Doctoral Programme in Theology and Religious Studies

The Doctoral Programme in Theology and Religious Studies belongs to the Doctoral School in Humanities and Social Sciences. The responsible faculty of the Doctoral Programme in Theology and Religious Studies  is the Faculty of Theology. The programme offers a high-quality training programme and an outstanding environment for research in all theologigal and religious studies research fields and areas.

All those who aim at the Doctor in Theology degree in the Faculty of Theology belong, in principle, to the Doctoral Programme in Theology and Religious Studies. The programme is also open for doctoral students who have Master’s degree in another field than theology. There are about 200 doctoral students in the doctoral programme. The number of annually completed doctoral degrees is approximately 15.

Studying in the programme

The Doctoral Programme in Theology and Religious Studies covers all the research areas in Theology: 

  • Biblical Studies,
  • Church History,
  • Systematic Theology,
  • Comparative Religion and
  • Practical Theology.

Of the University’s research focus areas, the most essential one from the viewpoint of the doctoral programme in Theology and Religious Studies shall be “Language and culture” but the programme’s research shall also be linked to the areas “The thinking and learning human being” and “Social justice”. The Doctoral programme maintains the cooperative network of doctoral education in the field at both national and international levels. The Faculty of Arts and the Faculty of Behavioural Sciences also take part in the activities of the programme.

The Doctoral Programme in Theology and Religious Studies offers to all doctoral students a systematical four years training programme. It is also possible to become a part-time doctoral student.

Doctoral students participate actively in the postgraduate seminar led by the professor of their major subject. The seminar focuses on the dissertation-related texts produced by each student and convenes about once a month. Also the Centres of Excellence and Academy projects participating in the Doctoral Programme shall offer education.

Educational offerings are systematically organised in cooperation with the Doctoral School in Humanities and Social Sciences. The Doctoral Programme organises an annual Doctoral Course every spring. The Doctoral Course focuses on general skills a doctoral candidate needs to become an expert.

The doctoral programme organises a thematic symposium every autumn. Main speakers are invited from among international partners. Doctoral students have opportunities to present and discuss about their research. The doctoral programme participants take also part in training offered by international partners. In addition, doctoral students utilise the lecture offerings included in the Faculty’s Master’s degree programme.

The training programme is divided in field-specific part and courses organized by the Doctoral School in Humanities and Social Sciences and the Doctoral Programme in Theology and Religious Studies . The doctoral studies are also under developing in part of the UH's Big Wheel- education reform. The new degree structure shall be introduced in the Doctoral Programme of Theology for the academic year 2017-2018.

Co-operation within the doctoral programme

The Doctoral Programme in Theology and Religious Studies cooperates nationally with the Doctoral Programme in Theology at the University of Eastern Finland’s Philosophical Faculty and the Doktorandprogrammet vid teologiska fakulteten (Doctoral programme at the Faculty of Theology) at the Åbo Akademi University. Internationally the programme engages in education and research cooperation with, among others, the Global Network of Research Centers for Theology, Religious Studies and Christian Studies and the Center of International and Disciplinary Theology at the Theological Faculty of the University of Heidelberg. Moreover, the programme shall continue its Nordic cooperation within the framework of the Nordic Network for Doctoral Training in Theology and Religion project. Discipline-specific cooperation is pursued, for instance, with Emory University (Atlanta, the United States).

The University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Theology received top-level ranking in the University’s research assessments in 1999, 2005 and 2011. The Faculty participates actively in, for instance, the network of religious studies departments in the LERU universities and the Global Network of Research Centers for Theology, Religious Studies and Christian Studies doctoral education network.

The doctoral programme is involved in the research and training events offered by scientific societies and academic associations in the field, and participate in the operations of the international doctoral education networks mentioned above. International cooperation shall be conducted within the framework of the doctoral programme on a discipline-specific and project-specific basis (including the videoconferencing of postgraduate seminars, research and teaching visits, doctoral student exchange, supervision cooperation as well as cotutelle agreements).

Sig­ni­fic­ance to edu­ca­tion in the field

The Doctoral Programme in Theology and Religious Studies is the most significant doctoral education organisation and the bellwether of the development of doctoral education in the field. The Doctoral Programme in Theology and Religious Studies shall strengthen the status of the University of Helsinki as a multidisciplinary European research university. The diverse national and international education cooperation of the programme shall be aligned with the networking efforts of the University. The Doctoral Programme in Theology and Religious Studies in Helsinki shall share educational responsibility of Finnish doctoral education in the field with the Doctoral Programme in Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Eastern Finland. In Finland the combined need for doctoral education in theology is 20 graduates according to the instructions of the Ministry of Education and Culture. Of this number 70% shall be educated in Helsinki.

