Doctor of Letters

Doctor of Letters (D.Litt., Litt.D., D. Lit., or Lit. D.; Latin Litterarum Doctor or Doctor Litterarum) is an academic degree, a higher doctorate which, in some countries, may be considered to be equal to the Ph.D. and equal to the Doctor of Science (Sc.D. or D.Sc.). It is awarded in many countries by universities and learned bodies in recognition of achievement in the humanities, original contribution to the creative arts or scholarship and other merits. In some countries it also regarded as the highest degree of education. When awarded without an application by the conferee, it is awarded as an honorary degree.

Mark Twain DLitt
Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), wearing the full-dress gown of an Oxford DLitt. He was awarded an honorary doctorate in letters in 1907.

Britain and the Commonwealth and The Republic of Ireland

Beyzai in a St Andrews cassock having received a D.Litt. honoris causa 2017
Bahram Beyzai, dressed in a St Andrews black cassock, having just received a D.Litt. honoris causa, June 2017

In the United Kingdom, Australia, India and the Republic of Ireland, the degree is a higher doctorate, above the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or Doctor of Education (Ed.D.), for example, and is issued on the basis of high achievement in the respective field or a long record of research and publication. The Litt.D. 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 of a particular area or field. The degree may also be awarded honoris causa to such individuals as the university or the learned body in question 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. Up until that point, 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.[1] 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, lower-status degree to the D.Litt. When it was established in 1900, the Oxford doctor of letters (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."[2] The length of 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."[3] 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.Sc., and D.Mus.), the D.Litt. comprised 27.5% of the higher doctorates awarded during this 93-year period.[4]

In June 2016, the Oxford D.Litt. was suspended, pending a reform of the higher doctorates.[5] The reforms were completed in June 2018 and applications reopened in September 2018. The new regulations reduced the higher doctorates to five by dropping the Doctor of Medicine as a higher doctorate. The standards for the remaining doctorates, including the D.Litt., require the judges "to consider whether the evidence submitted demonstrates excellence in academic scholarship and is:

  • a) of the absolute highest quality;
  • b) substantial in scale and in the contribution it has made to knowledge;
  • c) sustained over time and showing current and continued contribution to scholarship;
  • d) authoritative, being able to demonstrate impact on the work of others;
  • e) of global reach and international importance within the field; and
  • f) of such breadth or covering such branches of knowledge appropriate to the field and in line with disciplinary norms and expectations"[6]

United States

In the United States, the degree is often an honorary degree conferred on those who have contributed to the humanities or society. There is, however, at least one earned D.Litt. programme at Drew University, where the degree requires 36 graduate credit hours post-Master's and a successfully prepared and defended nine-credit doctoral dissertation (for a total degree requirement of 45 hours).[7]


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[8] (in France, "letters" is equivalent to "humanities").


The highest educational attainment at Sanskrit Colleges in India is the Vidya Vachaspati, legally recognized as the equivalent to the Western D.Litt.[9] 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.[10]


  1. ^ M.G. Brock and M.C Curthouys, eds., The History of the University of Oxford., vol. VII, part 2: Nineteenth Century Oxford, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 619.
  2. ^ Brian Harrison, ed., The History of the University of Oxford, vol. VIII: The Twentieth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), p. 125.
  3. ^ University of Oxford. Examination Regulations.
  4. ^ |Report of the Review of Higher Degrees, University of Oxford, 2016, table 1, page 8.
  5. ^ Education Committee: Suspension of higher degrees, Oxford University Gazette vol. 146 no. 5137 (16th June 2016)
  6. ^ University of Oxford Regulations for Higher Doctorates
  7. ^ "Arts & Letters Academic Program", Drew University
  8. ^ Alan D. Schrift (2006), Twentieth-Century French Philosophy: Key Themes And Thinkers, Blackwell Publishing, p. 208.
  9. ^ Mr. Narendra Kumar Chouhan vs State Of Rajasthan & Ors, Rajasthan High Court (11 September 2014)
  10. ^ Vidya Vachaspati (D.Litt.), Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapeetha, Tirupati, Indcareer (Accessed 2 May 2018)
Ariane Mnouchkine

