Both the D.Litt and the Ph.D. are awarded to individuals who have displayed great academic understanding in their field of study; however, the D.Litt is a unique distinction offered to those rare individuals who have contributed to the study and understanding of a subject. A recipient of the Doctors of Letters recognition is one who has no direct affiliation with the university or college, whereas a recipient of the Doctor of Philosophy does.
Doctor of Philosophy
To obtain a PhD or a Doctor of Philosophy, an individual has to complete a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in a subject at an accredited university. The individual applies to study and complete the Ph.D. and usually spends about eight to 10 years at university. The Ph.D. is based on the same subject attained in the master's program. To complete the program, the academic must display astute knowledge of a particular discipline and specialize in a particular subject within that discipline. For example, a Doctor of Philosophy of English literature may specialize in American literature.
Doctor of Letters
A Doctor of Letters is a rare academic title given to established and accomplished scholars and academics. Recipients of the D.Litt have all contributed to knowledge in the humanities, have published scholarly articles and journals, and their original ideas have progressed human understanding in some profound way.
The Doctor of Letters recognition is usually awarded to individuals in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and India, following a long period of extensive research and many publications in scholarly and academic journals. Some examples of academic recipients include Elie Wiesel, an American writer, professor and political activist.
An Honorary Degree is the closest American equivalent to the Doctor of Letters. The recognition is granted to individuals who did not receive a degree in the area they contributed to; however, since their contribution is so great, it would be remiss not to recognize them for all they've accomplished and how they have impacted society. For example, Bill Cosby received one for his contributions to television, Mark Twain for literature and Bob Dylan for music, as well as Bill Clinton and Bill Gates for humanitarian reasons.