Planning to apply for a doctoral study right at our programme? Good choice! To start with, you should read the University’s general instructions for doctoral applicants. Once you’re acquainted with those, come back here to read more about the programme-specific selection criteria and instructions for applicants.


The doctoral degrees available in the Doctoral Programme in Theology are Doctor of Theology and Doctor of Philosophy. In addition to fulfilling the general rules of eligibility, your previous degree must be relevant to the planned research topic and discipline.

Applicants aiming for the Doctor of Theology degree must hold either a Master of Theology degree completed in a Finnish University or a comparable foreign Master’s degree in the field of Theology. Applicants aiming for the Doctor of Philosophy degree can apply with a relevant second-cycle degree other than a Master of Theology or an equivalent degree from a university outside Finland. A degree is regarded as relevant if it includes sufficient studies in a subject which, given the topic of the proposed doctoral dissertation, can be regarded as a suitable basis for doctoral studies.

To be able to apply, you need to have all the studies required for the degree you apply with completed, graded and registered by the end of the relevant application period. Applicants who are granted a study right must be able to present a verified copy of their official degree diploma before accepting the offered study place.


The Doctoral Programme in Theology has two application periods for doctoral study rights each year – one in the spring and one in the fall.

The spring application period is from April 3, 2018 09:00 AM (EEST) until April 16, 2018 03:00 PM (EEST). Applicants will be informed of the decisions by June 15th, 2018. Those granted a study right must accept it by June 29th. Study rights granted in the spring round of applications will begin on July 2nd, 2018.

Next application period will be from September 14, 2018 until September 27, 2018.

Applications are submitted using an electronic application form, which will be open during the application period. All applicants must submit the following documents as part of their application (points 1–4 are integrated in the electronic application form; points 5–6 are submitted as scanned attachments):

1. The research proposal is the most important part of your application. In the electronic application form, the research proposal is divided into the fields listed below. Prepare your research proposal right from the start to fit the different fields and their maximum lengths, so you won't need to start re-editing the proposal when filling in the e-form.  The University of Helsinki research plan template is a useful support tool, as it will help you get a grasp on the kind of questions you should take into account when drawing up your research plans.

The following fields related to the research plan are included in the electronic application form (the number in parentheses indicates the maximum number of characters per field, spaces included):

  • Brief summary of the research plan (1500)
  • Significance of the project in relation to current knowledge (1500)
  • Motivation for conducting doctoral research (1500)
  • Objectives of the research (2000)
  • Effects and impact beyond academia (500)
  • Research methods (2000)
  • Research material to be used and its significance for the research project (1000)
  • Data management plan (1500)
    (Give a short description of how you plan to collect and use research data. You can also consider the best methods of data storage and the possibilities of opening your data for the use of other researchers. We do not expect you to master topics related e.g. to open access or to the legal and ethical issues related to data management (e.g. data protection, copyright issues) when you apply. It's enough that you have given the topic thought and recognised the preliminary data management questions that might arise related to your research data.)
  • Critical points for success, alternative implementation strategies (500)
  • Ethical issues (1000)
    (We do not expect you to be an expert of research ethical questions when you apply. The important thing is that you have considered the possibility of ethical issues related to your research topic and, if there are such issues, given preliminary thought on how to approach them.)
  • Publication plan (1000)
    (The preliminary outline of a monograph or, in case an article-based dissertation is planned, a preliminary publication plan for the articles)
  • Methods for ensuring open access (500)
    The University promotes open access research, and several research funding providers also expect grant applicants to be familiar with the principles of open access publishing. When you apply for a study right, you are not expected to master the details of open access publishing - it's enough that you have given preliminary thought on where and how your research could be made openly available.
    More information on open access publishing is available e.g. on the University Library's website.)
  • Schedule for the research (500)
  • Funding plan for research and doctoral studies (500)
  • Applied funding and salaried positions (500)
  • Motivation for choosing the University of Helsinki as the site of doctoral research and motivation for selecting the doctoral programme (500)
  • Mobility plan (500)
    The university aims to assure that all doctoral degrees include some sort of international activities. In this field, you can tell us of your own preliminary plans related to e.g. exchange studies, research visits or participating in international conferences.
  • The most important research literature and/or sources (1000)

2. A study plan. Before drawing up your own preliminary study plan, please acquaint yourself with the doctoral programme's degree requirements available further down this page. In the application form, there are two separate fields for the study plan (max. 1500 characters each); one for the discipline-specific studies and another for the general competence studies. In the study plan, the important thing is that you have given thought on what kind of studies would best support your thesis work and drawn up a preliminary timetable for completing these studies. In the study plan section, there is also a separate field where you can, should you so wish, give a short description of the following: previous research and work experience, publications and manuscripts, scientific activities and other merits.

