University of Chester

Programme Specification
Practical Theology DProf
2017 - 2018

Doctor of Professional Studies

Practical Theology

Practical Theology

University of Chester

University of Chester

Administered from Chester campus (and with residentials)

Professional Doctorate

Full-time and Part-time

Classroom / Laboratory, Distance, Residential and Open, Work-Based inc.(practice / placement)

3 years full-time; six to seven years part-time

7 Years

Annual - September




17a. Faculty

17b. Department

Arts and Humanities Theology & Religious Studies

Framework for Higher Education Qualifications and FHEQ (England, Wales & Northern Ireland), level 8 (

Framework for Qualifications for the European Higher Education: third cycle awards (


TRS PG Module Assessment Board

Wednesday 16th September 2009

The programme aims to:

  • Assist in the continuing personal and professional development of reflective practitioners across a range of contexts and institutions and contribute to the development of competencies in a range of professional occupations
  • Provide a structured programme of reflection on practice at an advanced level, contributing substantially to the development of new techniques, ideas, or approaches
  • Provide participants with opportunities to deepen knowledge and understanding of the theological dimensions of their professional and/or voluntary practice
  • Generate new perspectives, data, paradigms at the interface between religious, ethical and spiritual world-views and a range of professional and practical contexts.
  • Enable participants to demonstrate advanced understanding of research methods and their application to an area of professional practice
  • Enable participants to take control of their own learning and develop to an advanced level their critically reflective and critically evaluative capabilities as well as developing professional skills
  • Produce findings that satisfy peer scrutiny and are deemed to be of publishable quality
  • Facilitate learning in the workplace that will lead to the highest level of academic achievement.

Level 8:

  • The systematic acquisition and understanding of a substantial body of knowledge and understanding which is at the forefront of the academic discipline of practical theology and/or area of professional practice (TH8002, TH8006, TH8014);
  • The ability, through original research and/or advanced scholarship, to create and interpret new knowledge and to communicate this to others so that it satisfies peer review and merits publication (TH8005, TH8006, TH8015);
  • Advanced understanding of research method as it applies to their area of professional expertise such that they can apply their understanding in new situations and contribute to the development of practice-based research techniques (TH8005, TH8006, TH8014);
  • A detailed understanding of applicable techniques for original research, effective communication and critical/independent reasoning appropriate to advanced academic enquiry (TH8014, TH8005, TH8006).

Level 7:

  • The ability to demonstrate systematic conceptual understanding that enables the student to evaluate critically current research and advanced scholarship in practical theology (TH7021; TH7047; TH7067);
  • The ability to undertake, in a self-directed manner, work-based projects that deal with complex issues concerning professional practice and/or organisational objectives (TH7021);
  • Use of a variety of sources of knowledge/evidence and exercise critical judgment in its application (TH7047; TH7067);
  • Knowledge of research methods applicable to their professional context (TH7021; TH7047).

Level 8:

  • The ability to conduct original research or other advanced scholarship which is of a quality to satisfy peer review, extend the forefront of the discipline, and merit publication (TH8014, TH8015, TH8006);
  • The ability to integrate theoretical and professional–practical perspectives, knowledge and understanding in such a way as to generate mutual critique, and reformulation of theory and of professional practice (TH8014, TH8015, TH8006);
  • The ability to conceptualise, design and implement a project for the generation of new knowledge, applications or understanding which is at the forefront of the discipline or area of theological, institutional or professional practice, and to adjust the project design in the light of peer review, evaluation or new information (TH8014, TH8005, TH8015, TH8006);
  • The ability to think independently, to undertake sustained critical self-reflection and to act decisively within the context of their professional practice and in such a way that it has demonstrably advanced their self understanding and effectiveness as a professional and as a person (TH8004).

