Doctor of Letters

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Doctor of Letters (D.Litt., Litt.D., Latin: Litterarum Doctor or Doctor Litterarum) also termed "Doctor of Literature" in some countries is a terminal degree in the arts, humanities and social sciences that, depending on the country, is a higher doctorate after the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree or equivalent to a higher doctorate, such as the Doctor of Science (Sc.D. or D.Sc.) or Doctor of Laws (LL.D). It is awarded in many countries by universities in recognition of superior accomplishment in the Arts, Social Sciences or humanities, such as original contributions to the creative or cultural arts, or scholarship in Social Sciences and humanities and other merits. It may be conferred as an earned degree upon the completion of a regular doctoral course of study, usually including the development and defense of an original dissertation, [1] [2] [3] or may be conferred as an earned higher doctorate after the submission and academic evaluation of a portfolio of sustained scholarship, publications, research, or other scientific work of the highest caliber. [4] [5]


In addition to being awarded as an earned degree, this doctorate is also conferred as an honoris causa to recognize one's lifetime of excellence in a particular humanistic, cultural, or artistic field, or other notable contributions to society. When conferred as an honorary doctorate, many or all of the standard degree requirements, including application, matriculation, coursework, doctoral dissertation or thesis, and portfolio evaluation may be waived, at the discretion of the degree-granting body. Honorary Doctor of Letters recipients need not necessarily have any previous affiliation with the awarding institution [6] and, in most cases, it is not considered proper for them to use the title of "Dr." before their names. [7] Universities, colleges, or learned bodies may award the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters, Doctor of Literature or the related Doctor of Humane Letters, to luminaries who have been identified as rare exemplars who have enriched the humanities in particular, or humanity at large. Mark Twain was awarded an honorary D.Litt. by Oxford University in 1907 for his literary contributions. [8] [9] Nelson Mandela was awarded honorary Doctor of Letters degrees by the University of Natal in 1993 [10] and the Open University of Tanzania in 2000 [11] [12] for his leadership in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.

Britain, the Commonwealth and the Republic of Ireland

Beyzaie ahur.jpg
Bahram Beyzai, dressed in a traditional St. Andrews black cassock, having just received a D.Litt. honoris causa, June 2017
Mark Twain DLitt.jpg
Mark Twain (right), wearing the full-dress gown of an Oxford D.Litt. He was awarded an honorary doctorate of letters in 1907.

In the United Kingdom, Australia, India, and Ireland, the degree is a higher doctorate, above the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or Doctor of Education (Ed.D.), for example, and is awarded on the basis of high achievement in the respective field or a long record of research and publication. The D.Litt. degree is awarded to candidates whose record of published work and research shows conspicuous ability and originality and constitutes a distinguished and sustained achievement. University committee and board approval is required, and candidates must provide documented mastery[ clarification needed ] of a particular area or field. The degree may also be awarded honoris causa to such individuals as the awarding institution deems worthy of this highest academic award.

At the University of Oxford, the degree was established in 1900 as part of the development of graduate-level research degrees that began with the introduction of the B.Litt. and B.Sc. degrees in 1895. Until then, Oxford had focused on undergraduate teaching, with the doctorates, such as those in divinity (D.D.) and medicine (D.M.) traditionally reserved for established scholars. The German paradigm, adopted by the Americans, that created a demand for the philosophiae doctor (Ph.D.) degree as a basic qualification for an academic career, was not immediately adopted at Oxford, but it did create pressure for Oxford to offer a degree for this purpose. [13] Rather than use the D.Litt. degree, Oxford eventually created its doctor of philosophy (D.Phil.) degree in 1915, deliberately using a distinctive English, rather than a Latin, title and abbreviation for it. The D.Phil. became an accelerated, supervised, degree of lower status than the D.Litt. When it was established in 1900, the Oxford Doctor of Literature (D.Litt.) degree could be awarded to individuals who had a standing of thirty-four terms from the award of a B.Litt. degree, or of thirty-nine terms (thirteen academic years) from the award of an Oxford master of arts M.A. degree, providing they could provide "fitness for the degree in published books or papers, containing an original contribution to the advancement of learning." [14] The required number of terms changed over the years, depending on the prior Oxford degree that a candidate held, and the requirements became more specific.

