Judaism

Ph.D. Program: Judaism Subfield

  1. General Description

The program is designed to prepare students to do research and teach in Jewish studies, broadly defined as the study of the historical, philosophical, and religious experience of Jewish cultures and their dialogue with the non-Jewish world. Upon entrance students are expected to design a track of courses suited to their interests by consulting with the appropriate faculty member in the field. (Some students may wish to pursue a “Late Antiquity” track that combines the study of Judaism and Christianity. A description of that track can be found below.)

The course of study in the Judaism subfield can be historically based with a specific focus on Late Antiquity, Medieval, Early Modern or Modern periods or take an interdisciplinary, tradition-traversing approach to the religious formations. Another course of study can be theoretically or thematically defined and explore specific questions and/or periods. Another course of study can be theoretically or thematically defined and explore specific questions and/or periods. Areas of inquiry might include Jewish difference, Jewish thought and mysticism, gender and sexuality, philology, as well as the intersection between Jewish culture and the arts. This approach will involve working with at least two faculty members in the field, and more broadly in the department. It may also invite perspectives in comparative religion. Students will be expected to become conversant in theories and methods in the contemporary academy, first and foremost in religious studies, and to fulfill all the general requirements of the Ph.D. program in Religion.

Aside from courses offered in the Department of Religion on these subjects, students are encouraged take courses in Jewish Studies in other departments including MESAAS, Anthropology, History, Philosophy, Art History, and other disciplines, as well as at The Jewish Theological Seminary and Union Theological Seminary. In addition, doctoral candidates may take advantage of the wide range of courses accessible through the tri-state consortium at NYU, CUNY, Princeton, and Yale.

  1. Language Requirements

All doctoral applicants are required to demonstrate language proficiency for primary sources in their area of specialization. In addition to Hebrew, reading competence in Aramaic and one modern language is expected for students specializing in rabbinic literature. Study of Syriac and/or Pahlavi can be arranged for students planning to specialize in the Babylonian Talmud. Doctoral candidates specializing in the Early Modern or Modern period will have to demonstrate competency in two modern languages of secondary scholarship. Proficiency is to be tested through coursework or by an exam. Students may not proceed beyond the second field exam unless they have successfully completed their language requirements.

  1. Suggested Year Breakdown

Year 1: Coursework

Year 2: Coursework

Year 3: First and second field exams

Year 4: Dissertation research and writing

Year 5: Dissertation completion and defense

According to Columbia University policy, students must complete their PhD within seven years of full-time registration.

  1. Field Exam

The purpose of the field exam is for the student to cement and supplement her familiarity with major themes, methods, and debates in the field of Jewish studies. For the exam, the student will devise three topics or areas within Jewish studies with accompanying bibliographic lists of approximately 15 works for each list, which makes 45 books and articles total. These areas might consist of literary corpora or genres; material culture; a particular theoretical frame or methodological problem; major historical events; social or political movements; significant individual figures; philosophical or theological problems; or any other rubrics that are significant within Jewish studies and will form a solid foundation for the student to do research and teach within the field.

As the student reads the works on the lists, she will formulate and refine an essay question for each list and select key primary texts that relate to the question. For the exam itself, the student will have a week in which to write 10 to 12-page answers for each question. The student will submit these essays to a committee of three faculty members (one of whom may be outside Barnard/Columbia). Within a week of submission, the committee will administer a two-hour oral exam based on the essays. The student is expected to complete the field exam by the middle of her third year. Upon passing the field exam, the student receives their M.Phil. degree.

      5. Dissertation Prospectus

After the field exam, the student writes and defends a dissertation prospectus that will serve as a guide for the dissertation and form the core of funding proposals. The defense must take place within 6 months of the field exam and should be taken by the end of the third year.  That prospectus should include: description of topic; research questions; provisional argument; review of relevant research; methodology; contribution to scholarship; provisional chapter outline; and an annotated bibliography and list of primary and secondary sources. The length of the prospectus will vary, but it should not be fewer than 25 pages and not more than 50. The student will discuss and defend the prospectus, displaying fluency in the primary texts in their original language, in an oral examination to be scheduled with a committee of three faculty members. The student must submit the prospectus to this committee at least two weeks prior to the scheduled defense. Upon successful defense of the prospectus, the student will move on to the research and writing of their dissertation.  