Level 7:

  • A comprehensive facility with discipline-related skills to review, consolidate and extend their knowledge and understanding: such as the skills of text-based research, enquiry-based learning and theological reflection (TH7021, TH7047; TH7067).
  • Analyse and synthesise information in such a way that it can be of use to them and others within the context of their professional practice (TH7021).
  • Critically evaluate concepts, theories, research findings and other sources of knowledge and make informed judgments about their application in the context of professional practice (TH7021, TH7047; TH7067).

Level 8:

  • The exercise of a high level of personal responsibility and largely autonomous initiative in complex and unpredictable situations in professional contexts (TH8004, TH8006);
  • Leadership role in their field, demonstrating their confidence of mastery of a complex body of knowledge relating to their profession, with the ability to communicate it effectively to others within and outside the work place (all modules).

Level 7:

  • Ability to deal systematically and creatively with complex issues and to apply their knowledge and understanding to work place contexts (all modules)
  • Be able to communicate ideas effectively to others, make sound judgments based on evidence and be able to communicate ideas effectively to others (all modules).

Level 8:

  • High levels of communication will be achieved through this programme (both written and oral), especially in the context of assessment tasks and the dissemination of research findings (all modules).

Level 7:

  • The threshold assessment criteria include assessment of clear expression, observing academic form; (in written work) accuracy in spelling & grammar; conclusions communicated clearly for specialist & non-specialist audiences as appropriate (all modules).

The programme can be represented as having three stages:

  1. Research preparation at level 7
  2. Stage 1: level 8 modular components of identification of research question, training in research design, implementation and analysis of findings, communication/dissemination of ideas
  3. Stage 2: Thesis : preparation and communication of advanced research findings

Each stage is usually completed before the next is begun: research preparation (or a credit claim) is a prerequisite for the first module of Stage 1, TH8014; and the level 8 modules are normally prerequisites for TH8006. It is possible for students to move to thesis stage before the completion of stage 1, but only in exceptional circumstances and with the prior approval of the programme leader and appropriate university advisert board. TH8014, TH8002, and TH8005 are, however, designated modules and must be completed prior to beginning TH8006.

Pathways through these may typically be full-time three years, and part-time six to seven years. A common model of recruitment is a part-time student with relevant master’s degree and updated professional experience which enables a successful credit claim for the research preparation: this is shown as a five year pathway. Without such accredited learning, a part-time student can achieve the doctorate in six years with modules (total 90 credits at level 7) of research preparation. A full-time student would usually have evidence for such a credit claim, but with or without can complete in three years. The full-time pathway may include an intercalated year, individually negotiated, of full-time professional work which is providing a key context for the research. 

a. Research Preparation 

Where students do not have a relevant master’s degree or postgraduate diploma and updated professional experience for a credit claim (of 60 credits at level 7) they undertake 60 credits from the following list of modules: 

TH7021 Themes and Methods in Practical and Contextual Theology (40 credits)

This module enables students to develop a systematic and thorough knowledge and understanding of the development of contemporary practical and contextual theologies, including key literature, themes and methodological debate

TH7047 Advanced Research Methods in the Study of Religions (20 credits)

The purpose of this module is to provide students with an introduction to a range of methodological tools for advanced research in religious studies. It represents an opportunity for students with no prior experience in qualitative research to acquire skills to enable them to undertake further study in advanced research methods at level 8.

Students then progress to Stage 1, the modular components at level 8.

b. Stage 1: Level 8 components of research and research training

Students with a relevant master’s degree or postgraduate diploma and updated professional experience for a credit claim can begin at this point. 

TH8014 Advanced Research Methods in Practical Theology

This module aims to furnish students commencing doctoral study with the skills to identify, interrogate, design and complete an advanced research project in Practical Theology. It introduces students to a range of generic research skills (including data and literature searches; advanced research methodologies; principles of research design, including research ethics). It considers the category of ‘doctoralness’, and the special nature of a professional doctorate – as ‘contribution to knowledge’ in academy, institutional context and continuing professional /personal development. It also introduces students to the discipline of Practical Theology, encouraging them to locate their own practice-based research agenda within the broader canon of literature and debate.  