3. The title and summary of your Master´s thesis or equivalent, or a description of previous academic publications (maximum length 4000 characters, including spaces).

4. Names of the supervisors, who have agreed to supervise your thesis. For further information on the requirements placed on supervision, please see the selection criteria section on this page. Applying without the agreement of at least one supervisor (employed by the Faculty awarding your target degree) is not possible. N.B. A signed approval form from supervisors is not required when applying. It is enough to fill in on the application form the name and contact information of the person(s) who has agreed to supervise you.

5. A copy of your previous degree certificate (Master's degree or equivalent) and a copy of a detailed transcript of studies included in the degree. N.B. If you have completed all the studies required for eligibility (please see section “Who can apply”), but have yet to graduate and receive your diploma, you must include a detailed study transcript that clearly indicates that all the studies required for the degree have been completed, graded and registered before the end of the application period.

6. Verification of language skills. The University of Helsinki demands an indication of academic level language skills of all applicants. Please acquaint yourself with the options for verifying your language skills in either Finnish, Swedish or English in good time before applying. Additionally, you will need to have sufficient skills in any other languages needed for your research topic. Your skills in these languages will be assessed based on the application documents (e.g. transcript of studies) as well as preliminary discussions with your potential supervisors.

N.B. Applicants who have not completed their previous degree in the University of Helsinki must also send officially certified copies of the documents mentioned in points 5. and 6.  by post. For more information on the means of having the documents officially certified, please see here.


The applications, along with the required additional documents, must be submitted by the end of the application period. Applications are submitted using an electronic application form, which closes at 3 PM (Helsinki time) on the last day of the round of applications. Those applicants who are required to send certified copies of the additional documents by post must make sure that these documents arrive by the end of the application period.

Applications and additional documents sent by email are not accepted. Incomplete applications are not considered.

The certified copies of additional documents must be delivered to the Admissions Services of the University of Helsinki. For instructions on how to submit your documents, please see here.

The dean of the Faculty decides on the admission of postgraduate students based on the proposal of the steering group of the Doctoral Programme in Theology. The steering group will request a statement about the application from the relevant discipline, but is not bound by the statement when making its decision. As regards applications to programmes other than the Doctoral Programme in Theology, a statement will also be requested from the steering group of the applicant’s choice of programme.

Feasibility, scientific significance and suitability to the research profile of the doctoral programme are emphasised in the assessment of the quality of the research plans. In the assessment of study plans, weight is placed on the feasibility and appropriateness for the dissertation project in question. When assessing the timetables, special attention is paid to the fact that a full-time doctoral student should aim to complete the dissertation and related studies in approx. 4 years. Supervisors are expected to support this goal.

The suitability of the previous degree as a basis for the planned dissertation project, previous study performance and the availability of high-quality supervision are also a central part of the criteria. Lack of suitable supervision resources can be used as grounds for rejecting an application.

A doctoral student must have at least two supervisors who have completed a doctoral degree. At least one of the supervisors must be in a permanent or long-term employment at the Faculty granting the doctoral degree. At least one of the supervisors must hold the title of docent or similar scientific qualifications. A preliminary agreement from potential supervisors is required when applying. In cases where the search of a second supervisor is still underway, exceptions can be made – in these cases, an applicant can submit the application and be accepted with an agreement from only one supervisor (this supervisor must be in a permanent or long-term employment at the Faculty). The decision-making is not bound by the preliminary agreements received from the potential supervisors.

Supervisors who currently have 10 or more active supervisees cannot take on new doctoral students. The supervisor's merits as a supervisor as well as his/her other academic obligations are taken into account in the selections. Should one of the appointed supervisors be about to retire or otherwise leave the University within a year from the decision on admission, assurances must be given that the student will, after this, have at least one supervisor who is in a permanent or long-term employment at the Faculty. Especially in cases where the topic of the doctoral thesis is multidisciplinary, supervisors are often sought across discipline boundaries.

