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PhD in African American Preaching and Sacred Rhetoric

NOTE: The PhD Program is not accepting applications at this time.

Read Prof. Frank Thomas’s reflections on the recent Mixed Methods Preaching Conference.

Our Students
Learn about the members of the first cohort here.

Our History
In February 2016, the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) accredited the first PhD program in African American Preaching in the world.  The long held vision of Rev. Dr. Frank A. Thomas came alive as the PhD in African American Preaching and Sacred Rhetoric was launched at Christian Theological Seminary (Indianapolis, IN), welcoming the first cohort of ten exceptional students in January 2017.

We believe that the PhD program in African American Preaching and Sacred Rhetoric is both a movement and a cause. We are on a journey, through the genius of African American preaching, to ignite a preaching renaissance to help revive American Christianity.  Thomas, Founding Director and Nettie Sweeney and Hugh Th. Miller Professor of Homiletics, came to Indianapolis, IN after serving with distinction as the senior pastor for two remarkable congregations: New Faith Baptist Church of Matteson, Illinois, and Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church of Memphis, Tennessee, for eighteen years and thirteen years, respectively.

The PhD program is made possible by the visionary leadership and foresight of Rev. Dr. Thomas, and the unwavering support of the Christian Theological Seminary Faculty and Board of Trustees, and the early investment, commitment and resolve of renowned scholar and mentor, Michael Charles Leff, and CTS colleague Dr. Ronald Allen and former president, Dr. Matthew M. Boulton.

Our Cause 
To research, develop, and expose the untold treasures of the unique and indigenous American art form of African American preaching, in order to ignite a preaching renaissance to revive Christianity in America in the 21st century.

We highlight our journey as the world’s first, and the world’s very best PhD in African American Preaching, by responding to four simple questions: 

  • Where are we going?
  • Why are we going there?
  • Who is going with us?
  • How will we get there? 

Where are we going?

We are on a journey to establish African American preaching as an academic discipline in its own right. We believe that African American preaching, in all of its beauty, insight, depth, imagination, history, and power can stir a preaching renaissance in America and help generate a revival of American Christianity in the 21st century.

Why are we going there?

We believe that we can develop preachers and teachers of preachers who stimulate and provoke the preaching renaissance by loving their preaching and preaching their very best and causing others to do the same.

Who is going with us?

Any and all who have a love, desire, and passion for high quality preaching and believe that sharing the genius of the African American preaching tradition will impact and lead to more effective preaching in our nation.

How will we get there?

By adherence to our core values:

  • An unparalleled culture of generosity
  • A commitment to exceed expectations
  • Accountability to the highest caliber of Academic Rigor
  • Working to the glory of God
  • Generation of a Preaching Renaissance
  • Innovative study of Black Preaching
  • Scholarship to meet the needs of the community

Our commitment is to make possible the vision that we will always be the “first and best” PhD program in African American Preaching.

The PhD program in African American Preaching and Sacred Rhetoric aims to develop practitioner-scholars with critical awareness of:

    • The history of African American preaching and other forms of sacred rhetoric in the United States
    • The theologies informing this history and practice
    • The signature skills involved in the practice of African American preaching and sacred rhetoric,
    • The gifts these traditions can offer the wider, global church, especially European American churches in North America.

The concept of the “practitioner-scholar” is key to the program. The program is geared toward producing practitioner-scholars deeply connected to the church and the academy (though not necessarily via tenure-track, full-time professorial positions). Graduates will be equipped to engage in scholarship from the perspective of their location in ministry, applying PhD-level research and analysis to the issues and possibilities that emerge in practice.

Though shaped by African American cultural values, the program brings African American traditions into dialogue with European American (and other) approaches.

Course Work
All students must complete 14 courses (42 credit hours), including nine required courses and five electives.
The required courses are:

    • Research Methods and Doctoral Writing in Preaching and Rhetoric
    • History and Theology of African American Preaching 1750-1917
    • History and Theology of African American Preaching 1918-present
    • History and Theology of Preaching in Europe, North America, and the Global South
    • Homiletical Theory, Rhetorical Theory, and African American Preaching
    • African American Preaching, Theology, and Communicative Expression
    • Contemporary Pedagogical Methods
    • Rhetoric of the Torah, Prophets and Writings  and African American Preaching
    • Rhetoric of the Gospels and Letters and African American Preaching

In addition to these courses, a student may take up to two 3-hour blocks of Guided Research.

Note that the program emphasizes cohort-centered learning, with personal advisors assigned to each student. Instruction involves face-to-face intensives on the CTS campus with some online engagement.

Program Length 

Residence in the PhD program takes place over three years. Years 1, 2 and 3 are spent completing the residence requirements.  Year 4 is devoted to comprehensive exams and in year 5, dissertation work begins.  The typical program will run six to seven years depending on the student’s success in moving through each stage.  The maximum time limit for the program is eight years.

In addition, and to emphasize the role of the practitioner-scholar, students will complete three assistantships:

  • Research Assistantship (Year 1)
  • Teaching Assistantship (Year 2)
  • Two Community Teaching Assistantships (Year 3)

The program costs listed below are the Program Costs for Cohort 1.   Fee structures and costs for future cohorts have not been determined.  Recognizing the desire of potential students to know the costs up front, we recommend the following changes:

Application Deadline: December 17, 2018
Notification of Acceptance: February 2019

Note to applicants: Please review the Program Overview  and the Progression of Studies Appendix for complete details before starting your application.

Program Cost Projections
*Costs are subject to change

PhD Cost Projections

Room, board, books, supplies, travel and other miscellaneous expenses are not included and are the responsibility of the student.

All students enrolled at Christian Theological Seminary are required to provide proof of health insurance. A student is not allowed to enroll at CTS without health insurance.

Fees for courses taken at other institutions beyond the three courses designated in the program and outside the official partnerships, taken either for transfer credit or Guided Research, are the responsibility of the student.

CTS offers some scholarship assistance to help students fund their studies. These resources are limited, and students are encouraged to work closely with the Director of Student Financial Services to identify ways to finance their program of study.

The new PhD in African American Preaching and Sacred Rhetoric is fully accredited by The Association of Theological Schools (ATS) and The Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

To complete the application itself most efficiently, use the following checklists to  below collect information and gather your thoughts before starting the application. The Application form does allow for saving while you are completing it.

Application Checklist

Your completed Application must include the following:

    • Transcripts from all post-secondary schools attended (usually colleges or universities, technical schools, graduate schools, professional schools).
    • BA or equivalent degree from an accredited college or university
    • MDiv or education equivalent with a minimum GPA of 3.5
    • Summary of academic life to the point of application, including publications and academic/ecclesial public presentations
    • Personal statement describing intellectual history and interests and vocational objectives
    • Academic or other published paper with focus in the field of homiletics
    • Manuscripts of three sermons
    • Three references (two academic and one ecclesiastical)
    • GRE score
    • TOEFL score (applicants whose language of origin is not English or whose previous instruction was not in English)
    • Strategy for paying for the program
    • Other documents offered or requested in support of the application
    • $100 Application Fee

The following links are to forms referenced in the Application.


African American Preaching Legacy Series