TH8002  Literature Review

A literature review of a key concept or debate within practical theology allows students to demonstrate research and retrieval skills with a focus on text-based research methods. Candidates demonstrate that they have a competent, critical grasp of research resources, skills and methods, the field of practical theology and methods that might be used within it. The task demonstrates not only their own study and critical reflection, but also offers reflection on how seminars and tutorials have shaped their thinking on these issues. 

TH8015  Writing for Publication 

The overall aim of the module is to examine the elements and stages involved in the production of a ‘publishable’ piece of work. Successful candidates will be able to identify how work at doctoral level should demonstrate an original contribution to knowledge, either in topic area, in method, in synthesis of theory and practice, its engagement with conceptual issues, or in its ability to record, analyse and critique an area of practice. This module enables candidates to respond to peer critique of the research and its presentation, in such a way as to demonstrate openness to the complexity of possible interpretations and also a capacity to defend and to justify their research and its interpretation and revise the research presentation in the light of critique. 

TH8004  Reflection on Practice

This piece of work will put forward a reflexive narrative of the student’s development as a researcher, of the development in their understanding of their research topic, and of their assessment of the skills and resources they have acquired as a result of their pursuit of advanced research to date. The paper will, where appropriate, draw on the student’s research log and learning journal that they are required to keep from the outset of the programme.  

TH8005  Research Proposal

This identifies a clear context, focus and question for the student's own proposed research project, giving a well-supported rationale for the project’s value, usefulness and originality. It demonstrate a clear ability to ground this research project in the wider context of issues, debates and methods within the discipline of practical theology. It presents a clear methodology for undertaking this project which is appropriate to the project’s research question and which demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of particular research paradigms and the nature and limitations of specific research methods.  

c. Stage 2 

After an Advisory and Review Board confirming the supervision arrangements, students undertake the final component 

TH8006 Thesis in Practical Theology

This 45,000 – 50,000 word thesis presents the candidates’ research as a contribution to the discipline of Practical Theology, as a critical evaluation of the contribution which this research makes to their context of professional practice and a critical account and analysis of the intellectual  and professional development of the candidate during the research. It is defended at a viva voce.  

The interim award of M.Prof. is available for students achieving at least 180 credits at level 7 & 8 or at level 8 on the programme but not continuing for the D.Prof award. For example: successful completion of modules of two level 7 Research Preparation modules (normally TH7021 and TH7067 or TH7047), plus TH8014, TH8002 and TH8015 give a profile of 190 credits; alternatively (with entry via APCL) the first four Stage 1 modules at level 8 (TH8014, TH8002, TH8013, TH8004) give a profile of 180 credits. The assessment of TH8002 (60 credits) provides an assessment component comparable in length to a level 7 research dissertation.


Mod-Code Level Title Credit Single
TH7021 7 Themes and Methods in Practical and Contextual Theology 40 Optional
TH7047 7 Advanced Research Methods in the Study of Religions 20 Optional
TH7067 7 Contemporary Religion: Shifting Paradigms and Patterns 20 N/A
TH7123 7 Independent Study in Practical Theology 30 N/A
TH8002 8 Literature Review 60 Comp
TH8003 8 Publishable Article 40 N/A
TH8004 8 Reflection on Practice 30 Comp
TH8005 8 Research Proposal 30 Comp
TH8006 8 Thesis in Practical Theology 270 Comp
TH8014 8 Advanced Research Methods in Practical Theology 40 Comp
TH8015 8 Writing for Publication 50 Comp

The overall award is made up of 540 credits.
60 credits are at level 7 achieved through modules of research preparation, or alternatively a claim based on credit for a relevant master’s degree or postgraduate diploma and updated professional experience.
210 credits of modular components at level 8 of which 180 credits are designated.
270 credits are for a thesis defended at an oral assessment (viva voce) (level 8).


