Welcome, we’re delighted that you are thinking about graduate studies in New Testament at Oxford. This page offers informal advice about admissions and funding.
For the official application guide, please consult the University’s Graduate Studies Prospectus. See also the Faculty of Theology & Religion’s Graduate Studies Guide and the University’s information for international students.
These are the only official sources. Other general questions about graduate study in Theology and Religion should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org. To apply, use the central applications portal here. Please bear in mind the early January deadline for applications each year.
What follows below is informal guidance we have found helpful when advising New Testament applicants about the admissions process, and about what sort of student is likely to thrive in the Oxford system.
Key supporting evidence for admission includes the application form along with transcripts, degree certificates, and a carefully worked out and documented research proposal (or, for the Master’s Degree, statement of purpose). You will also need academic references, written by recognized scholars, which provide a specifically grounded account of your talent and research potential (rather than, say, comments about your character or personal life).
Once you have begun thinking about your application and possible research proposal, do feel free to correspond with Prof. Bockmuehl or another potential Oxford supervisor.
We also schedule annual pre-application conversations for potential applicants to meet with a couple of Oxford supervisors. These are held around mid-November and registration details are normally posted during September here and on our Twitter feed @NT4Ox.
Our preparatory 1-year MSt or 2-year MPhil is the standard route of entry for most students. This preparatory degree offers opportunities to acquire additional language or technical skills; Oxford’s resources for linguistic and other requisite training are extensive. More in-depth preparation is possible through one of our two-year MPhil degrees: the MPhil in New Testament or the MPhil in Judaism and Christianity in the Graeco-Roman World. (Due to UK visa regulations, the MPhil often works better than the one-year MSt for overseas students wishing to bring spouses and/or dependants.)
It is important to note that admission via the MSt or MPhil is designed to facilitate and accelerate entry into doctoral research, not to extend the overall duration of the programme: because Oxford Master’s theses may be re-used and developed for the DPhil, it is entirely possible and indeed encouraged to complete the “MSt plus DPhil” route in 1+3 years and the “MPhil plus DPhil” in 2+2 years. By comparison, candidates entering straight into the DPhil typically also take around 4 years to complete. Among the advantages of the 1+3 or 2+2 model are the chance to complement requisite linguistic and exegetical skills as well as to acclimatize and build up momentum in articulating a viable DPhil topic. And of course this route to the DPhil comes with a second Oxford degree along the way.
After admission to the DPhil, a one-year probationary period is followed by a rigorous internal assessment before registration (‘Transfer of Status’) for the DPhil. A further ‘Confirmation of Status’ assessment normally takes place 6-12 months before submission of the dissertation.
The articulation of a viable research proposal is among the more important criteria for admission, especially for the DPhil. For general guidance about what this should contain, see the Faculty of Theology and Religion’s instructions here.
More specifically, beyond merely identifying general areas of interest or heuristic questions you wish to ask, it would be good to draft a carefully crafted research statement of perhaps initially two pages, which you might want to discuss with a potential supervisor.
- This should contextualize your interest in relation to the current state of scholarly debate in your proposed area of research. Here you should outline what you perceive to be the critical lacuna (or perhaps deadlock) in scholarship on the subject in question; which 8-12 writers or sources you would see as your leading conversation partners, both ancient and modern; and how your research would position itself in relation to them. For the DPhil this should normally also include the most relevant scholarly contributors in languages other than English. Try to be specific, too, about your level of existing reading facility and requisite additional competence in the relevant ancient and modern research languages.
- A vital dimension of a successful DPhil proposal is the ability to identify a viable research question and perhaps a credible direction of your hoped-for contribution to knowledge. (At Master’s level this “contribution to knowledge” and the detail of engagement with the global breadth of existing scholarship matters less than the ability to identify an intellectually promising line of inquiry.)
Applicants sometimes ask for guidance about a choice of topic. The first thing to note is that your research question should ideally arise from your own intellectual commitments and interests, i.e. something about which you have developed your own ‘fire in the belly’. It will need to carry you and get you out of bed not just in the first three days but the first three years of your doctoral research.
That said, as a team of New Testament supervisors we agree that three areas stand at the heart of our distinctive contribution here in Oxford:
- A commitment to the interrelation of historical and theological research on the New Testament. This means for us that all historical and textual study is invariably theological in one way or another (whether acknowledged or not, whether good or bad) – and vice versa for theology.
- Both Jewish and Graeco-Roman contexts are important for a historically accountable understanding of the New Testament. Here we are particularly keen for our students to be skilled in the Jewish settings and contexts of early Christian scriptures, beliefs and practices. This is supported and facilitated by Oxford’s unique strengths in the fields of Jewish Studies as well as Classics.
- The New Testament’s genesis, effects, reception and interpretation in its first two centuries may offer certain privileged windows of access – both to how the first audiences heard the texts and to the range, excitingly diverse and yet bounded, of what they believed them to mean.
Students often find only limited scope for worthwhile research questions on the New Testament texts along well-trodden paths of critical history or even critical theory. But all three of the above areas are in our experience rich and redolent with opportunities for fresh contributions to knowledge.
Please feel free to enter into correspondence about your initial draft with a possible Oxford supervisor, before finalizing a revised proposal with your application.
Master’s supervision is usually decided as needed once a student arrives. An overall director of studies co-ordinates your work, but other colleagues normally contribute to the teaching and supervision of essays and dissertations. Assignment of a DPhil supervisor can sometimes be explored informally early on, and it is worth identifying and contacting an Oxford academic you may wish to work with. In straightforward cases, an applicant’s declaration of preference may well be taken into account if the colleague concerned confirms a willingness to supervise. Confirmation of a likely supervisor is, however, possible only after you have been formally accepted by the Graduate Studies Committee, which is responsible for all matters concerning admission, supervision and examination.
