The online doctoral program in Transformative Studies consists of a minimum of 36-semester units (two years of full-time coursework) plus a dissertation. During the two years of coursework, students meet in person twice per year in the Bay Area for a six-day residential Intensive. Because Intensives are an essential aspect of the learning experience, participation in the Intensives is mandatory.

The program includes 21 units of foundations courses and 9 units of electives, which may be taken from both Transformative Leadership and Transformative Studies programs. Students will also work together in a Learning Community, a not-for-credit required course designed to provide an opportunity for community building, personal exchange, and reflection on the learning process.

Coursework concludes with two comprehensive exams in essay form: One addresses the knowledge base of the student's area of inquiry; the other addresses the chosen research methodology for the student's dissertation.

PhD in Transformative Studies

Required Courses - 21 Units

1st semester (fall)

  • TSD 6001 Residential Intensive I (Required in person, 0 Units)
  • TSD 8005 Introduction to Transformative Studies (3 Units)
  • TSD 8125 Creative Inquiry: Scholarship for the 21st Century (3 Units)
  • TSD 8210 Self, Society, and Transformation (3 Units)
  • TSD 8120 Learning Community (0 units)

2nd semester (spring)

  • TSD 6002 Residential Intensive II (Required in person, 0 Units)
  • TSD 8130 Transdisciplinarity: Complex Thought and the Pattern That Connects (3 Units)
  • TSD 8215 Varieties of Scholarly Experience (3 Units)
  • TSD 8220 Learning Community (0 units)

3rd semester (fall)

  • TSD 6003 Residential Intensive III (Required in person, 0 Units)
  • TSD 6526 The Ecology of Ideas (3 Units)
  • TSD ____ Directed Research Course (3 Units)
  • TSD 8320 Learning Community (0 units)

4th semester (spring)

  • TSD 6004 Residential Intensive III (Required in person, 0 Units)
  • TSD 8420 Learning Community (0 units)

Comprehensive Exams - 6 Units

  • TSD 9610 Essay--Dissertation Literature Review (3 Units)
  • TSD 9611 Essay--Dissertation Research Methodology (3 Units)

Electives - 9 Units

  • Electives (9 Units)

Total units for the degree: 36

Dissertation Proposal 

  • TSD 6900 Dissertation Proposal Completion (up to 4 semesters to complete)


  • TSD 7900 Dissertation Writing (up to 8 semesters to complete)

Consciousness Studies Focus

To learn more about the Consciousness Studies specialization in the Transformative Studies Ph.D. program please visit the Consciousness Studies Focus page.

Course Descriptions

For a complete list of course descriptions in the Transformative Studies Ph.D. program please read the  CIIS Academic Catalog.  

Transformative Studies Course Descriptions

TSD 6526 The Ecology of Ideas

All inquiry is situated in an ‘ecology of ideas,’ which is to say the literature for a dissertation, including scholarly articles, books, essays, and /or cultural artifacts. This course supports students as they identify, evaluate, and orient themselves within all this dissertation literature. The course explores the nature and role of theory in any inquiry. Finally, it prepares students to develop and articulate their own stance and theoretical orientation for any type of dissertation, whether it be qualitative, theoretical, or arts-based.

TSD 7419 Self-Inquiry: Using Awareness and Attention for Transformation 

A collaborative exploration of how to use attention and self-awareness to expand personal development and understanding of self and others. The class will include exercises that provide skills for increasing awareness, including self-observation, class discussion, and interpersonal dialogue (developed by David Bohm and J. Krishnamurti) toward the aim of discovering how exploration of self is integral to both personal and social transformation. The course will draw on theoretical and practical contributions from J. Krishnamurti, David Bohm, Jeanne deSalzmann, and Edward Said.