In addition to the supervisors, a responsible professor is appointed for each student. In cases where one of the supervisors is a professor, he/she can also act as the responsible professor.

A doctoral study right can only be gained through the admissions process. No more than half of the yearly quota of new doctoral students for each programme can be admitted in the spring round of applications. The yearly admission quota for the year 2018 is 18 students

Applicants whose application is rejected will have the chance to appeal the decision to the Faculty Council of the Faculty of Theology.

Salaried doctoral candidate positions will be open for application in autumn 2018.

The call for applications will be announced on this page and on University of Helsinki's Open Positions website. Please note that when you apply for a salaried doctoral student position, you must also apply for a doctoral study right (two separate application processes).

In all your questions about the applying for the salaried positions, please contact Doctoral Programme coordinator Tii Syrjänen (+358 50 342 8860).

A doctoral degree at the Doctoral Programme in Theology and Religious Studies consists of a doctoral dissertation and 40 credits of obligatory studies. The obligatory studies are divided into 30 credits of discipline-specific studies and 10 credits general competence studies. All students must complete the research seminar. Other studies are divided into six areas – all students are expected to choose studies from a minimum of three different areas. Completing at least 1 credit of Research Ethics is compulsory. More information on the degree structure is also available on the University's general website on doctoral education.

Discipline-specific studies (30 credits)

  • Research Seminar 5cr. or 10 cr. (Compulsory. The scope of the research seminar is, as a rule, 5 credits.)

Research Ethics (Choose 1–5 credits. Completing at least 1 credit is compulsory)

  • Research Ethics: Basics
  • Research Ethics: Other studies

Internationalization (Choose a maximum of 5 credits)

  • Internationalization: Conference 1
  • Internationalization: Conference 2
  • Internationalization: Research exchange or teaching at a foreign university
  • Internationalization: Other international research activities

Content Studies Supporting the Thesis Work (Choose a maximum of 15 credits)

  • Content Studies Supporting the Thesis Work: Texts in original languages
  • Content Studies Supporting the Thesis Work: General discipline-specific content studies
  • Content Studies Supporting the Thesis Work: Previous research in the discipline
  • Content Studies Supporting the Thesis Work: Current research in the discipline
  • Content Studies Supporting the Thesis Work: Field-specific specialization

Methodological and Theoretical Studies (Choose a maximum of 20 credits)

  • Methodological and Theoretical Studies: Field-specific methodological studies
  • Methodological and Theoretical Studies: General methodological studies
  • Methodological and Theoretical Studies: Field-specific theoretical studies
  • Methodological and Theoretical Studies: General theoretical studies
  • Methodological and Theoretical Studies: Philosophy of Science
  • Methodological and Theoretical Studies: Data Management

Publishing and Science Communication (Choose a maximum of 5 credits)

  • Publishing and Science Communication: Scientific publications
  • Publishing and Science Communication: Scientific editing work
  • Publishing and Science Communication: Other science communication

Language Studies Supporting the Thesis Work (Choose a maximum of 5 credits)

  • Language Studies Supporting the Thesis Work: Latin for doctoral students
  • Language Studies Supporting the Thesis Work: Other languages

General competence skills (10 credits)

Complete 10 credits of general competence skills in one or several of the following areas:

  • Doctoral Programme's Doctoral Course 1–3, 1 credit each
  • Communication Skills, Publishing and Science Communication
  • University Pedagogy
  • Research Leadership and Science in Society
  • Career Planning and Worklife Skills
  • Other General Competence Studies


De­gree struc­ture and courses

All the doctoral students are integrated, on the one hand, into the Doctoral Programme in Theology and Religious Studies and, on the other hand, into the Faculty of Theology and relevant research projects. The part-time students’ commitment is enhanced.
All doctoral students are obliged to attend relevant courses organised by the programme.

Symposium of doctoral programme in theology and Religious Studies

Doctoral Programme in Theology organizes an annual Symposium.
Stay tuned for more information and themes!

Doctoral students’ peer activities

Members of Doctoral Programme in Theology and Religious Studies  are especially active in organising activities and co-working situations for peer doctoral candidates. The Doctoral Programme in Theology and Religious Studies supports this kind of innovative and from-ground-level-up- thinking with a great pride.