Applicants will need to provide evidence of a sustainable professional or organisational context for advanced independent research in practical theology.

Typically, students will hold a Masters degree. All applicants should normally have at least an upper second class Honours degree in a discipline appropriate to their intended area of research, or a lower second class Honours degree plus a Masters degree. Substantial prior research experience may, in some instances, be acceptable in place of an appropriate degree qualification.   

Applicants shall also satisfy the requirements for English Language, where English is not their first language (IELTS 6.5 or TOEFL 570 (230 computer-based) is the minimum requirement). 

Qualifications and preparedness for postgraduate research will be judged from the application form and interview. 

Students with additional needs should declare this at the time of application, and an assessment made by Student Support and Guidance of the University’s ability to support these needs. 

Where a candidate might be disadvantaged by not meeting the normal qualification entry criteria, the following (for example) can apply:

  • where the first degree is lower than a 2:1 honours degree and more than 10 years old the following may be taken in its place: other more recent qualifications (or a substantial amount of study) at levels 6 or 7 (e.g. PGCE, Masters) or experience of at least 3 years work at a professional level within the last 5 years
  • Substantial prior research or professional experience is understood to mean at least 2 years operating at a senior level (e.g. as an independent or principal researcher/practictioner). 
  • Students presenting international qualifications which are not judged to be the equivalent of an Honours degree, would normally be required to undertake and attain a good pass on at least one 7 level module as a condition of entry.


There are no subject benchmark statements for professional doctoral programmes that can be referred to definitively in this context.

Instead, the programme has been designed in accordance with the University of Chester Re­quirements for Professional Doctorates [] which advises cognisance of the following generic national and international benchmarking frameworks:

The requirements for the award of a Doctor of Professional Studies degree closely reflect the FHEQ guidelines regarding doctoral level awards and QAA's statements regarding the generic characteristics of doctoral degrees. Despite their differences from conventional PhDs, therefore (and despite some variation within the genre), professional doctorates still embody qualities common to all doctoral degrees:

"All UK doctorates, regardless of their form, continue to require the main focus of the candidate's work to demonstrate an original contribution to knowledge in their subject, field or profession, through original research or the original application of existing knowledge and understanding." QAA Characteristics Statement: Doctoral Degrees, September 2015, p.3;


This is a research degree. The programme provides structured elements of research training. All the components are pursued as supervised independent study.

At the heart of professional doctorates is a dyn­amic relationship between theory and practice. All doctoral research represents a contribution to knowledge and under­standing within a particular academic discipline, but the pro­fessional doc­torate also genera­tes evidence-based or practice-based research capable of informing and enhancing the self-understanding of a particular professional or institutional context.  The D.Prof. programme uses techniques of what is known as enquiry-based learning. Throughout this doctoral study, students participate in exercises such as case studies, problem-based work­shops and qualitative research and field­work which will enable them to sharp­en important transferable skills such as identifying research questions, problem-solving, research design and im­ple­­men­ta­tion, and communicating your research findings to others.

A stimulating research environment is crucial to support students working at doctoral level. The primary component of this environment for students enrolled on the professional doctorate will be the residentials and the relationships developed during them within particular cohorts of students. The residentials will both provide the opportunity for engaging with a range of scholars and professional practitioners, and will enable the students to develop as researchers by engaging with each other's research projects over several years. In stage 2, during the thesis writing stage, residentials will provide writing workshops and skills sessions related to the writing process. Beyond the residentials, students will be invited to participate in the active research life of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies. Departmental research seminars every two or three weeks incorporate both the opportunity to engage with invited scholars in the field, and the chance for doctoral students to present work in progress and receive feedback on it. Students on the professional doctorate will be encouraged to attend, particularly during stage two. The Department also hosts conferences and seminars to which students will be invited, and encourages students to attend academic conferences in fields related to students' studies. Students will also be actively encouraged to organise their own research events when appropriate, and to make use of external funding opportunities such as the AHRC Student-Led Initiative programme.

