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Application Process

What follows relates to students applying for research degrees (PhD or MA).

Applicants for the DThM are invited to contact the PGR Coordinator. Those applying through our doctoral partnership with Vancouver School of Theology need to apply through VST, who can also provide information and further details.

There are four stages in making an application:

Stage 1: Satisfying basic requirements

You should ensure that you:

  1. meet our entrance requirements  
  2. can meet the financial requirements of the programme
  3. have achieved appropriate English-language proficiency if you are not a native English-speaker.

If you are at all unsure about any of these, please contact us for further advice.

We always welcome potential applicants and will be very happy to show you around the department. Please contact either a potential supervisor or the PGR Coordinator if you would like to visit us.

Stage 2: Finding a supervisor and research topic

A key challenge in starting a research degree is to find the right supervisor(s) and the right topic. All research applications require a comprehensive research proposal that is feasible, original, and demonstrates familiarity with existing scholarly literature. It is strongly recommended that you consult prospective supervisors about your research proposal in advance of making a formal application. Although ideally doctoral candidates should come up with their own original idea they want to develop, staff will be pleased to help you formulate an appropriate proposal. The easiest way to find a suitable supervisor is to look through the research areas or staff web pages. Please feel free to email staff directly: they will be happy to discuss possible research proposals with prospective students. If this does not prove fruitful, then email the Tutor for Postgraduate Admissions, who will help you to find the right supervisor.

If you have had such contact with a particular member of staff, please mention this in your application.  If a member of staff with the required expertise in the area you propose to research cannot be identified, your application will be declined.

We operate a system of team supervision, with two supervisors appointed for each research student. This works in a variety of ways in practice, and the details of supervisory arrangements are individually tailored to the interests and needs of each research student.

Developing a Research Proposal

Once you have the right supervisor, there will be a period of discussion between you and him or her as together you develop a research idea into a research proposal. This should become the backbone of your application to study here. The shape and content of the proposal will vary according to the nature of the topic, but the following advice for writing a research proposal may be of use:

Research Proposal (MA by research, MLitt and PhD applicants only)               

The shape and content of the proposal will vary according to the nature of the topic, but the following advice for writing a research proposal may be of use:

  1. The proposal should be between 1,500-2,500 words for PhD and 1,000 and 1,500 words in length for MA by research (excl. bibliography) and annotated as appropriate.
  2. Identify your proposed topic or field of research and say why it is important, both intrinsically and in relation to the scholarly study of theology or religion.
  3. Outline what you know of previous work on the subject and indicate how your research might relate to that previous work.
  4. Identify methodological and hermeneutical issues appropriate to the subject and what method or approach you may wish to follow.
  5. Identify the relevant primary and secondary sources essential for the research, in part to indicate your knowledge of the current state of play in your field.
  6. Suggest if you can what line of argument you might wish to test out.
  7. Offer an indicative bibliography (not included in the word count).

Please note that the proposal submitted by DThM applicants need not be so developed as there will be opportunity to work on this during the ‘Taught’ phase of the programme.  The proposal should be around 1,500 words in length.

Please note that the decision to accept you will only be taken once you have developed your proposal and made a formal application.

Stage 3: Making an application

You must now make a formal application to the University. Postgraduate Research course applications should be submitted using our Postgraduate Application Portal. If you have a preference for a particular college you can request this after you have been offered and have accepted a place of study from the University. The Collegiate Office is responsible for the allocation of colleges and further details of the process can be found here. If you have any queries related to filling out the application form, please email the PGR Coordinator, who will be able to advise you.

Applicants can upload all documents relating to their application through the portal. The required documents are listed below.

Academic references* must not be submitted using the portal. References submitted through the portal will not be accepted. In the references section of the online application form when you add a new referee you should make the following choices: reference type should be ‘Request a reference’, and you should answer ‘yes’ to the question about whether you are happy for referees to be contacted prior to a decision. The University will contact the referees named in your application directly. If you have submitted an application without following this procedure then your referees will not be contacted automatically.  In this event please contact the department by sending an email to

  1. Academic transcripts or other evidence of academic qualifications. These must be either issued by the awarding institution in English or you must follow the guidance for certified translations.
  2. Two academic references. Please ensure that your referees are able to provide a reference in a timely fashion. If you are applying for a Durham or Northern Bridge scholarship, please ensure your referees understand that their references will be used both for admission and for a very competitive funding process.
  3. Evidence of English language proficiency, if your native language is not English,
  4. Samples of academic work: one or more pieces of recent written work on a theological or related topic undertaken as part of an earlier degree. This should normally be no longer than 5000 words. 
  5. Your research proposal.
  6. A copy of your CV.

