There are two main tracks in Christianity: New Testament and Christian Origins, and History of Christianity.  A Late Antiquity track is offered also.  See the Judaism subfield.

New Testament and Christian Origins

This program is designed to enable a student to achieve competency in the history and literature of early Christianity of the New Testament period. Such study must incorporate knowledge of the larger socio-religious contexts of both contemporary Judaism and Greco-Roman cultures if early Christianity is to be adequately understood and interpreted. For these pursuits, the student has available the considerable resources at Columbia, Barnard, Union, the Jewish Theological Seminary and other related institutions. Courses at Union and Barnard are available in the area of early Christianity and pertinent areas of Hebrew Scriptures. Barnard and Columbia offer necessary work in the areas of Greco-Roman culture and religion, including classical and Hellenistic Judaism. The Jewish theological Seminary provides invaluable resources for the study of the various areas of Judaism pertinent to the study of early Christianity. An ongoing seminar in the research of early Christianity is offered by Union and is required of all students during each semester of course work. In consultation with the advisor, the student will plan from the beginning a coherent program. For areas needed but not covered by actual courses, tutorials may be offered by the various instructors.

During the semesters of course work the student will pursue competency in the five languages required by the program: Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, French and German (although for good reasons a modern language other than French or German may be substituted). Advanced courses in Greek and Hebrew are offered by Union to prepare the student for the passing of competency tests in these languages. Competency in Aramaic is satisfied by the passing of the course in Aramaic regularly offered at Union. Courses in French and German are offered during the summer at Union, as well as at various other institutions. It is expected that the student will have passed all the language requirements by the end of the course work.

The First Field Exam

This exam is designed to test the student's knowledge of early Christian history, literature, institutions and thought (from inception to c. 150 c.e.) within the context of the larger culture of the Greco-Roman world, including Palestinian and Hellenistic Judaism. Since this is a large area of study, including virtually the entire Mediterranean Basin of Hellenistic-Roman time, it is necessary to control the material required, allowing focus without sacrificing scope.

The balance between focus and scope is achieved by the student selecting about eight to ten areas upon which to concentrate. Examples of contextual topics would be topics such as Greek mystery cults (e.g. Isis), philosophical movements (e.g. cynicism, middle Platonism), political structures (e.g. the provincial city in imperial times), historical segments (e.g. the Jewish war against the Romans), Jewish thought (e.g. apocalypticism, Philo), social relations (e.g. the family, status and activity of women).

Early Christian materials could be included in topics such as ecclesial developments (e.g. boundary setting), thought (e.g. theology of Gospel of John, significance of apocalypticism), literary forms (e.g. rhetorical influence on Paul's writings, relation of Gospel to Greek romances and biography, creation of apologetic literature), social relations (e.g. relation of church to urban pressures, emergence of egalitarian structures in churches), historical developments (e.g. reactions of the churches to the Jewish reconstruction at Yahneh).

Methodological issues should also serve as a focus for study. Examples here might include issues concerning New Testament "introduction" (e.g., interrelationship among the Gospels, form criticism, composition criticism, rhetorical criticism), the use of sociological and/or anthropological approaches, or the use of feminist hermeneutic.

In consultation with the advisor and faculty, the student will refine the study areas and create a realistic bibliography that will give a basic final document which then serves as a contract between the student and the examiners, and thus as the basis on which the examiners will formulate the questions. A maximum of eight hours is permitted for the actual writing of the exam; an additional 20 hours may be used to prepare and organize the materials needed for the answers.

The exam is a closed book exam, with the exception that texts of the period discussed may be consulted. Ancient texts in Greek must be discussed, as far as possible, in the original language. Ancient texts in other languages may be used in translation for purposes of location and general citation. Words and passages which need to be analyzed from a linguistic point of view, however, should be treated in the original language, if the original is Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic.

Within a month after the written exam, an oral discussion between the student and examiners will occur, probing perceived weaknesses in the student's preparation and exploring issues of possible further investigation. If both written and oral presentations are deemed acceptable by the examiners, the student will be credited with a pass.  The examination committee may decide on one of three courses of action: (a) pass a student, (b) terminate a student from the program, or (c) allow the student to retake the exams.

The Second Field Exam

The second exam is normally, but not necessarily, a research paper, exploring areas of thesis interests. If the student wishes, a written exam may be substituted for the paper. The study will focus on research in the general area, or a specific dimension, of the intended thesis; if a paper is written, it is not to be a draft of a chapter of the thesis itself, although the material studied should be relevant to thesis production. If a language beyond those required for adequate work in the thesis area, the exam may include testing of the student's facility in that language.