Among applicants with English as a second language, successful candidates are required to demonstrate high competence in spoken and written English, based on a TOEFL score of at least 110 or IELTS score of 7.5, taken within the last two years. For details of the current requirements see here.
Strong Greek and Hebrew are essential for admission, ideally including some extra-biblical competence. Aramaic too is often desirable; other languages like Syriac, Coptic, Ethiopic or Arabic could prove important to add during preparatory studies before or after your arrival in Oxford, depending on the proposed research project.
Among modern languages, confident reading facility in German remains vital; this should if possible be in place at the time of application for the DPhil. Competence in German and French (or any other required modern languages) can be acquired or improved during the MSt or MPhil through Oxford’s richly resourced Language Centre. DPhil students may also wish to consider a stint in Germany (e.g. an intensive Goethe Institute course and possibly 1-2 semesters of university lectures, seminars and research) to deepen their facility in German; this almost invariably proves a major boost to their project and an invaluable asset for any future academic career. We are happy to assist on the basis of personal links with colleagues in numerous European and Israeli Universities.
Admission is strictly on a competitive basis. Note in particular that published minimum requirements indicate not the likely decision but the cut-off below which the Graduate Studies Committee will not consider applications. The published minimum threshold is an average of 67 for UK applicants or an international equivalent (deemed to be a GPA of 3.7 in North American terms). Successful applications typically show a First-Class qualifying degree (UK) or a GPA comfortably above 3.8, along with documented competence across the relevant languages as well as historical and theological disciplines.
The GRE is at present not formally required, but North American applicants almost invariably help their case by supplying strong GRE scores. While there is no formally required minimum, our successful New Testament applicants’ GRE scores have in recent years tended to be around the 95th percentile or better (mid-160s or above in the verbal reasoning and 6.0 or 5.5 in the analytical writing section).
We schedule optional (usually online) conversations of around 15 minutes with all shortlisted candidates in New Testament studies. This typically covers your submitted research proposal and takes place in the first or second week of February.
Where possible we also offer an earlier, informal opportunity for a preliminary conversation about your plans. One popular format in recent years has been an opportunity each November to meet with one or two potential Oxford New Testament supervisors around the annual conference of the Society of Biblical Literature. This is of course entirely optional, but can sometimes be a useful first point of personal contact. We usually release an online sign-up rota for these meetings in September; please keep an eye on the @NT4Ox Twitter feed at that time, and/or inquire by email.
Annual admission numbers of New Testament graduate students fluctuate depending on such factors as projected DPhil completions, numbers and strength of applications, funding opportunities, as well as potential supervisors’ plans for research leave or major administrative responsibilities. Importantly, since we are permitted to admit students with external funding we often have greater flexibility on admission than our North American competitors. In recent years we have tended to aim at a matriculation rate not much higher than 10% of applications.
Funding a British doctorate has long been trickier than at some of the leading US research institutions that routinely cover fees and a stipend for all their doctoral students. Nevertheless, bright and resourceful students willing to engage in some sleuthing and multiple applications are often able to secure substantial funding packages from a variety of private and public sources, whether in their home countries or in the UK.
Oxford’s own access to public, university and college funds leave us in this respect in a better position than possibly any other UK University. The information below is suggested as providing some useful starting points in the search for funding.
For international applicants it is an additional consideration that exchange rate movements since the UK’s 2016 referendum to leave the European Union have left Oxford’s fee levels looking considerably more attractive in Dollar terms.
Scholarships (also keep an eye on @NT4Ox)
- For the very best candidates, the most straightforward funded Oxford doctorate in theology (full fees plus monthly stipend) is often via the prestigious Ertegun or Clarendon Scholarship Scholarship schemes. In most recent years one or two of our best graduate applicants in theology have succeeded in one of these schemes.
- Among other all-inclusive packages, both the Rhodes and Commonwealth Scholarships are also distinguished, highly competitive awards.
- Specifically in New Testament, we are actively working with external supporters to secure additional scholarships, at both Master’s and DPhil level. These have most recently included at least one fully funded award per year specifically in New Testament and a separate scheme offering full scholarships for graduate students from China. For details of these and other opportunities see the information website at OxfordScholarships.com.
- The Faculty of Theology and Religion is in a position to offer a number of smaller graduate scholarships to new and existing students; see here.
- There are also numerous College-based scholarships. Some of these are automatically considered for applicants to that college, while others require a separate application.
- Other Oxford-based funds that have proved helpful to our existing students in the past include the Crewdson Trust as well as the Squire and Marriott Bursaries for ordinands or clergy in the Church of England or other churches in communion with it.
- Beyond these, try the the Oxford Funding search engine as a useful pointer to dozens of other possibilities worth exploring. A number of these are college-based, may be separately advertised, and can often be combined with other smaller awards.
- More generally for the UK, the “PS” website offers perhaps the most comprehensive gateway for postgraduate studentships. PhD studentships tenable at specific UK institutions are also often advertised here.
Applicants may also like to see a partial list of academic funding secured in recent years by New Testament DPhil students at Oxford. This is available here.
UK immigration policy has been quite volatile over the last 10 years – so be sure to check the latest state of play: you should only rely on official information. Registered graduate students have in recent years been permitted to take paid employment for up to 20 hours a week during term, and full-time during vacations. Spouses of overseas students on courses longer than 12 months are also permitted to take paid employment.
Be sure to note the University’s own explicit Paid Employment Guidelines, which urge that the successful pursuit of a graduate course is unlikely to be compatible with more than 8 weekly hours of paid work. UK visa conditions always need to be borne in mind.
M.B. Rev. 12/2020