You may like to know that the application process is frequently delayed when we do not receive all of the supporting documentation. It is your responsibility to ensure that all required documents are sent to us in a timely manner. Supporting documents should be uploaded via the application portal.

You should note the dates by which applications should be submitted by.

You may also wish to consult the ‘How to Apply’ webpages of the Recruitment and Admissions Office website which provide an overview of the entire process.

When to apply

We do not have a closing date for receiving applications. Applicants are, however, strongly advised to submit their application by the end of June if they aim to commence their studies the following October, although later applications may also be considered.  The only exception to this is the Doctor of Theology and Ministry (DThM) programme which has an application closing date of 1st June.  The DThM start date is 1st September each year. 

The above statement relates to study applications and not scholarship applications.  If you are also applying for a scholarship then you must ensure that you submit your application in good time and no later than the scholarship closing date, otherwise your application will be considered for a study place only.  Please allow time for your referees to submit their references before the closing date.  Details of the department’s closing dates for any Durham scholarships available will be published on our website here around October each year.  The department’s deadlines for the Northern Bridge, the Durham Doctoral Studentships and the Faculty MA Bursaries will be significantly earlier than those suggested by the funding body. It is usually around the first week of December (tbc). 

Research proposal for Integrated PhD Applicants

The admission criteria are similar to those for taught MA programmes: essentially, a good first degree in Theology and Religion or another relevant subject. However, we are also looking for candidates who are likely to flourish in the full research programme through to PhD.  Hence we ask for a research proposal between 1,000-1,500 words, although this need not be as developed as if you were applying for direct entry to the PhD, since the first year of the degree provides a structured opportunity to shape it further.  

Stage 4: Consideration by the department and university

If your qualifications, references and (in the case of degrees by research) your research proposal are satisfactory and we can provide appropriate supervision and resources, the department will support your admission to the university. In certain circumstances we may need to request further information. We frequently interview applicants prior to making a decision if potential supervisors deem this to be helpful.

The university processes your application and sends you a formal response. The Graduate School is responsible for approving all postgraduate applications. You should be aware that approval by the Graduate School is not a formality and that in some cases where a department has recommended approval, the Graduate School will be unable to support this. Until you receive an offer from the Recruitment and Admissions Office, you have not received a formal offer of a place. We will contact you directly if we as a department are unable to recommend your application for approval.

We are unable to consider an application until all of the supporting documentation has been received. We aim to let you know of our decision within four to six weeks of receiving your finished application complete with all supporting documentation.


Those also applying for Durham or AHRC NBDTP scholarships should check for relevant closing dates, which will be published on the Scholarships and Funding web page as soon as the details are available, normally in Michaelmas Term.

Entry Requirements

The standard academic qualification that is required for higher research degrees is a good pass in a Masters-level programme which is relevant to the proposed research topic. We understand this as a minimum of 65 in UK metrics, or 3.7 GPA on a 4.0 scale, or the equivalent in another international qualification. For entry to Masters level research degrees, the grade threshold is the same, but in a Bachelor level degree.

This requirement can be waived in the case of applicants who can demonstrate by other means that they have the skills, experience and ability to carry out research at the appropriate level.

If your proposed research requires particular skills (such as proficiency in Biblical languages), you may also be required to demonstrate that you have sufficient expertise to begin your studies.

In all cases it is essential to provide a sound research proposal, a sample of your written work and two strong academic references.

English Language Proficiency

Applicants for whom English is not their native language must fulfil a minimum acceptable English language requirement prior to registering as a student.

The standard requirement for students applying to this department is:

An Overall Band Score of 7.0 or above in the British Council International English Language Testing Service (IELTS) test with no band below 7.0, or an equivalent score in an alternative accepted test. For a full list of accepted tests please consult the Learning and Teaching Handbook.

In all cases the relevant certificate should have been issued within two years of the programme start date.

Residence Requirements

Full Time research students are expected to be resident during academic term-time, and to maintain regular contact with their supervisor. The frequency of these meetings will depend upon the nature of the research and it is left largely to the student and supervisor concerned to determine a suitable timetable.

Part Time research students have no residence requirements, but they are expected to meet with their supervisor at least four times a year, which can be achieved through a couple of visits to Durham during the year. 

Tuition Fees and Charges

Follow this link to find information about our fees.