Last Updated on August 12, 2023 by Oluwajuwon Alvina

Doctorate in Sacred Theology (S.T.D.)

The S.T.D. is the culminating step in the three-degree ecclesiastical program, which starts with the Bachelor of Sacred Theology (S.T.B.), progresses to the Licentiate in Sacred Theology (S.T.L.), and ends with the successful completion of the S.T.D. STM is one of only seven ecclesiastical faculties within the United States empowered to offer the Doctorate in Sacred Theology.

Why an S.T.D.?

The purpose of the S.T.D. program is to create scholars who combine broad knowledge of a certain area, a critical knowledge of theological methodology, and an ability to contribute original research in a chosen field of study. Most students who complete the S.T.D. go on to teach in university faculties, seminaries, and theological centers. They also contribute to Church administration and pastoral work, using their extensive study, training, and expertise as resources for their community. Students interested in the S.T.D. usually have discerned a vocation of working within the Catholic Church or a related environment. As with the S.T.L., the S.T.D. can open many doors for service in the Church, in a number of official capacities within dioceses, religious communities, and institutions of higher learning.

Focus of the S.T.D.

Under the S.T.L., students refine their focus on a particular branch of theology and, then in the S.T.D., an even more specialized area of theology. After the extensive work required to obtain the two previous ecclesiastical degrees, S.T.D. students work even further to create an expertise in a specific area and to critically master the issues and methodologies of their area and discipline. The culmination of the S.T.D. is the doctoral thesis, which the student must defend at the end of his or her program. The thesis should be approximately 300 pages and “make a real contribution to the progress of science” and theological studies. In addition to the thesis and academic rigor, there is an important formation component to the degree. S.T.D. students spend at least two semesters as teaching assistants, learning the craft of teaching on the graduate level. Doctoral students also participate in the S.T.D. colloquium and other events intended to introduce them professionally and vocationally to the life of faculty and teaching within higher education.

Learning Outcomes

At the end of the program, students will be able to demonstrate the skills necessary

  • To teach at the post-secondary level
  • To engage in scholarly research in preparation for teaching and publication
  • To demonstrate a sufficient level of mastery in a particular discipline, which corresponds to the expectations of the academy of the completion of a terminal degree

What Is Sacred Theology

Sacred Theology, in its most basic sense, is the study of divine revelations, specifically those found in texts such as the Bible or the Quran. While it can apply to a number of religions including Islam, Judaism, and Mormonism, it typically refers to Christianity. A Master of Sacred Theology is available to anyone who has already earned a master’s degree and is looking to expand their theological knowledge.

The Quran is one of the main sacred writings in Islam.
The Quran is one of the main sacred writings in Islam.
Christianity first applied the word “sacred” to theology in order to distinguish it from secular theology. The word sacred is used in both the Old and New Testaments to signify people, places, or things that are holy and set apart. Those who practice Sacred Theology truly believe what they are studying.

The study of secular theology was firmly established in the 1960s. It added Altizer’s Death of God theology and Kierkegaard’s existentialism to the study of the divine. Reconstructionist Judaism is a branch of secular theology which combines traditional Judaism with Deweyan naturalism.

Jewish scholars may study the sacred theology of the Torah.
Jewish scholars may study the sacred theology of the Torah.
Most Christians accept only the Holy Bible as a subject for Sacred Theology. Some branches of Christianity, however, have additional sacred texts. For example, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints considers the Book of Mormon divinely inspired.

The main sacred writings in Islam are the Quran and the Hadith. Sacred theology for a Muslim would be the study of these texts by one who believes they are true. Some people would also include various visions as well as portions of the Bible.

The hadith is one of the main sacred texts of Islam.
The hadith is one of the main sacred texts of Islam.
Judaism uses sacred theology to better understand the Old Testament, referred to by Jews as the Torah, the Writings, and the Prophets. They believe God revealed his words to Moses and the prophets, who recorded them for future generations. Traditional Jews believe the Old Testament is the only divinely inspired book.

Students must already have a Master of Divinity or a Master of Arts in a theological field before working on a Master of Sacred Theology (MST). Many people use the MST to prepare to work on a Doctorate, especially if they did not complete a major research project with the first Masters degree. The program is an additional 36 hours of coursework, including a thesis or a major research project.

In the Catholic tradition, a Licentiate in Sacred Theology (LST) takes the place of the MST. Studies are built upon in a purely Catholic context. The LST is the second degree in progression for Catholic students, between a bachelors and a doctorate.