TSD 8005 Introduction to Transformative Studies

This course addresses the relationship between academic inquiry and personal transformation, as well as the transformation of inquiry. Applying insights from Jungian, feminist, and complexity theories, we will explore what it means to be a scholar in the 21st century, the role of the inquirer in every inquiry, how psychological factors and gender influence what and how we inquire, and the importance of developing a strong foundation in scholarship to do creative work, and apply insights from global social theories including but not limited to: feminist and gender studies, intersectionality, class, race, and sexual orientation. This course will also explore the implications of systems/complexity theories for our understandings of knowledge, in the context of global transformation and the problematization of knowledge.

TSD 8120 Learning Community I

This course serves multiple purposes. It is designed to develop a community of online learners; to foster dialogue, reflection, and exploration about the coursework and its relationship to individual and collective interests; to develop or improve basic scholarly skills; and to integrate the material from the coursework. It also serves as an online homeroom.

TSD 8130 Transdisciplinarity: Complex Thought and the Pattern That Connects 

It is becoming increasingly clear that complex issues often cannot be addressed from the perspective of a single discipline. This course focuses on how research is conducted across disciplines. We will briefly explore the history of disciplines and inter- and transdisciplinarity, and study a number of exemplars that draw from disparate disciplines to assess a variety of possible strategies. Transdisciplinarity will be presented as an approach that is driven by inquiry rather than discipline; is meta-paradigmatic rather than intra-paradigmatic; requires a form of complex thought to organize knowledge in a way that connects and contextualizes, rather than separates and reduces; and acknowledges the central role of the knower in all-knowing. How can we learn to think across disciplines in a way that is inquiry based, when we have been taught to think inside our disciplinary silos? The work of a number of transdisciplinary exemplars will be studied in depth. Topics include how to develop a knowledge base in a multidisciplinary approach; how to research, review, and integrate perspectives from different sources relevant for the student's research topic; how to develop a solid understanding of the dominant discourse(s) in one's area of inquiry and address its limitations; and how to develop a theoretical framework for inquiry. The course will also cover how to integrate the knower in the known - how to reflect on how who we are and our values, assumptions, and blind spots play a role in our inquiry. Students will be able to ground all the work in this class in their chosen areas of inquiry.

TSD 8125 Creative Inquiry: Scholarship for the Twenty-first Century 

This course provides an introduction to research as a creative and transformative process. It will address issues such as the relationship between the academic and the transformative; what it means to be a scholar in the 21st century; how to get in touch with one's research passion and integrate it into one's coursework; how to think about research in a way that integrates personal reflection and personal growth with solid, grounded scholarship in an academic context; what the role of the literature review is and how to approach it; and how to develop one's academic voice. The knowledge base is drawn from the philosophy of social science, educational and developmental psychology, creativity research, complexity, and inter- and transdisciplinarity theories and research.

TSD 8210 Self, Society, and Transformation 

This course examines the relationship between self and society in a planetary context. It will address the nature of interconnectedness, examine new ways of understanding our planetary predicament, and introduce interpretive frameworks from the sociology of knowledge, the sociology of social change, and the study of cultures. Throughout the course, students will be invited to look at their own research inquiry through these particular lenses.

TSD 8215 Varieties of Scholarly Experience

This course provides a) an overview of the epistemological and ontological foundations of research, b) a survey of research methods, and c) the basics of research design. As received meanings about research are continually being challenged and expanded, what can epistemological and methodological diversity offer?  In our search for answers, we focus on the ethical role of the researcher in the context of transformative paradigms.  Students will examine the social relevance and specific impact of their research as they begin to frame their own inquiry and identify appropriate methodology.

TSD 9610 Comprehensive Exam: Essay - Dissertation Literature Review 

This course focuses on writing a literature review for the student's dissertation. This literature must be written in such a way that it can be submitted as a publishable article to a journal relevant to the student's interest area.

TSD 9611 Comprehensive Exam: Essay - Dissertation Research Methodology

The second comprehensive exam outlines and articulates the methodology the student will use for the dissertation or equivalent. As well as showing how the student intends to apply the methodology, the paper must, among other things, explain why this particular methodology was chosen, where it is situated in the broad spectrum of available methodologies, and what its limitations are.

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