Ariane Mnouchkine (born 3 March 1939) is a French stage director. She founded the Parisian avant-garde stage ensemble Théâtre du Soleil in 1964. She has written and directed 1789 (1974) and Molière (1978), and in 1989, she directed La Nuit Miraculeuse. She holds a Chair of Artistic Creation at the Collège de France, an Honorary Degree in Performing Arts from the University of Rome III, awarded in 2005 [1] and an Honorary Doctor of Letters from Oxford University, awarded 18 June 2008.

Bommireddy Narasimha Reddy

Bommireddy Narasimha Reddy (16 November 1908 – 8 November 1977) was an Indian film director and an early figure in the Telugu cinema.He was eldest of the three brothers; others are B. Nagi Reddy and B. N. Konda Reddy. He was popularly known as B. N. Reddy. He is the director who balances artistic values and business needs in the right proportion. Many of his earlier films like Vande Mataram, Devatha had Chittor V. Nagaiah as lead.

His Malliswari (1951 film) starring N T Rama Rao and Bhanumathi is considered a timeless Indian film classic. He was the first person to receive the prestigious 'Dada Saheb Phalke Award' from South India. He was the first Indian film personality to receive the Doctor of Letters honor

Cheviyorkkuka! Anthimakahalam

Cheviyorkkuka! Anthimakahalam (Listen! The Last Trumpet) is a book by Vaikom Muhammad Basheer published in 1992. The book includes the speech given by Basheer on the occasion of being conferred the Doctor of Letters (D. Litt.) by University of Calicut on 19 January 1987. It was the last book of Basheer published during his lifetime.

Christopher Bruce

Christopher Bruce (b. 3 October 1945 in Leicester) is a British choreographer and performer. He was Artistic Director of the Rambert Dance Company until 2002.He has choreographed the Andrew Lloyd-Webber/Alan Ayckbourn musical Jeeves at Her Majesty's Theatre, London in 1975.

In addition to performing and choreographing, he has created many works for Rambert and for Nederlands Dans Theater, Houston Ballet and Cullberg Ballet and has had a long-term association with the English National Ballet and the Houston Ballet.

His works include Cruel Garden, Ghost Dances, Sergeant Early's Dream, Swansong, Moonshine and Rooster.Bruce was appointed a CBE for a lifetime’s service to dance because he was one of Britain’s leading choreographers. He is a visiting honorary professor at the University of Exeter since 2009.He is also been given a Honorary Doctor of Art from De Montfort University, Honorary Doctor of Letters from University of Exeter in 2001 and an Honorary Life Membership of Amnesty International.

Christopher Koch

For the film and television director, see Chris Koch.Christopher John Koch AO (16 July 1932 – 23 September 2013) was an Australian novelist, known for his 1978 novel The Year of Living Dangerously, which was adapted into an award-winning film. He twice won the Miles Franklin Award (for The Doubleman in 1985, and for Highways to a War in 1996). In 1995, he was made an Officer of the Order of Australia for his contribution to Australian literature, and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters from his alma mater, the University of Tasmania, in 1990.

D. E. R. Watt

Donald Elmslie Robertson Watt FRSE (15 August 1926–18 April 2004) was a Scottish historian and Professor Emeritus at St Andrews University.

Donald Watt was the son of Theodore Watt, managing director of the Aberdeen University Press. Watt studied at Aberdeen Grammar School, before reading history at University of Aberdeen. He graduated in 1950, and moved to Oriel College, Oxford, receiving his D. Phil in 1957.

