacle of advanced theological studies in the Roman Catholic tradition, aiming to enhance students’ theological mastery as they prepare for scholarly vocations in service of the Church. 

Prerequisites for entry include:

  1. A successfully earned Licentiate in Sacred Theology (STL) or Licentiate in Sacred Scripture (SSL) with an outstanding grade point average of 3.7 or higher.
  2. Competency in a contemporary language relevant to theological research, aside from the applicant’s native language. Additionally, candidates focusing on Biblical Studies must exhibit proficiency in one of the Biblical languages.
  3. Submission of a substantial research paper from the STL or SSL program, serving as evidence of the candidate’s research and compositional proficiencies.

The Doctorate in Sacred Theology (S.T.D.), marking the pinnacle of the three-degree ecclesiastical progression, readies scholars to merge extensive expertise in a specific theological domain with a discerning grasp of theological approaches, enabling them to generate innovative research within their selected realm.

To enter the Doctorate in Sacred Theology (S.T.D.) program, students should hold the ecclesiastical degree Licentiate in Sacred Theology (STL) with a grade of cum laude (1.75) or better.

If students are admitted to LST by the Vice President for Academic Affairs, they need to finish at least two-thirds of the required coursework at LST before getting the degree. The Vice President for Academic Affairs will decide how many credits from previous studies can be transferred. It’s important to focus on the main theological subjects that are required (LST Statutes, art. 36). The S.T.D. program needs a year of coursework in which students have to successfully complete five doctoral level courses, totaling 15 credit units.

Although St. Mary’s is authorized by the Holy See to confer the S.T.D. degree, the university exercises caution in admitting candidates. Preference is given to those who show clear promise and align their research interests with faculty members who are capable of providing doctoral guidance. Prospective students need to hold a Licentiate in Sacred Theology (S.T.L.) degree or equivalent work from an ecclesiastical faculty, with a minimum G.P.A. of 3.50.

The Doctoral Program requires candidates to achieve a G.P.A. of 3.50. This entails completing twelve credits, including a minimum of two 800-level seminars, with the remaining credits covered through directed research during at least a year of residence. Proficiency in Latin and two modern languages other than English, useful for scholarly research, is mandatory. Language competency can be demonstrated through high school transcripts showing three years of coursework in the respective area or college-level transcripts demonstrating two years of coursework, or through a competency examination.

The program also entails two semesters of dissertation guidance, leading to the completion of a doctoral dissertation of up to 80,000 words. The typical timeframe for defending the dissertation is within five years, with the possibility of extension granted by the Admissions Committee of the Ecclesiastical Theological Faculty.

Possible Jobs for Someone with Doctor of Sacred Theology

Doctor of Sacred Theology (S.T.D.) is a degree in theology that’s extremely advanced and specialized. If you’re a graduate with an S.T.D., you’ll be able to make a significant contribution to academia, religious institutions, research, and theological leadership. Here are some possible careers:

  1. University Professor: With an S.T.D., you can become a professor of theology at universities, colleges, and seminaries. You’ll teach undergraduate and graduate students, conduct research, publish scholarly works, and contribute to the academic community.
  2. Research Scholar: Work as a researcher in theological institutes, think tanks, or research centers. Your expertise could contribute to academic papers, books, and projects that advance theological knowledge and understanding.
  3. Theologian: Serve as a theologian who engages in deeper philosophical, ethical, and doctrinal questions within religious traditions. Your insights can contribute to interfaith dialogues, ethical discussions, and the evolving understanding of faith.
  4. Religious Leader: Many religious institutions value individuals with advanced theological knowledge for leadership roles. You might become a pastor, minister, priest, or religious educator in a congregation, guiding members in their spiritual journeys.
  5. Chaplaincy: In settings such as hospitals, prisons, military organizations, and educational institutions, you can provide spiritual guidance and support to individuals facing challenges and seeking meaning.
  6. Interfaith Dialogue Facilitator: Your in-depth understanding of theology can be valuable in promoting understanding and dialogue between different religious traditions.
  7. Consultant: Offer your expertise to individuals, religious organizations, or non-profits seeking guidance on theological matters, ethical questions, or religious practices.
  8. Social Justice Advocate: Apply your theological knowledge to address social and ethical issues, advocating for justice, equality, and human rights from a faith-based perspective.
  9. Counseling: With additional training, you could provide counseling services that integrate theology and spirituality into therapeutic practices.
  10. Cultural and Historical Analysis: Contribute to cultural and historical analyses, exploring how theological ideas have shaped societies and cultures throughout history.
  11. Global Outreach: Engage in international religious organizations, missions, or non-governmental organizations that focus on faith-based humanitarian efforts.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. How long is a Doctor of Sacred Theology?

A full-time S.T.D. program usually takes 3 to 5 years to complete. That includes coursework, comprehensive exams, dissertation research, and defense. However, if you’re pursuing the degree part-time, it can take a long time. It might take anywhere from 5 to 8 years, depending on how many classes you take per semester and how much time you can devote to research.

  1. Is Doctor of Sacred Theology different from PhD?

As opposed to a regular Ph.D., the S.T.D. will often emphasize a more specialized and advanced exploration of theological themes, often focusing on a particular religion, historical period, or doctrinal context, which is different from that of a regular Ph.D.