Many of the requirements of the RCUK Joint Skills Statement are contained within the learning outcomes of the level 8 modules: for example, research methods, conceptual and theoretical understanding, critical thinking, appreciation of research environment, personal management, communication and networking.  In addition, however, basic research skills training is undertaken at other points in the programme, most specifically at residentials. Students receive an annual induction session, which includes an introduction to the University Library and Information Services, at the October residential, which is supported by regular 'surgery' sessions with support staff throughout the year. Specialist skills such as use of software programmes (Endnote, NVivo, etc.) and sessions on research ethics, academic writing and other research techniques are also provided via workshops at residentials. Students are also encouraged to augment such provision by accessing PGR research skills training through the Graduate School and participating in externally-organised courses and seminars.

The level 7 components may be accounted for by APCL in a student's profile, for example by the research training undertaken within a master's degree. Alternatively, these can be pursued in the programme in preparation for the doctoral research components as supervised independent study. (These students may benefit from sessions delivered as part of the provision for Master’s research students in TRS or Humanities.) For these modules, students are assigned a member of staff (normally the programme leader or one of the associate programme leaders) who acts as advisor/personal academic tutor to advise on their progress and to provide pastoral support; and for each module there is a module tutor, or a module co-ordinator and an appointed supervisor. 

The level 8 modular components of research and research training are delivered and supported in three 24 or 48-hour residentials, plus an annual 48 hour Summer school held jointly with other HEIs offering similar professional doctorates within a national Consortium; and by supervision, supported by web-based materials and activities.

Sessions in the residentials include work on research skills and methodology, practical exercises in enquiry–based learning and lectures, seminars and student–led discussions. Several recurrent themes appropriate to the students’ development and assessment relevant to the student are addressed: 

  • “Key Voices” – tracing significant themes, approaches and debates within Practical Theology, historical and contemporary (TH8014). These discussions will help candidates in preparing for the Literature Review portion of the portfolio (TH 8002), which is designed to get students engaging with specialist scholarship in their chosen field of research.
  • “The Reflective Practitioner” – this strand will address various aspects of the relationship between theory and practice. Guidance on keeping and maintaining a research log and learning journal as part of best practice in research (TH8014) will feature prominently here, as well as introductions to the (contested) activity of “theological reflection” in Practical Theology and the formation of critical understandings of the nature of the ‘reflective practitioner’ in the context of advanced research (TH 8004).
  • Research Methods at doctoral level – how to design and implement strategies for gathering evidence, particularly qualitative data such as participant–observation, case studies, interviews, etc (TH8014). This will be of relevance later in preparing for the research proposal (TH 8005), which focuses on the question of methodology and research design. Consideration will also be paid to questions of research ethics: the protocols for research with human subjects, as well as issues of confidentiality, accountability, dissemination, etc.
  • Enquiry–Based Learning at doctoral level – this approach to learning emphasizes the importance of learning through doing, through the use of real–life or simulated examples. Through exercises, workshops on analysing and understanding our own research contexts, using case studies and fieldwork, students will develop skills of reflexivity and self-evaluation as well as working on issues of how to use their own practice and experience and that of others as a primary source for advanced research. (TH8014, 8004 and 8005).

Following the level 8 Progression Board at the end of Stage 1, students are assigned a Supervisory Team, normally consisting of three people, and the team is revised or confirmed at an Advisory and Review Board before the thesis is begun.  

  • The main supervisor - responsible for agreeing a suitable programme of research work and overseeing its progress, and for administrative issues relating to the student’s registration and progress. The main supervisor will undertake the majority of supervision.  
  • One or more academic colleagues who act as co–supervisor(s). The co-supervisor will normally be appointed to contribute their specific expertise in assisting the main supervisor throughout the development of the student’s research programme and may act as a supervisor of sections of work in progress in consultation with the main supervisor.  
  • A third member of staff (normally the programme leader or one of the associate programme leaders) will act as advisor/personal academic tutor to provide pastoral support to the student and to monitor their progress, providing advice accordingly.

