Fields of Study

The requirements listed under each field of study are for students enrolled in the PhD program. Students in the MA only program should consult with their advisors to set up a course of study.

The contents of this page reflect requirements and guideilnes for students entering the doctoral program before September 2018. Please contact an appropriate faculty member to learn more about current requirements, and check back soon for an update!

There are four subfields under Buddhism: Indian/Theravada Buddhism (not currently offered), Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, Chinese Buddhism, and Japanese Buddhism. Students are trained to teach and do research in the histories, languages and literatures, doctrines, and ritual practices of their chosen traditions. Aside from courses offered in the department on these subjects, students are encouraged to take related courses in Anthropology, Art History, History, EALAC and MESAAS to broaden their training. After one finishes the course work and passes the field exams, it is common to spend at least a year abroad to carry out research on the dissertation.

Language Requirements

Since one works with Buddhist scriptures written in Pali, Sanskrit, Tibetan or Chinese, these are the canonical languages in the field of Buddhism. Much secondary literature is in French, German and Japanese, they are therefore also important in one’s work. We recommend that one should spend as much time in learning these languages as possible. As requirement, the following serves as a guideline. For a Ph.D. candidate in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, 3 years in Sanskrit and 4 years in Tibetan are necessary. If the candidate’s dissertation topic involves the use of Chinese or Japanese sources, then Chinese and/or Japanese will be required in addition to the above; if not, one or the other is still recommended. For a candidate in Chinese Buddhism, 4 years of Chinese (modern and classical) and 3 years of Japanese (modern and classical) are the minimum. Similarly, for a Ph. D. candidate in Japanese Buddhism, 4 years of Japanese and 3 years of Chinese are the minimum. If the candidate’s dissertation topic requires the use of Indo-Tibetan sources, then Sanskrit and/or Tibetan will be necessary in addition to the above; otherwise, only recommended.

First Field Examination

There are two advanced field exams in Buddhist Studies. The first is intended to measure the student's mastery of the general field of Buddhist Studies, broken down into five dimensions; 1) canons, 2) history, 3) social sciences, 4) philosophies, 5) religious praxis. Normally, at the beginning of the third year, the student is given a comprehensive bibliography of classic works in these five subject areas of Buddhist Studies, with which every scholar in the field eventually should be familiar. On the basis of this bibliography, the student prepares a personal, realistic list of works to be mastered during the year, with a view to presenting one 40-50 page essay, on a question or questions formulated in consultation with the committee, addressed in a way that demonstrates mastery of the five dimensions. These essays will be presented in April of the third year, and a two hour oral meeting with the committee will be scheduled to discuss questions arising from the essays.  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.

Second Field Exam

The second advanced field exam focuses on the student's area of specialty. It should not serve as a dissertation proposal (though in some cases its material might naturally be re-worked later into a chapter of a dissertation). Normally, at the beginning of the fourth year, the student will work out a topic, in whatever area or era of Buddhism. The exam proposal should approach the subject if possible with reference to the five dimensions mentioned above. Thus, for example, if the exam is focused on the history of a 15th century Tibetan Buddhist movement, the life and message of a 13th century Japanese monk, or a philosophical controversy between Indian philosophers, the proposal should consider the literary resources available at the time, the historical nexus the movement, monk or philosophers occupied, the social realities of the time and the institutional changes involved, the major philosophical issues and the relevant religious experiences and events. The field exam proposal will be developed during the first semester, a forty to fifty page essay will be completed by March and a two hour defense conducted by early April.

There are two main tracks in Christianity: Ancient Christianity/Late Antiquity and History of Christianity (Medieval/Early Modern).

Ancient Christianity/Late Antiquit

This program is designed to prepare students for professional work in research and teaching, focusing on the interdisciplinary study of early and late ancient Christianity within the context of the broader academic study of religion. The subfield encourages students to work across a range of disciplinary specializations—historical inquiry, philological and literary analysis, translation, art history, archaeology, material culture—and to place the study of ancient and late ancient Christianity within a broader cultural contexts of the ancient Mediterranean world.

Depending on their areas of interest and specialization, students may take courses outside the department and across the offerings of the university (in history, classics, art history, and other relevant departments) as well as courses at Jewish Theological Seminary of America or, after their first year, in the broader consortium that includes NYU, Princeton, Yale, and other nearby institutions. Students in the program often pursue independent reading courses with faculty members to fill out their coursework. Students in the program must document proficiency in the languages relevant to and necessary for their scholarship. Students can document proficiency either by examination or successful completion of advanced coursework in the language. Most admitted students have already achieved some level of proficiency in some of the necessary languages, and most continue language study during their early years in the program. The most relevant languages are generally Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Aramaic, Coptic, and Syriac. Reading proficiency in French and German (and sometimes Italian) are also required.

