The Ph.D. in Moral Theology/Ethics represents an achievement in theological scholarship and research. The program is designed to prepare graduate students to make significant contributions to knowledge in a major area of moral theological or ethical inquiry while broadening their understanding of other areas of theology. Students also select a minor area from in or outside of the School to support their doctoral research. By means of research seminars, advanced level courses, language skills, comprehensive examinations, and an extensive research project, the program is designed to develop graduates who are capable of thorough theological understanding and careful research.


  • Applicants should possess an M.A. in theology or religious studies as offered by Catholic University, or the equivalent of this degree.
  • Ordinarily, applicants will have obtained twelve credit hours of undergraduate or graduate philosophy.
  • Students who enter the Moral Theology/Ethics Ph.D. program with academic deficiencies will be encouraged to audit courses to complement their doctoral level courses.


  • 36 Credit hours of coursework after the M.A. degree.
  • Eighteen of those hours are to be taken in the area of Moral Theology/Ethics, including the four Moral Theology/Ethics core courses:
    Core #1: TRS 830E Ethics and Politics in St. Augustine
    Core #2: TRS 835B The Moral Theology of St. Thomas
    Core #3: TRS 737E Freedom, Law, Rights
    Core #4: TRS 737D Twentieth-Century Theological Ethics
  • An additional nine credit hours are electives, to be taken in any of the academic areas of the School of Theology and Religious Studies or within other schools of the university.
  • At least nine credit hours of coursework in one minor area.
  • The doctoral-level required prerequisite course, TRS 799 Proseminar For New Doctoral Students.
  • Completion of a program proposal during the second semester of doctoral study.
  • Completion and filing of four research papers.
  • Completion and defense of a dissertation.


Each candidate must prepare and successfully defend a dissertation, written under the guidance of a director and at least two other members of the faculty. The dissertation is expected to demonstrate technical mastery in the field of moral theology/ethics and the ability to engage in original scholarly research and to formulate conclusions significant to the academic theological community.


  • Reading proficiency in one modern language (normally French or German) for use in theological research.
  • Reading proficiency and facility for use in theological research in one ancient language (normally Latin or Greek).
  • Additional languages may be required by a student's own research.

Comprehensive Examinations

  • The comprehensive examinations include both written exams and an oral exam.
  • There are three written examinations, in the following areas:
    general moral theology
    the student's area of specialization within Moral Theology/Ethics
    the student's minor areas
  • Each written exam is four hours in length. The minor area exam is only two hours in length.
  • The subject matter of each examination will be based on a reading list, compiled by the student in consultation with, and pending the approval of, the student's comprehensive exam committee.
  • The comprehensive exam committee will consist of four examiners. Ordinarily, three examiners will come from the Moral Theology/Ethics department and the fourth examiner from a minor area.
  • The written exams may be scheduled over a period of up to seven days.
  • Following successful completion of the written portion of the comprehensive examinations, students will be given a ninety-minute oral examination. The subject matter of the oral exam is the entirety of the book lists for the written exams. The oral examination is to be scheduled approximately one week following the completion of the written comprehensive examinations.
  • Upon successful completion of comprehensive exams, the student will apply to the academic area director of Moral Theology/Ethics for candidacy. The Moral Theology/Ethics faculty will evaluate the student's application for candidacy and make a recommendation to the school.