By 2015, The Oxford University Examination Regulations called for a faculty board at Oxford to "appoint judges to consider the evidence submitted by any candidate, and to report thereon to the board. In making their report, the judges shall state whether the evidence submitted constitutes an original contribution to the advancement of knowledge of such substance and distinction as to give the candidate an authoritative status in some branch or branches of learning." [15] Between 1923 and 2016, Oxford awarded 219 D.Litt. degrees, of which 196 were awarded to men and 23 to women. Among the six higher doctoral degrees at Oxford (D.D., D.M., D.C.L., D.Litt., D.Sc., D.Mus.), the D.Litt. comprised 27.5% of the higher doctorates awarded during this 93-year period. [16]

In June 2016, the Oxford D.Litt. was suspended, pending a reform of the higher doctorates. [17] The reforms were completed in June 2018 and applications reopened in September 2018. The new regulations reduced the number of higher doctorates to five by dropping the Doctor of Medicine as a higher doctorate. The standards for the remaining doctorates, including the D.Litt. (now also referred to as "Doctor of Letters" rather than Doctor of Literature [18] ), require the judges "to consider whether the evidence submitted demonstrates excellence in academic scholarship and is:

United States

In the United States, the degree may be conferred as an honorary degree or an earned degree.

Numerous American universities regularly award the honorary Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.) degree, including Harvard University, [20] Columbia University, [21] and Yale University, [22] among others.

At Drew University, the earned Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.) program requires the completion of 45 graduate credit hours beyond the master's degree, including the successful development and defense of a 150- to 220-page doctoral dissertation. [23]


In France, the doctorat is awarded with a speciality, but there is no official list of these. Candidates for a doctorat in literature are awarded a Doctorat ès lettres, abbreviated Dr ès l.

There is a higher degree, the Habilitation à diriger des recherches , which is obtained following different rules in each field. In literature, the candidates must also present a new and unpublished work. The habilitation (which is not followed by an indication of the field) allows holders to apply for a position of professor in French universities.

Before the 1950s, the now-abolished Doctorat d'État degree was called Doctorat ès lettres [24] (in France, "letters" is equivalent to "humanities").


In India the DLitt degree was earlier called the Doctor of Letters, but presently DLitt is an abbreviation of "Doctor of Literature", since the year 2014, after a Gazette Notification by the Government of India mandated a change in the nomenclature. [25] The DLitt is the highest postdoctoral degree awarded in the fields of arts, humanities and social sciences. The DLitt may be "earned" through research in a public university, or bestowed as an honoris causa award for distinguished achievements. For an earned DLitt degree, the entry requirement is a Doctor of Philosophy degree and evidence of substantial contribution to the field after completion of PhD. The DLitt Thesis is expected to be of an exceptionally high order, and is reviewed by eminent experts in the subject. The new vistas of knowledge embodied in the DLitt Thesis must also be publicly defended. DLitt (honoris causa) are conferred by public universities, usually on visiting dignitaries or on experts who may or may not have the prescribed qualification, but have substantially contributed to academic or professional development of a field of knowledge. The Honorary DLitt are considered an award, and not an academic degree in the strictest sense.

Similarly, the highest educational degree at the postdoctoral level in Sanskrit, Pali, Prakrit, Indic religious studies, Oriental literature and Indology in India is termed Vidya Vachaspati, which is legally recognized as the equivalent to the DLitt. [26]

Enrollment in a Vidya Vachaspati program generally requires both having published works and the previous attainment of a Vidya Vairidhi degree, which is equivalent to a PhD. [27]

The title of Vidya Vachaspati may also be awarded honoris causa to distinguished scholars who may otherwise lack the educational qualifications to be eligible to register for the earned degree, but whose expertise and contributions are deemed to be deserving of the honour.

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  3. "Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico". Program: Masters and Doctorate of Letters (Programa de Maestria y Doctorado en Letras).
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  7. "How to Use My Honorary Degree? How to Use My Honorary Doctorate with My Name?". The Protocol School of Washington. 25 May 2020.
  8. "The New York Times". MARK TWAIN, D.LITT., OXON. Students Give a Great Ovation to Him - Degree for Mr. Reid Also. June 27, 1907.
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  12. "Tanzania: Open University of Tanzania Honors Mandela". AllAfrica.
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  19. University of Oxford Regulations for Higher Doctorates
  20. Honorary degrees awarded at Commencement. Harvard University Gazette Online. June 5, 2008.
  21. "PADMA DESAI TO RECEIVE HONORARY DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF LETTERS". Columbia University, Harriman Institute. Archived from the original on 27 July 2020. Retrieved 26 July 2020.
  22. "Paula Vogel MA '76, PhD '16, receives honorary Doctor of Letters from Yale". Cornell University, Department of Performing and Media Arts.
  23. , Drew University
  24. Alan D. Schrift (2006), Twentieth-Century French Philosophy: Key Themes And Thinkers, Blackwell Publishing, p. 208.
  25. Mr. Narendra Kumar Chouhan vs State Of Rajasthan & Ors, Rajasthan High Court (11 September 2014)
  26. Vidya Vachaspati (D.Litt.), Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapeetha, Tirupati, Indcareer (Accessed 2 May 2018)