Students in the Ancient Christianity/Late Antiquity track join other students in the department in theoretical and thematic seminars that encourage students to focus on broad analytical frameworks that will deepen their work in their areas of specialization and enable them to be conversant with the wider theoretical and methodological discussions underway in the academic study of religion—including, but not limited to, social and cultural theory, literary theory, gender and sexuality studies, among others.

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, gnostic literature, a selection of major late ancient Christian writers or genres (e.g., martyrological texts, ascetical theory, hagiography), and the major scholarly questions and debates that surround them. Students can also tailor some of their preparation to their own interests: religious movements or phenomena (e.g., Greek and Roman religions; apocalypticism; asceticism); religious institutions; religious thought (theology, ethics, mysticism); literary forms and rhetoric; philosophical schools; political structures; major historical events or transformations (e.g., the process of the Christianization of the Roman Empire); 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 bibliographies 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 explore 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 a review of scholarship on a well-defined subject that the student plans to address in the dissertation and 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.

History of Christianity (Medieval/Early Modern)

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.
The contents of this page reflect requirements and guideilnes for students entering the doctoral program before September 2018. Please contact an appropriate faculty member to learn more about current requirements, and check back soon for an update!

This field seeks to train the specialist in the major religious traditions of East Asia. Emphasis is placed on the study of Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism on the one hand, and their interactions with popular religious traditions. Those students who plan to specialize in the religions of Korea must consult with the examination committee member(s) for appropriate alterations of the regular examination topics.

First Field Exam

Aim

The first field examination is intended to test the student's ability in the following three areas: 1. knowledge of specialized religious traditions(s); 2. the research skill in the secondary sources in both appropriate western and Asian languages; 3. the mastery of appropriate method(s) to study the subject field.

Scope of Examination

The student is provided with the following two options with regard to the scope of examination:

  1. Concentration in a single religious tradition. The student concentrating in either Taoism or Confucianism must demonstrate his/her mastery of knowledge in one of these traditions in both China and Japan. The student is also encouraged to acquire the essential knowledge of the chosen religious tradition in Korea. Students intending to be specialists of Japanese and Chinese Buddhism must pursue their goal in the appropriate subprograms in the Buddhist Studies Program of our department.
  2. The specialization in Chinese or Japanese religions.

    The student who intends to be a specialist in the religions of China or Japan must demonstrate an equal degree of mastery in at least two of the four subfields described below:

    Chinese religions: Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, popular religions

    Japanese religions: Shinto, Buddhism, Confucianism, popular religions

    The student must demonstrate not only his/her grasp of individual subfields but also his/her mastery of issues concerning the interactions between the selected religious traditions.

Examination Format

The first field examination comprises two parts. In the first part the student takes three one-week take-home examinations in the areas of i) history, ii) doctrine and iii) method of study. In response to the questions in each of the three areas, the student produces three written essays, about 15 pages in length respectively. The second part is a two-hour oral examination, which serves as the defense of the student's three written essays. Based upon the student's selected fields and methods of study, three faculty members, including his/her advisor, are chosen to serve on the examination committee

Preparation

Students are strongly recommended to take "Introduction to Japanese Thought" and "Introduction to Chinese Thought," both offered in conjunction with the EALAC department, as well as courses in Anthropology, Art History and History as relevant to one's training. Upon completion of the relevant course work, in consultation with the members of the examination committee, the student produces a bibliography of essential monographs and articles. The bibliography must be topically arranged according to the selected field and subfields and be approximately ten pages in length. Based upon the proposed bibliography, members of the examination committee formulate questions for the take-home exams. The student is expected to complete the first field exam by the end of the third academic year.

Second Field Examination

The second field exam is intended to test the student's knowledge of primary Chinese and Japanese materials and prepare him/her for advanced research required for the doctoral dissertation. Under the guidance of one of the members of the examination committee, the student writes an essay of approximately fifty pages in length. The essay should be closely related to the student's potential dissertation topic. Based upon the submitted essay, the examination committee comprising three faculty members orally examines the student's linguistic and analytic abilities. The oral examination is approximately two hours in length. The student must complete the second field examination by the end of the fourth academic year.  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.

