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Emerging Scholars: Our Newest Th.D. Students

Our incoming Th.D. students bring interdisciplinary interests to theological scholarship and commitment to the church

The Doctor of Theology (Th.D.) degree at Duke Divinity School provides academically rigorous training in theological disciplines to prepare graduates for scholarly careers that will also be in service to the church. Like the Ph.D. granted by the Graduate Program in Religion at Duke, the Th.D. requires advanced course work, doctoral exams, and a dissertation of significant, original research.

Entering students pursue their study under the direction of any regular-rank Duke Divinity faculty member in theological disciplines such as Bible, church history, theology, ethics, homiletics, evangelism, and Christian formation. They can also explore the intersection of these disciplines with other fields, including political science, ecology, medicine, the arts, and peacemaking and reconciliation.

“We look for applicants who demonstrate a commitment to scholarly excellence and to the church, and we also look for applicants who have interdisciplinary interests. Our Th.D. has a long tradition of accepting students who embody these strengths, and our newly admitted students do a superb job of continuing this tradition.”

—Brittany Wilson, assistant professor of New Testament, interim director of the Th.D. program

Debbie Wong

Debbie Wong came to Duke Divinity for her master of divinity (M.Div.) degree with a passion for leading worship and no intention of pursuing doctoral studies. “I hadn’t realized that contemporary praise and worship could be the subject of serious scholarly work, but I met Professor Lester Ruth and was introduced to a whole new world,” Wong said. “Duke is one of the few places where such work is being done, and I applied to the Th.D. program to study the history, development and theology of contemporary praise and worship, with a particular eye toward Southeast Asia (where I’m from).”

“I appreciate Duke’s emphasis on developing students to be both academically rigorous and pastorally sensitive. The only way I could see myself doing a doctorate was if it were to shape me to be a scholar in service of the church, rather than for pure intellectual curiosity, and Duke’s Th.D. program encouraged exactly that.”—Debbie Wong M.Div.’19, Th.D. candidate

Jackson Adamah

The Duke Th.D. program is intentionally interdisciplinary, and students have access to the resources of both the wider university and partner institutions, including UNC–Chapel Hill, North Carolina Central University, and N.C. State University. That interdisciplinary emphasis was a particular draw for Jackson Adamah.

“The program is a natural fit for my admittedly wide-ranging but interwoven interests in early Christian theology, political theology, eco-theology, missiology, and African Christianity. I am originally from Ghana, and my project touches on issues of human and creational flourishing in Sub-Saharan Africa. ”

Adamah names professors Luke Bretherton, Edgardo Colón-Emeric, Warren Smith, and Norman Wirzba as faculty who will advise and support his scholarship. “My research, which can be broadly conceived as a ressourcement of both the broader Christian tradition and traditional African ideas of human and creational flourishing, is at the intersection of many areas in my primary concentration of theology and ethics, and my secondary concentration of world Christianity.”

“To a large extent, African Protestant Christians have inherited the disembodied and individualistic Western accounts of salvation that erroneously prioritize the soul’s destination in the afterlife to the neglect of a soteriology that honors the traditional African concern for human and creational flourishing in the here and now. I am therefore working towards the development of a robust African Christian soteriology that takes seriously the current ecological and socioeconomic issues facing many Africans today.”

Brett Stonecipher

The interdisciplinary opportunities at Duke also attracted Th.D. student Brett Stonecipher, who is pursuing research in theology, poetry, and ecology.

“My interests center on theology and poetry: namely, how poems and poetic practice help us to see the world as creation and one another as creatures,” Stonecipher said. “What I’m really interested in is particularity—ways that poetry can help, in and through language, to create a simultaneous sense of kinship and difference. These simultaneous senses are of great theological interest to me because of a long tradition of considering the Holy Spirit as the Person who unifies and/or individuates. These dual senses are also of political interest—the question being how do we take our localized ways of thinking and speaking (which are gifts, I think) and make them intelligible to one another? There’s a pressure point here given our ecological moment, and I think that poetry might have things to teach us about developing a common understanding even amid uncertainty.”

In addition to working with professors Jeremy Begbie, Lauren Winner, and Norman Wirzba in the Divinity School, Stonecipher is studying with faculty in Duke’s English department.

“There is a broad community of thinkers here who are both brilliant and kind, and who are excited about engaging other disciplines in conversation; I’ve been able to work with professors from across the university, specialists in areas from systematic theology to Shakespeare to soil science. It’s a dream for someone like me who wants to explore those connections, and to find ways of holding a language in common while (and perhaps by) looking through a theological lens.”—Brett Stonecipher M.T.S.’19, Th.D. candidate

Luke Oliver

Duke’s Th.D. program boast a superb placement rate, with graduates working at institutions such as Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, Yale Divinity School, Baylor University, Loyola University Chicago, and many more. These placements reflect the way that scholarly training at Duke Divinity is interwoven with an ethos of service to the church.

This was the environment that Luke Oliver, Th.D. candidate in Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, wanted for his doctoral studies: “I see my scholarship as part of a vocational call to serve God’s people and believe that by pursuing this degree and this research, I am in fact doing ministry as I (hopefully) help to push the community of faith to a deeper connection with Christ and a more true reading and understanding of the Bible.”

Duke Divinity School’s mission is to engage in spiritually disciplined and academically rigorous education in service and witness to the Triune God in the midst of the church, the academy, and the world.