The student will write a proposal for the study, including a basic bibliography, to be approved by the examiners. If a paper, it should be limited to approximately 50 pages. If a text, the description for the first exam will apply. Within a month after the study is presented, an oral discussion will occur between the student and the examiners. If both paper and the oral presentation are deemed acceptable by the examiners, the student will be credited with a pass. If significant weaknesses emerge, the student may be asked to rewrite or add to those parts of the exam.

History of Christianity

Students who concentrate in the History of Christianity are expected: a) to acquire a competent knowledge of a broad range of Christian history (from the 3rd Century CE to the Early Modern Era), and (b) to acquire a more detailed grasp of a special area within that history. The Two Field Examinations are to be designed in such wise as to enable the individual student to demonstrate that he or she has met these expectations.

The study of the religious ideas of the eras will be conducted within an ongoing analysis of the larger socio-political contexts of the times. Many resources for the illumination of historical context exist within Columbia (especially the departments of Classics, History, Art History, and Slavic Studies) and neighboring institutions such as Barnard, Union Theological Seminary, and Jewish Theological Seminary.

Students are expected to confer closely with their faculty advisor(s) about the content of their individual field examinations. The subjects of examination, when they have been agreed upon, should be set out in writing and accompanied by student-generated bibliographies that define the scope of the student's responsibility in each of the areas of examination. Advisors will notify the department of their approval of such proposals and retain copies of the written agreement. Students are expected to complete courses in more than one historical period, and are urged to consult course listings in other relevant departments for offerings which might be of particular interest.

Language Requirements

All students must pass examinations in French and German and whatever additional languages are required for specialized work in the ultimate area of concentration. Latin is required for all students in Medieval Christianity, and Greek is necessary for those specializing in the Patristic/Byzantine era. It is also desirable that candidates specializing in the early period begin to work in at least one other ancient language [such as Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopic or Syriac] at an early stage in the program. Students should satisfy these requirements during the period of course-work, before completion of the first field exam. Classes in Syriac, Coptic, and Greek are offered in Columbia and neighboring institutions on a regular basis.

The First Field Examination

The first field examination is designed to test mastery of survey knowledge over the whole field from the 3rd century to the Early Modern Era (but see note 3 below).

  1. It is normally composed of three two-hour examinations, the writing of which may occupy a period of not more than two weeks. (These may be a mixed diet of closed or open book examinations – as determined by consultation with the advisor).
  2. All examinations shall be read by at least two members of the faculty.
  3. The interests of the student will be consulted in determining the focus of these exams. Two of the three shall normally be concerned with a survey of Christian History across periods and regions (specifically (a) Patristic/Byzantine, (b) Latin Medieval, (c) Early Modern European). With the consent of the advisor, a student will also select one of these periods to form the sole subject of the third two-hour segment of the exam, reflecting a more specific topic within the ‘ primary focus area’ of each candidate.
  4. When all segments of the exam have been completed, an oral exam relating to the content of the written papers shall be scheduled to take place not later than the end of the semester in which the exam was written. The oral exam shall be conducted by the faculty readers of the written papers and shall last approximately one hour. Its focus will be to consider the overall grasp of the field demonstrated in the written papers, and to explore areas that could be profitably developed. If the written and oral presentations are deemed acceptable by the examiners, the candidate will be awarded a PASS. If significant weaknesses emerge the candidate may be asked to supplement those parts of the Field examination.

The Second Field Examination

  1. The Second Field Exam will entirely be concerned with the ‘primary focus area’ of the student's chosen concentration, and might best be designed to cover the general area of specialization within which the student proposes to write a dissertation.
  2. The scope and subject matter of this examination must be arranged between the student and his or her advisor. It should be narrowly enough defined so that the student may be held responsible not only for accepted general knowledge, but also for questions regarding the present state of research and discussion in the field. Work undertaken in the second field exam will have a relevance directed towards the dissertation, though will not form part of it.
  3. The examination shall take the form either of a three-hour written exam, or a research paper on a topic specified by the advisor, to be followed (within the same week in this case) by a one-hour oral exam conducted by the reader of the written paper. If the examination takes the form of a written paper it ought to be completed within a period of no more than six weeks from the approval of the topic. If both exam/paper and oral presentation are deemed acceptable by the examiner, the student will be credited with a pass. If significant weaknesses emerge, the student may be asked to rewrite, or add to those parts of the exam.