Language Requirements

By the time of the completion of the first field exam, the student should acquire at least either three years of modern Chinese plus two year of modern Japanese or three years of modern Japanese plus two years of modern Chinese. Before the completion of the second field exam, students must fulfill at least two of the following three requirements: one year of classical Chinese; one year of classical Japanese; one year of Kanbun.

This field seeks to train specialists in Islamic Studies. The program is designed to prepare students to teach and do research in the history, cultures, languages and literatures, doctrines and ritual practices, as well as the social and political articulations of Islam. A particular emphasis is paid to fostering an appreciation of the great diversity of the Islamic tradition, the numerous manifestations of Islamic religiosity and their interactions with other religious traditions, historically and in the contemporary world.

Aside from courses offered in the Department of Religion on these subjects, students may take a wide array of courses in other departments including MESAAS, Anthropology, History, and Art History.  In addition to the plentiful resources available at Columbia and Barnard, students are encouraged to take advantage of the tri-state consortium at CUNY, NYU, Princeton, and Yale. 

Students are required to take at least four graduate seminars pertaining to Islamic studies, in addition to the course work required by the department. Because students enter upon the study of Islam with different interests and backgrounds, no one trajectory or timetable can be specified for all graduate students in the field. The general pattern, however, is as follows:

Year 1: coursework
Year 2: coursework
Year 3: field exams & dissertation research
Year 4: dissertation research
Year 5: dissertation writing

Upon entering the program, students are expected to design a schedule of courses with their advisor and/or an appropriate faculty member in the field.  A recommended potential course of study might take the following form:

Year 1: In addition to beginning their coursework, students should complete departmental course requirements in "theory and method" and consider study of a “zone of inquiry.”  At this point, students should also focus on language study, take additional courses to develop area and theoretical expertise, including gaining broad familiarity with the world’s major religious traditions.

Summer after year 1:  Intensive language study and/or study abroad.

Year 2: Complete course requirements with an eye towards further developing their research interests both within the department and in related disciplines. At this point, students should begin planning for their M. Phil. Exam by identifying relevant subjects, approaching potential examiners, and considering dissertation topics.  Beginning in the second year, students serve as teaching fellows for religion department courses.

Summer after year 2: Some students might further develop their language skills, pursue study abroad, devote time for M. Phil Exam preparation, or conduct preliminary dissertation research in preparation for writing grant applications.

Year 3: It is important to note that most grant proposals to fund dissertation research have early fall deadlines.  This year is often devoted to preparation for  the M. Phil exams, which are taken in the middle or near the end of the spring semester.  Note that a complete dissertation prospectus is usually defended by the end of spring semester.

Year 4: This year is spent in dissertation research and writing.   

Year 5: In theory, students complete the writing of  their dissertation in the fifth year. For students who receive external funding for their fourth-year research, the five years of GSAS funding can extend through the sixth year.  (Serve as teaching assistant in fall and spring semesters.)

Language Requirements

By the time of the completion of the second field exam, students are expected to have achieved competency in at least two languages of the Islamic world (Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Urdu or other, depending on the student’s research interests and needs. Students are free to choose any combination of languages.  When relevant for their research, students may also be expected to gain reading competence in a European language, at the discretion of the dissertation advisor (in consultation with the student). 

No student may proceed beyond the M. Phil Exam without having demonstrated a research-level competence in the language (or languages) required for the successful completion of his/her dissertation. Students must achieve at least fourth-year competency in the language(s) in question.  Proficiency (in a primary research language) is evaluated through a special competency exam arranged by the advisor. Competence in a student’s secondary “Islamic” language requires successful completion of at least three years of language study. 

The M. Phil Exam

The purpose of the exam is to show that the student has a basic grasp of the major issues and methodological approaches of Islamic studies. A student should demonstrate a grasp of the key scholarly debates/controversies in contemporary Islamic studies including (but not limited to) historiography, theology, law, and political history.  

Before a student takes their M. Phil Exam, they must demonstrate a mastery of the sources and methods necessary for the development and execution of a focused research project of dissertation.  The means for making this determination are left to the discretion of the advisor in consultation with the student.

The exam consists of three subject-based assessments followed by an oral examination which should take place no later than two weeks after the completion of the final written exam

Each student is required to develop three reading lists.  This is done in consultation with the primary advisor and other faculty examiners.   Reading lists must be approved and finalized by both the student and the examination committee (at least) one semester prior to the administration of the exam. 