Watt taught history at St Andrews University for his entire career, except for one year's study at Columbia University. He worked for many years on editing and translating a nine volume edition, the first since 1759, of Abbot Walter Bower's Scotichronicon, a key resource for Scotland in the late Middle Ages. Professor Watt also published on the Scottish church where he was the acknowledged expert on sources, holding the chair in Scottish Church History at St Andrews.

He worked for the publication of the Atlas of Scottish History, issued by the University of Edinburgh in 1975 and again, with revisions, in 1995. He served as co-editor of the Scottish Historical Review for eight years, and as president of the Scottish History Society for four.

In 2000 he was made an honorary Doctor of Letters by the University of Glasgow.

David Williamson

David Keith Williamson, AO (born 24 February 1942) is one of Australia's best-known dramatists and playwrights. He has also written screenplays and teleplays.

Doctor of Humane Letters

The degree of Doctor of Humane Letters (Latin: Litterarum humanarum doctor; D.H.L.; or L.H.D.) is almost always conferred as an honorary degree, usually to those students who have distinguished themselves in areas other than science, government, literature or religion, which are awarded degrees of Doctor of Science, Doctor of Law, Doctor of Letters, or Doctor of Divinity, respectively.

Doctor of Humane Letters degrees should not be confused with earned academic degrees awarded on the basis of research, such as Doctor of Philosophy, Doctor of Science or Doctor of Theology, nor earned professional doctorates such as Doctor of Medicine, Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, Doctor of Podiatric Medicine, Juris Doctor, Doctor of Optometry etc.

Kummanam Rajasekharan

Kummanam Rajasekharan (born 23 December 1952) is an Indian politician and former Governor of Mizoram. He began his political career as an activist of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Sangh Parivar in the state of Kerala in 1970. From 2015 to 2018, he was the state president of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Kerala.

In 1987, he resigned from government service and became a full-time Sangh Parivar worker, while being instrumental in spearheading Kerala's Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), Kshetra Samrakshana Samiti, Balasadanams, and Ekal Vidyalayas. Rajaseharan has been the secretary of Hindu Aikya Vedi, Sabarimala Ayyappa Sewa Samajam, General-Secretary and Chairman of Janmabhumi.

In 2019, he was conferred with a Doctor of Letters degree by the Shri Jagdishprasad Jhabrmal Tibrewala University for honouring his contributions to the field of social work.

Lillian M. Bradshaw

Lillian Moore Bradshaw (January 10, 1915 – February 9, 2010) was a prominent librarian and leader in the profession. She served as director of the Dallas Public Library from 1962 to 1984 and as president of the American Library Association from 1980 to 1971.Born Lillian Moore in Hagerstown, Maryland, she grew up in Frederick, Maryland. She was the first in her family to attend college and graduated from Western Maryland College in Westminster, Maryland with her bachelor's degree before moving to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to attend Drexel University's School of Library Sciences. She graduated from Drexel University in 1937. In 1978 she received an honorary degree from Drexel, Doctor of Letters, and in 1987 she earned a Doctor of Letters in literature from Western Maryland College. Her first job in libraries was in Utica, New York, but it was at Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, where she met her husband, William "Brad" Bradshaw. In 1946, she moved to Dallas and was one of the first married women hired at the Dallas Public Library where she began her career at the Sanger Branch. In 1961, after 16 years, she was named the first female director of the Dallas Public Library and the first woman to lead a major public library in the United States. Bradshaw worked directly with mayor of Dallas, J. Erik Jonsson, who was instrumental in his 1964 Goals for Dallas to create the Dallas Central Library; Later to become J Erik Jonsson Central Library building in his honor According to retired Dallas City Manager, George Schrader, Bradshaw is responsible for the greatest library expansion in the history of Dallas. Bradshaw oversaw the development of 18 of the cities 25 branches, all specifically created to serve the needs of each neighborhood. During her tenure in Dallas, Bradshaw served the profession in a number of roles including president of the American Library Association in 1970. She retired from her role as Library Director in 1984 but continued to remain active and was on the board of several civic, artistic, and educational organizations; one of which was serving on a task force to reorganize the municipal court system. She served as a Trustee of the Freedom to Read Foundation and was named to their Roll of Honor in 1993. Her work in philanthropy is responsible for the creation of the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza which opened in February 1989.