One example of peer activities is the Researcher's Coffee Meeting on every months first Tuesday at 2 pm. in the Faculty of Theology, Vuorikatu 3, Helsinki. For more information about the peer activities, please join 'Teologian tutkijat'- Facebook-group

The internationalisation and mobility

The key aim of the Doctoral Programme in Theology and Religious Studies is the integration of its students into the international scientific community so that all students shall recognise their place in it regardless of their research topics. The programme promotes this by charting existing international networks and relationships, and by actively establishing new contacts with institutes of higher education and research communities outside Finland as well as with Finnish scientific institutes abroad.

The aim is that all the doctoral students would spend abroad at least couple of months during their doctoral studies. These studies may be independent research work, attending particular courses or getting a diploma.

The Doctoral Programme in Theology and Religious Studies supports its members' internationalisation by granting travel grants both international and domestic trips. The international travel grant application is organized by Doctoral School in Humanities and Social Sciences HYMY and the application period is two times per academic year. In addition to that the Doctoral Programme can have other travel grant applications, mainly for domestic trips.

More information and a link to application form on travel grants can be found on this page as well as in Flamma closer to the application.

HYMY travel grants

The next HYMY travel grant application period for domestic travel takes place on 19.3. – 6.4.2018. Instructions and the application form can be found here.

Instructions for the payment of granted travel grants can be found here.

Find­ing su­per­visors

It is recommended that two supervisors be appointed for each doctoral student and at least one of the supervisors is a professor or a docent and is affiliated in the Faculty of Theology. Every doctoral student must also have a steering professor. The steering professor can also be one of the supervisors.

As a rule, one supervisor may have a maximum of ten active supervisees, unless there are compelling reasons for that person to supervise a larger number of students. When determining the number of supervisees, attention should be paid particularly to the number of the supervisor’s full-time and part-time supervisees, his or her performance as a supervisor, as well as his or her other responsibilities within academia and the university community.

A list of Faculty of Theology staff contact details.

Su­per­vi­sion agree­ment

The student and supervisor draft a supervision agreement at their first meeting after the right to study has been granted. The supervision agreement aims to improve the student’s and supervisor’s commitment to the project as well as clarify their respective responsibilities as to the progress of the studies. The supervision agreement provides at least the schedule of the doctoral studies and dissertation project concerning when (how often) the student and supervisor meet, as well as how and how often the student reports on his or her progress. The supervision agreement should also provide for the distribution of labour between the supervisors. A copy of the supervision agreement is shared and kept with all the supervisors and the supervisee.

The common tools used by the student and supervisor are the research plan compiled at the beginning of the studies and the personal study plan, PSP, which is reviewed on a regular basis over the course of the supervision process. The supervisor and postgraduate student communicate with each other several times per academic year depending on the intensity of the research and other studies. It is recommended that the postgraduate student and the supervisor discuss the status of the studies, the student’s participation in research seminars and the progress made at least once per term.

Supervision agreement in the Doctoral Programme in Theology and Religious Studies.

Con­tact in­form­a­tion

Saija Niemi
Planning Officer for the Doctoral Programme in Theology and Religious Studies
+358 2941 23350

Jutta Kajander & Anniina Sjöblom
Postgraduate Student Services for the Faculty of Theology (questions related to applying for doctoral study rights, doctoral study rights and the examination of doctoral theses)
+358 2941 22351, +358 2941 21610

Sami Pihlström
Director of the Doctoral Programme in Theology and Religious Studies
+358 2941 23456

Steer­ing com­mit­tee

The Doctoral Programme in Theology and Religious Studies has a director and a steering committee developing the operations of the programme.

Professor Sami Pihlström (Director of the programme)
Professor Anne Birgitta Pessi (Deputy Director of the programme)
Professor Martti Nissinen
Professor Jouko Talonen
Associate professor Johanna Sumiala
Doctoral student representative Heidi Rautalahti
Doctoral student representative Antti Vanhoja

Post-graduate- studies coordinators Jutta Kajander and Anniina Sjöblom
Planning officer for the Programme Saija Niemi (secretary of the steering committee) 

As specified in a Rector’s Decision (RD 141/2013), the duties of the steering group of a doctoral programme include 1) processing applications from prospective students in the doctoral programme, organising an admission examination and interviews of applicants, if necessary, and making justified proposals of applicants for admission to the relevant faculty or faculties; 2) planning the education of the doctoral programme and developing it; 2) deciding on the cooperation principles for a networked doctoral programme; and 4) attending to other duties related to the doctoral programme.