In keeping with the structure of professional doctorates throughout the sector, Stage 1 of the programme is assessed through a portfolio of modules, many of which themselves comprise portfolios with a number of assignments (TH8014, TH8015). The research methods modules (level 7) are similarly assessed by portfolio. The independent study at level 7 is an opportunity to acquire preliminary understandings of advanced research methodologies in relation to one or more pilot projects.

Engagement with key scholarship in TH8014 and TH8002 includes reflection on how seminars and tutorials have shaped the students' thinking on the material being reviewed, and (in TH8002 especially) how extant scholarship shapes a research agenda. For TH8015 (Writing for Publication) as well as composing the article, students have to respond to peer critique of the research and its presentation and revise the research in the light of this.  In Reflection on Practice (TH8004) the paper submitted draws on the student’s own record of research (journals or research diaries, logs, etc.) which they are encouraged to keep from the outset of the programme, and puts forward a reflexive narrative of the student’s development as a researcher, and an assessment of the skills and resources they have acquired.

The Research Proposal (level 8) presents and critiques the methodology which underpins the thesis, and builds on the critical survey of research methods and skills first encountered in TH8014. Assessment of the 45,000-50,000 word thesis (TH8006) includes an oral assessment (viva voce examination), and formative feedback is offered to students on draft submissions.

The thesis will reside within the University Regulation for Research Degrees. All other modules within the programme will reside within University regulations for modular provision.

 The holder of a Doctor of Professional Studies award in Practical Theology will be an advanced professional who has

  • extensive knowledge and understanding which is at the forefront of the academic discipline of practical theology and/or area of professional practice;
  • the ability to conduct original research or other advanced scholarship which is of a quality to satisfy peer review, extend the forefront of the discipline, and merit publication;
  • the ability to integrate theoretical and professional–practical perspectives, knowledge and understanding in such a way as to generate mutual critique, and reformulation of theory and of professional practice;
  • the general ability to conceptualise, design and implement a project for the generation of new knowledge, applications or understanding which are at the forefront of the discipline or area of theological, institutional or professional practice, and to adjust the project design in the light of peer review, evaluation or new information;
  • a detailed understanding of applicable techniques for original research, effective communication, critical and independent reasoning appropriate to advanced academic enquiry.
  • the qualities and transferable skills necessary for employment requiring the exercise of personal responsibility and largely autonomous initiative in complex and unpredictable situations, in professional/institutional or equivalent environments.
  • the ability to work collaboratively in problem–solving, clarifying of key concepts, designing and implementing shared research projects and communicating their findings clearly and effectively.

A student's Doctor of Professional Studies programme will have a high degree of individuality built into it with the student taking a significant share of the responsibility for its planning, content and mode of delivery.  Students taking this programme should be aware that they need to be highly self-motivated and self-directed to maintain the necessary momentum to complete the programme successfully.  University support will be provided but the distance learning nature of the programme requires determination from the student and pro-activity in maintaining contact with tutors.  Successful completion of the programme would normally require the student to be in full-time employment at a sufficient level of seniority to influence strategic and/or operational decisions.

The programme is part of a widening participation agenda in its appeal to practitioners from a range of professions and with various religious affiliations (including those with no personal faith-commitment) to whom a standard academic PhD would not appeal.

The delivery allows the student to remain in full-employment and to use the work context in the research undertaken.

The residentials offer peer and tutor support to students who would not immediately thrive with only individual supervision and independent study.

The programme, exceptionally in the sector, offers opportunity for research-level practical theology in Muslim and Jewish as well as Christian contexts.

A professional doctorate, offered on a part-time basis, will enable the production of research of publishable quality as well as offering candidates a context for the development of practice-based research.

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