Late Antiquity

The late antiquity track is designed for students to take an interdisciplinary, tradition-traversing approach to the religious formations of the Mediterranean basin in the first six centuries of the common era. Students may choose to enter this track either through the Christianity or the Judaism subfields, depending on whether their interests lie more within early Christianity or within rabbinic Judaism, so that they become specialists in one of these two areas even while maintaining the broad perspective that the track encourages. The track has a literary focus, but with appreciation for and training in the study of other types of cultural artifacts such as art, architecture, coinage, and other kinds of material culture. Students will be trained in the study of the ancient Mediterranean textual traditions relevant to the study of early Christianity and rabbinic Judaism and will be expected to become conversant in important theories and methods in the contemporary academy, especially in religious studies. Students are expected to take related courses in classics, history, art history, archaeology, and other disciplines, and to take advantage of the consortium with Union Theological Seminary, the Jewish Theological Seminary, and regional institutions like NYU, Yale, and Princeton. 

During the semesters of course work, students will pursue competency in modern French and/or German for the purposes of reading scholarship in those languages, and in the ancient languages most relevant to their research interests: Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, Latin, etc. It is expected that the student will have passed all the language requirements by the end of course work at the close of the second year. Competency will be demonstrated either by exam or by successful completion of intermediate or advanced coursework in the particular language.

The First Field Exam

The student is expected to take their first field exam by the end of their third academic year. The exam is designed to enrich the student's knowledge of late antique religions in their broader social and political context.

For the first field exam, the student selects four areas of study that span a variety of sources, approaches, and historical periods. These areas should cover key ancient literary corpora like Bible, Dead Sea Scrolls, rabbinic literature, etc., and the major scholarly questions and debates that surround them.  Other themes that a student could tailor to his or her own interests might include: religious movements or phenomena (e.g., Greek mystery cults; apocalypticism; asceticism); religious institutions (e.g., yeshiva/metivta; ecclesial developments); religious thought (theology; ethics; mysticism); literary forms and rhetoric (e.g., the relationships of the gospels or talmudic narrative to Greek romances and biography); philosophical schools (e.g., cynicism; middle Platonism); political structures (e.g., the provincial city in imperial times); major historical events (e.g., the Jewish war against the Romans); social and economic relations (e.g., the family; slavery; patronage networks; literacy; poverty; taxation). Areas should remain relatively broad and should include theories and methods from other disciplines, such as sociology, anthropology, comparative literature, and gender theory.

In consultation with the advisor and two other faculty members, the student will refine the study areas and create a bibliography of both primary and secondary sources for each one. This final document of study areas and their bibliographies serves as the basis for the exam, which has two parts, the first oral, and the second written. Again in consultation with the advisor and with the examiners, the student develops one question for each of the four lists and writes four essays, each consisting of ten to twelve pages, to address the questions. The student has a week in which to write and to submit the essays. Approximately a week after submission, the second part of the exam, a two-hour oral meeting, is scheduled, when the examiners discuss the essays with the student and probe the ideas and claims in them.

If both written and oral presentations are deemed acceptable by the examiners, the student will be credited with a pass. If significant weaknesses emerge and the student does not pass the exam, the committee may elect either to allow the student to retake the exam or to ask the student to leave the program.

The Second Field Exam

The second field exam, which should be completed within at most six months of the first field exam, is intended to prepare the student for writing the dissertation. For the second field exam, the student prepares an approximately fifty-page essay dedicated to:  1) a review of scholarship on a well-defined subject that the student plans to address in the dissertation and 2) an analysis of key primary sources related to that subject. The review of scholarship should not simply summarize the scholarship – though it should do that as well – but it should take a critical and creative perspective on it. In a one-hour oral exam with the advisor and the committee, to be scheduled as soon as possible after the student’s submission of the essay, the student should show mastery of both the scholarship and the primary sources related to their dissertation topic and should be able to discuss initial plans for dissertation writing and research. The exam may include testing of the student's facility in languages necessary to research the proposed dissertation topic.

The student should plan to write and complete their dissertation prospectus concurrent with or immediately after the second field exam so that exams and prospectus are both completed by the middle of the fourth year. The prospectus should be approved at the latest by the end of the fourth year.

Students should be in close consultation with faculty in the fields of their specialization (e.g., Judaism or Christianity) in working out the details of their particular programs.