Doctor of Letters

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Doctor of Letters (D.Litt., Litt.D., Latin: Litterarum Doctor or Doctor Litterarum) is a terminal degree in the humanities 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.). It is awarded in many countries by universities and learned bodies in recognition of superior accomplishment in the humanities, original contributions to the creative or cultural arts, or scholarship 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 widely conferred 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 do 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, 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 150–220 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").


Mahakavi is the highest literary honour in India for published works in literature.

The highest educational attainment at Sanskrit Colleges in India is the Vidya Vachaspati, legally recognized as the equivalent to the Western D.Litt. [25] Enrollment in a Vidya Vachaspati program generally requires both having published works and the previous attainment of a Vidya Vairidhi degree, equivalent to a PhD. [26]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Doctor (title)</span> Academic title for a holder of a doctoral degree

Doctor is an academic title that originates from the Latin word of the same spelling and meaning. The word is originally an agentive noun of the Latin verb docēre[dɔˈkeːrɛ] 'to teach'. It has been used as an academic title in Europe since the 13th century, when the first doctorates were awarded at the University of Bologna and the University of Paris.

Postgraduate education involves learning and studying for academic or professional degrees, academic or professional certificates, academic or professional diplomas, or other qualifications for which a first or bachelor's degree generally is required, and it is normally considered to be part of higher education. In North America, this level is typically referred to as graduate school.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Doctorate</span> Academic or professional degree

A doctorate or doctor's degree or doctoral degree is an academic degree awarded by universities and some other educational institutions, derived from the ancient formalism licentia docendi. In most countries, a research degree qualifies the holder to teach at university level in the degree's field or work in a specific profession. There are a number of doctoral degrees; the most common is the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), awarded in many different fields, ranging from the humanities to scientific disciplines.

Degree abbreviations are used as an alternative way to specify an academic degree instead of spelling out the title in full, such as in reference books such as Who's Who and on business cards. Many degree titles have more than one possible abbreviation, with the abbreviation used varying between different universities. In the UK it is normal not to punctuate abbreviations for degrees with full stops, although this is done at some universities.

Habilitation is the procedure to achieve the highest university degree in many European countries in which the candidate fulfills certain criteria set by the university which require excellence in research, teaching, and further education. Its qualification certifies the ability to be a "full professor" in these countries. This procedure also usually culminates with a scientific lecture with colloquium as well as a public inaugural lecture given by the applicant.

Doctor of Arts Doctoral degree

The Doctor of Arts is a discipline-based terminal doctoral degree that was originally conceived and designed to be an alternative to the traditional research-based Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) and the education-based Doctor of Education (Ed.D.). Like other doctorates, the D.A. is an academic degree of the highest level. The D.A. is also frequently conferred as an honorary degree with the added designation of honoris causa.

Doctor of Science, usually abbreviated Sc.D., D.Sc., S.D., or D.S., is an academic research degree awarded in a number of countries throughout the world. In some countries, "Doctor of Science" is the degree used for the standard doctorate in the sciences; elsewhere the Sc.D. is a "higher doctorate" awarded in recognition of a substantial and sustained contribution to scientific knowledge beyond that required for a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Honorary degree</span> Degree awarded as an honour, generally for attainment within the appropriate field

An honorary degree is an academic degree for which a university has waived all of the usual requirements. It is also known by the Latin phrases honoris causa or ad honorem. The degree is typically a doctorate or, less commonly, a master's degree, and may be awarded to someone who has no prior connection with the academic institution or no previous postsecondary education. An example of identifying a recipient of this award is as follows: Doctorate in Business Administration (Hon. Causa).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Doctor of Divinity</span> Holder of an advanced academic degree in divinity

A Doctor of Divinity is the holder of an advanced academic degree in divinity.

Legum Doctor (LL.D.) or, in English, Doctor of Laws, is a doctorate-level academic degree in law or an honorary degree, depending on the jurisdiction. The double “L” in the abbreviation refers to the early practice in the University of Cambridge to teach both canon law and civil law, with the double “L” itself indicating the plural, although Cambridge now gives the degree the name Doctor of Law in English. This contrasts with the practice of the University of Oxford, where the degree that survived from the Middle Ages is the DCL or Doctor of Civil Law (only).

The Master of Letters degree is a postgraduate degree.

Satya Vrat Shastri Indian Sanskrit scholar (1930–2021)

Satya Vrat Shastri was an Indian Sanskrit scholar, writer, grammarian and poet. He wrote three Mahakavyas, three Khandakavyas, one Prabandhakavyas and one Patrakavya and five works in critical writing in Sanskrit. His important works are Ramakirtimahakavyam, Brahattaram Bharatam, Sribodhisattvacharitam, Vaidika Vyakarana, Sarmanyadesah Sutram Vibhati, and "Discovery of Sanskrit Treasures" in seven volumes.

Doctor of Fine Arts (D.F.A.) is a doctoral degree in fine arts, may be given as an honorary degree or an earned professional degree.

Doctor of Sciences is a higher doctoral degree in the Russian Empire, Soviet Union and many post-Soviet countries, which may be earned after the Candidate of Sciences.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Doctor of Philosophy</span> Postgraduate academic degree awarded by universities in many countries

A Doctor of Philosophy is the most common degree at the highest academic level awarded following a course of study. PhDs are awarded for programs across the whole breadth of academic fields. Because it is an earned research degree, those studying for a PhD are required to produce original research that expands the boundaries of knowledge, normally in the form of a dissertation, and defend their work before a panel of other experts in the field. The completion of a PhD is often a requirement for employment as a university professor, researcher, or scientist in many fields. Individuals who have earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree may, in many jurisdictions, use the title Doctor with their name, although the proper etiquette associated with this usage may also be subject to the professional ethics of their own scholarly field, culture, or society. Those who teach at universities or work in academic, educational, or research fields are usually addressed by this title "professionally and socially in a salutation or conversation." Alternatively, holders may use post-nominal letters such as "Ph.D.", "PhD", or "DPhil". It is, however, considered incorrect to use both the title and post-nominals at the same time.

Doctor Medicinae (Danish and Norwegian degree)

Doctor Medicinae, also spelled Doctor Medicinæ and abbreviated Dr. Med., is a higher doctoral degree in medicine awarded by universities in Denmark and formerly in Norway. It is officially translated as Doctor of Medical Science (D.M.Sc.), corresponding to similarly named higher doctorates found in some Commonwealth countries. It is regarded as a higher doctorate and officially ranks above the Danish PhD degree.

Doctor of Law Doctoral degree in law

Doctor of Law or Doctor of Laws is a degree in law. The application of the term varies from country to country and includes degrees such as the Doctor of Juridical Science, Juris Doctor (J.D.), Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), and Legum Doctor (LL.D.).

The Doctor of Commerce (DCom) is a doctoral degree in commerce-, accounting-, mathematics-, economics-, and management-related subjects, awarded by universities in the Commonwealth. The degree is offered both as a higher doctorate, and as a research doctorate.


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  2. "Doctor of Letters (Doctorado en Letras)". Faculdad de Humanidades, Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata.
  3. "Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico". Program: Masters and Doctorate of Letters (Programa de Maestria y Doctorado en Letras).
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  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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  16. Report of the Review of Higher Degrees, University of Oxford, 2016, table 1, page 8.
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  19. University of Oxford Regulations for Higher Doctorates
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  21. "PADMA DESAI TO RECEIVE HONORARY DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF LETTERS". Columbia University, Harriman Institute.
  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)