There is considerable latitude in the selection of the subjects on which the student is to be examined
Topics for the subject exams may include: early Islamic history, Islamic Law, theology, Sufism, Islamic thought in the modern period, the anthropology of Islam, etc.  Students are strongly advised to include at least one subject from the formative or classical periods, especially if they have little previous background in these areas.

Format and Procedures

Part 1: Written exam (9-11 double spaced pages) on the state of the Field of Islamic Studies, focused on problems of method and perspective/theory.  This exam is intended to set a broad context for dissertation research and teaching in the student’s primary area of scholarship (up to 50 titles).

Part 2: Written subject exam (9-11 double spaced pages) (30 titles).

Part 3: Second written subject exam (9-11 double spaced pages). Parts 2 and 3 should draw upon different titles and address different themes or methodologies. (30 titles)

Normally, each exam is to be answered (closed-book) in a four-hour period, though the format of these exams is at the discretion of the primary advisor and should be determined in consultation with the student well in advance of the exam (see other alternatives in the general departmental guidelines for the M. Phil exam).   All three parts of the exam must be administered within a seven-day period.  

Oral M. Phil. Examination

Within two weeks of the written exam, an oral discussion should be scheduled to allow students to elaborate and further develop the ideas presented in their written exams.  The oral exam also allows students to explore issues for future investigation. If both the written and oral exams are deemed satisfactory, the student will be credited with a pass. If not, the committee may ask the student to provide a written supplement to show that weaknesses have been overcome before receiving a Pass. Alternatively, the committee may choose to assign the mark of “Low Pass” (see departmental guidelines).

The Dissertation prospectus and oral defense:

Within 6 weeks of completing the M Phil exam (or over the following summer), in preparation for the dissertation prospectus oral defense, the student should submit to their committee members the following:

  1. The dissertation prospectus. The prospectus should be approximately 25 double-spaced pages long and should include a chapter outline with brief chapter summaries, as well as a detailed bibliography of relevant sources.
  2. It is optional for a student to also submit a portfolio of seminar papers written during the student’s coursework in the program to give committee members an overall sense of the student’s intellectual trajectory. Students are not expected to revise these papers for inclusion in the portfolio.

The oral defense should be scheduled no later than a semester following the completion of the M. Phil. Exam. (To remain in good standing with GSAS, the defense must be completed within 6 months of the M. Phil.) It should consist of an oral examination by a faculty committee (presumably the eventual dissertation committee) of a dissertation prospectus. The student should consult with members of the field to define a topic, frame both central and secondary questions that will guide the research, outline a methodological approach, and provide an annotated bibliography of primary and secondary sources.

The written document must be submitted (at least) two weeks prior to the date of the oral defense.

Updated July 2019

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.

The course of study 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. 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.   

The program in North American Religions at Columbia trains doctoral students to research and teach in a wide range of historical and contemporary problems and issues in the study of American religions. We expect students to develop depth of knowledge of the history and development of American religions, as well as expertise in one or more methods or approaches to the study of American religion.

Coursework:

Graduate students in the field are expected to take the equivalent of 4-6 graduate courses (or faculty-led directed readings for credit) in American religions and research methods in which they will explore and develop their research interests. Students in North American Religion regularly take graduate level courses elsewhere in the university (for instance, Anthropology, African-American Studies, Sociology, History, and Gender and Sexuality Studies) to complement coursework in Religion.

From this coursework we expect that students will develop two extended papers: (a) a critical literature review that will help form the basis of one (or more) subject areas for the M.Phil. examination, and (b) an original research paper that may in subsequent revisions be suitable for publication.

  1. The critical literature review essay is typically developed in conjunction with a course offered by faculty in North American Religions in the Department, for example Religion in America or Secular and Spiritual America. Writing a critical literature review presents an early opportunity for students to develop knowledge of current debates and framing of a particular area, problem, or topic within the field, a useful endeavor both in preparation for the M.Phil. examination and for conducting original research.
  2. An original research paper also typically begins with a seminar paper, and extends and deepens under the guidance of a faculty member in a formal or informal directed reading. Writing this paper allows students to explore and gain experience using the methods (historical, literary, ethnographic) that they are likely to use in dissertation research. The topic and scope of the paper should be discussed with faculty advisors, and students should feel encouraged to use summer funding to conduct research, as appropriate. A completed draft of this research paper should be submitted to the student’s advisor no later than one week before the M.Phil. oral examination.