Bradshaw died on Tuesday February 9, 2010 of natural causes in Dallas. She was 95.

Martin Gilbert

Sir Martin John Gilbert (25 October 1936 – 3 February 2015) was a British historian and honorary Fellow of Merton College, University of Oxford. He was the author of eighty-eight books, including works on Winston Churchill, the 20th century, and Jewish history including the Holocaust.

He was a member of the Chilcot Inquiry into the UK's role in the Iraq War.

Nipissing University

Nipissing University is a primarily undergraduate public liberal arts university located in North Bay, Ontario, Canada. The university overlooks Lake Nipissing. Nipissing University is recognized for providing an individualized student experience, having supportive and accessible professors, small class sizes, research opportunities for undergraduate students, and some of the best residences and residence programming in Canada.

Palagummi Sainath

Palagummi Sainath (born 1957) is an Indian journalist who focuses on social & economic inequality, rural affairs, poverty and the aftermath of globalization in India. He is the founder editor of the People's Archive of Rural India. He was the Rural Affairs Editor at The Hindu before resigning in 2014,. The website India Together has been archiving some of his work in The Hindu daily for the past six years. Since late 2011, he has been working on People's Archive of Rural India, PARI, of which he is the Founder Editor.

Amartya Sen has called him "one of the world's great experts on famine and hunger". In June 2011, Sainath was conferred an Honorary Doctor of Letters degree (DLitt) by the University of Alberta, the university's highest honor. He is one of few Indians to receive the Ramon Magsaysay Award, which he accepted in 2007 in the category of Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts.

Paul McCreesh

Paul McCreesh (born 24 May 1960) is an English conductor.

Paul McCreesh is founder and artistic director of the Gabrieli Consort & Players. He has previously been the artistic director of the Wratislavia Cantans Festival in Wrocław, Poland and of the Brinkburn Festival in England. With the Gabrieli Consort & Players, McCreesh has performed in major concert halls and festivals across the world. In 2005 Loughborough University conferred on him the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters.

Robert M. W. Dixon

Robert Malcolm Ward Dixon (Gloucester, England, 25 January 1939) is a Professor of Linguistics in the College of Arts, Society, and Education and The Cairns Institute, James Cook University, Queensland. He is also Deputy Director of The Language and Culture Research Centre at JCU. Doctor of Letters (DLitt, ANU, 1991), he was awarded a prestigious Honorary Doctor of Letters Honoris Causa by JCU in 2018. Fellow of British Academy; Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, and Honorary member of the Linguistic Society of America, he is one of three living linguists to be specifically mentioned in The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Linguistics by P. H. Matthews (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).

T. Padmanabhan

Thinakkal Padmanabhan (born February 5, 1931), popularly known as T. Padmanabhan, is an Indian short story writer of Malayalam literature. Considered by many as one of the greatest short fiction writers in Malayalam language, Padmanabhan is credited with bringing modern Malayalam literature nearer to the subjective intensity of the lyric. He is a recipient of several awards including the Ezhuthachan Puraskaram, the highest literary award of the Government of Kerala. He declined some of the earlier awards he was selected for which include Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award (1973), Odakkuzhal Award (1995) and Sahitya Akademi Award (1996). Mahatma Gandhi University conferred on him the honoris causa degree of the Doctor of Letters in 2018.

Tapan Raychaudhuri

Tapan Raychaudhuri (8 May 1926 – 26 November 2014) was an Indian historian specialising in British Indian history, Indian economic history and the History of Bengal.

