Dear colleagues, 

Since assuming the role of interim Dean last Spring I have been working with you, with the faculty, and with the administration of the School and the University to understand your evolving needs as doctoral students and to identify how the Divinity School could better meet those needs.  Our doctoral students represent not only the future of the School, but the future of the academic study of religion.  Adapting our programs to better support your future and that of the School and the field is our collective privilege and responsibility.

Some results of our collaboration include the expanded role of Director of Doctoral Studies, the convening of a faculty PhD Program Working Group, the creation of a Placement Committee, expanded teaching opportunities, and the Postdoctoral Teaching Fellowships. This important work continues, and there will be more to come, but I write today to announce a series of significant changes to the Divinity School’s fellowship program for doctoral students.  These changes are designed to substantially increase our support for your academic work while at the University in ways that should also bear fruit in your careers post-graduation. The changes will become effective as of summer quarter 2019. 

Before outlining the specific changes, let me stress the School’s goals in designing and implementing them. Academically, we seek to continue to offer you and future generations of doctoral students the best possible preparation as scholars of religion—in terms of the quality of coursework, creativity and depth of scholarship, pedagogical training and experience as instructors, and professional preparation for fruitful careers within and beyond the academy. 

Equally important, the Divinity School seeks to provide its doctoral students with material support that will allow them to devote their attention to its rigorous curriculum and course of study, and that will continue to attract the best scholars of religion to the University of Chicago.

Since 2008, the School has offered tuition aid, living stipends, summer research grants, and coverage of individual health insurance stipends to doctoral students under the Graduate Aid Initiative. Like other divisions in the University, the School has offered this support in order to permit doctoral students to focus on their academic work, with the goal of enhancing the quality of their research and academic experience while supporting their timely progress through the degree requirements and toward a successful career.

The changes we are announcing today are intended as a significant further step in this direction. Before outlining the specifics, let me emphasize that, in all cases, you have the option of continuing under the current terms of your fellowship package and enrollment. Dean Feigelson will follow up in the coming months with a formal means by which you can indicate whether or not you wish to accept the new options outlined below.  Like your existing financial aid package, the new options will remain contingent upon satisfactory academic progress. 

Now, the details:

– For all students eligible for summer funding: The Divinity School will increase the summer research grants, with an increase to $4,000, bringing typical support for a full year to $35,398 (including individual USHIP coverage).  Additionally, beginning in academic year 2019-20, we will revise the criteria for these grants as follows: The third summer stipend will be available for students who pass qualifying exams by the end of year 3. The fourth summer stipend will be available for students who achieve candidacy by the end of year 4. 

– For students who matriculated into the doctoral program in 2016 or later (i.e. those who are currently up to year 3 of their program): If you enter candidacy by the end of your fourth year in the program, a year 6 living stipend will be added to your aid package, and you will receive full tuition remission for that year, as well. If you enter candidacy by the end of year 5, you will receive individual USHIP premium coverage in both years 6 and 7.  The funding level of the living stipend will be the same as the standard annual fellowship stipend for all other funded Divinity PhD students in years 1-5 (i.e. $27,000 for 2018-19). 

– For students who matriculated into the doctoral program in 2015 (i.e. currently in year 4): If you have achieved candidacy by the end of autumn quarter 2019 (that is, autumn quarter of your fifth year), a year 6 living stipend will be added to your aid package and you will receive full tuition aid for that year as well, along with continuation of the stipend for individual USHIP premium coverage in years 6 and 7. The funding level will be the same as the annual standard fellowship stipend for all other funded Divinity PhD students (i.e. $27,000 for 2018-19).

– For students who matriculated into the doctoral program in 2014 (i.e. currently in year 5): If you have achieved candidacy by the end of your fifth year of the program, a year 6 living stipend will be added to your aid package and you will receive full tuition aid for that year as well, along with continuation of individual USHIP premium coverage in years 6 and 7. The funding level will be the same as the annual standard fellowship stipend for all other funded Divinity PhD students (i.e. $27,000 for 2018-19).

– For students who matriculated into the doctoral program in 2013 or earlier (i.e. currently in year 6 or later, and therefore not eligible for 6th year funding): Up to ten one-year Final Year Dissertation Completion Fellowships will be available annually to be awarded on a competitive basis in the spring of 2019, 2020, and 2021 for the following school year (i.e. for a total of up to 30 Final Year Fellowships). The amount of the fellowship stipend will be the same as the annual stipend for students in years 1-6, and will include full tuition aid and individual USHIP premium coverage. Eligible candidates for these competitive Fellowships will have an approved dissertation proposal and at least one chapter of their dissertation complete. The purpose of the Final Year Dissertation Completion Fellowships is to enable students to finalize their dissertations and complete the degree.  Hence, one may only hold these once, after which one is not eligible for further funding (from the Divinity School or the University).  After that year, one will not be permitted to register.  (You will still be able to complete your dissertation and graduate even if you are no longer registered, per existing University policy.) It is therefore important that you compete for these Final Year fellowships only in a year when you and your advisors are confident that you can finish the dissertation within the year of the fellowship.  We are offering these extraordinary fellowships because we believe that our enrolled graduate students who are in a position to complete their dissertation with an additional year of support should have that opportunity, independent of the year in which they matriculated.  For students beyond their 6th year but not in a position to apply for a Final Year Fellowship, other forms of support remain available.

– Marty Center Junior Fellowships: Up to 12 doctoral candidates will be accepted for the Marty Center Junior Fellowship, which will continue to include a seminar in Winter and Spring quarters, as well as the public interlocutor program. Marty Center Junior Fellows will receive a $3,000 stipend, in addition to any other stipend they may be receiving. The fellowship will be open to doctoral candidates from the Divinity School as well as the Divisions of the Humanities and Social Sciences.

These funding changes—in particular the new 6th year and Final Year fellowships—represent important additional resources for you, and we anticipate that you will have questions about them. Dean Feigelson, Professor Fredericks, and I will hold a forum for all Divinity PhD students this coming Monday morning, February 11, at 10 a.m. in the Swift Lecture Hall, to answer questions. I look forward to working with you, the faculty, and the administration to implement these new programs in support of your academic pursuits and careers at the University of Chicago and beyond. In the meantime, if you have immediate questions about how these changes apply to you, please do not hesitate to consult with Dean Feigelson, with Professor Sarah Fredericks, Director of Doctoral Studies, or with me. 

With all best wishes,


David Nirenberg
Dean, Divinity School 
Deborah R. and Edgar D. Jannotta Distinguished Service Professor
Committee on Social Thought and
Department of History