Tim Minchin

Timothy David Minchin (born 7 October 1975) is an Australian comedian, actor, writer, musician, composer, lyricist, and director. He was born in Northampton, England, to Australian parents, but raised in Perth, Western Australia.Minchin is best known for his musical comedy, including six CDs, five DVDs, and live comedy shows that he has performed internationally. He has appeared on television in Australia, Britain, and the United States. After growing up in Perth, he attended the University of Western Australia (UWA) and the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), before moving to Melbourne in 2002. His show Darkside launched him into the public eye, achieving critical success at the 2005 Melbourne International Comedy Festival and the 2005 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. In 2013, Minchin played the role of rock star Atticus Fetch on Showtime's Californication.Minchin has a background in theatre and has appeared in various stage productions, in addition to some small acting roles on Australian television. A documentary film about Minchin, Rock N Roll Nerd (directed by Rhian Skirving), was released theatrically in 2008 and broadcast by ABC1 in 2009. He is the composer and lyricist of the Olivier Award-winning, Tony Award-winning and Grammy Award-nominated show Matilda the Musical, based on the Roald Dahl book Matilda. His musical Groundhog Day, based on the 1993 film, opened in London in 2016, winning his second Olivier Award, and opened on Broadway in spring 2017.

In 2013, the University of Western Australia awarded Minchin an honorary Doctor of Letters degree for his contribution to the arts, recognising his outstanding achievements and worldwide acclaim as a composer, lyricist, actor, writer, and comedian. In 2015, he was awarded a second honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts.

W. D. Amaradeva

Sri Lankabhimanya Wannakuwatta Waduge Don Albert Perera(Sinhala: වන්නකුවත්ත වඩුගේ දොන් ඇල්බට් පෙරෙරා; 5 December 1927 – 3 November 2016) better known by his adopted name Amaradeva, was a prominent Sri Lankan vocalist, violinist and composer. Primarily using traditional instruments like sitars, tablas and harmoniums, Amaradeva incorporates Sinhala folk music with Indian ragas in his work. Many consider Pandit Amaradeva’s contribution to the development of Sinhala music as unmatched; hence, he is occasionally cited as the Maestro of Sri Lanka Music (si. හෙළයේ මහා ගාන්දර්වයා Helayay Maha Gandarvaya).In the mid-1950s, Amaradeva in his Janagayana project consulted experts of the Kandyan dance tradition like Pani Bharata, Kiriganita, Gunamala, Ukkuva and Suramba in his path to understand what constituted Sinhala folk music. Noting that it mostly revolved around a single melody, he decided to add verses that would lead up to the central melody which would now be a chorus thus forming two parts (unseen earlier in traditional Sri Lankan music) removing restrictions that had existed earlier. In doing so, Amaradeva created a uniquely Sinhalese music style that stayed true to folk tradition while incorporating outside influences. His work was vital in the creation of the sarala gee genr practised subsequently by artists like Sanath Nandasiri, Victor Ratnayake, T.M. Jayaratne, Sunil Edirisinghe and Gunadasa Kapuge etc.Pandit Amaradeva had been the recipient of numerous awards including the Philippine Ramon Magsaysay Award (2001), Indian Padma Sri Award (2002) and Sri Lankan "President's Award of Kala Keerthi" (1986) and Deshamanya Award (1998). In 2003 the French government awarded him the prestigious honour; Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Notably he still remains the most popular artist as confirmed by Nielsen Media Research findings He has also represented Sri Lanka in many forums including the UNESCO 1967 Manila Symposium. The University of Kelaniya conferred on him the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Fine Arts) Honoris Causa in 1991 and the University of Ruhuna and University of Peradeniya conferred on him the Degree of Doctor of Letters, Honoris Causa in 1993 and 1998In 1972, Pandit Amaradeva composed the music for the Maldivian National Anthem (Gaumii salaam) at the request of Maldivian Government.

Amaradeva died at the age of 88 on 3 November 2016 due to a heart failure. A state funeral was held by the government with a week of national mourning declared.

Levels of academic degree

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