Languages:

Students must exhibit intermediate-level competency in one research language (in addition to English), before the beginning of the third year.

The M.Phil. Examination

General guidelines for the M.Phil. examination can be found on the department webpage. We encourage students to work closely with faculty starting in their second year to develop paper topics and reading lists. Students should work with their advisor and committee to develop reading lists and to decide the format of the examination. We encourage students to create a syllabus for one of the three examination lists.

The Dissertation Proposal and Defense

The dissertation proposal defense should take place as soon as possible after the M.Phil. examination, but under no circumstances later than six months after the examination. The dissertation proposal is written with the advice and consultation of a committee of three faculty members. Typically 30-40 pages in length, it should include an intellectual rationale and description of the project, a discussion of its potential contribution(s) to the field, an assessment of feasibility (often including a projected chapter outline and timeline). The oral defense also typically includes one additional outside reader.

Timeline to Degree

Year one: theory and method, zones, language requirements, and coursework in American religion and related fields

Year one summer: language work, research, internship opportunities

Year two: continued coursework, take theory/zone and MA examination, work with faculty members to identify area of focus for the literature review paper and research paper; TA in fall and spring.

Year two summer: develop and finalize reading lists for M.Phil. examinations, continue/conduct research

Year three: Fall: reading for M.Phil. examinations, begin to develop dissertation research proposal. Submit original research paper. Spring: take the M.Phil examination, schedule dissertation proposal defense (for late spring or early fall). TA in fall and spring

Year four: begin dissertation research, apply for dissertation research grants; revise research paper for publication; TA fall and spring

Year five: dissertation fellowship year. Apply for dissertation completion grants in the fall.

Updated June 2018

Coursework requirements

Language courses in the languages needed to fulfill requirements for Ph.D. (at least one of which must be French or German).

Two courses in the history of western philosophy.

One course in a non-western philosophical tradition.

At least four seminars in the philosophy of religion Students will normally take at least four courses in an appropriately defined area of specialization that may be identified either in topical or historical terms and two elective courses.

Instruction in special tools required for the specific area of research (e.g. additional languages, advanced logic, research methods from another discipline) will be worked out in consultation with the advisor.

First Field Exams 

Two closed-book examinations -one on the modern period and one on a particular issue or problem. The topic for the second exam is to be determined in consultation with the faculty advisor.  Each exam is to be followed by an oral defense before a committee consisting of a least two faculty.  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.

Second Field Exam

A paper on a topic that will prepare the student to write the dissertation prospectus.  This paper might later become the focus of a chapter of the dissertation. Choice of topic is left to the judgment of the student in consultation with the faculty advisor. This exam is also followed by an oral defense before at least two faculty.

Although students have different interests and backgrounds, the general pattern of study for students entering upon the study of South Asian religions is something as follows:

Year 1: Complete departmental course requirements in "theory and method" and a “zone of inquiry;” pursue language study; take additional courses to develop area and theoretical expertise, including gaining broad familiarity with the world’s major religious traditions. If “Issues in the Study of South Asian Religions” is being taught in the first or second year, take it.

Summer after year 1:  Intensive language study in South Asia.

Year 2: Round out course work in South Asian religions; take topical courses relevant to the student’s individual research interests both within the department and in related disciplines. Begin to develop reading lists for the M. Phil. Exam. Begin to develop dissertation proposal. (Serve as teaching assistant in fall and spring semesters, experiences which may also give you the opportunity to gain familiarity with another religious tradition as well deepening your knowledge of South Asian religions.)

Summer after year 2: Preliminary dissertation research in South Asia. (AIIS grant proposal for dissertation research is due July 1 of second year for research to be carried out in fourth year.)

Year 3: Most grant proposals to fund dissertation research have early fall deadlines.  Prepare for the M. Phil exam, which is to be taken in the middle of the spring semester.  Complete dissertation prospectus by the end of spring semester. (Serve as teaching assistant in fall and spring semesters.)

Year 4: Engage in dissertation research in South Asia. Some students spend more than a year in South Asia.

Year 5: Write the dissertation. (Serve as teaching assistant in fall and spring semesters.) Most students require more than a year to complete the dissertation. For students who receive external funding for their fourth-year research in South Asia, the five years of GSAS funding can extend through the sixth year.

Language capability in the South Asia Field

By the time they begin their dissertation research abroad, all students are expected to have achieved at least a fourth-year level of competency in one South Asian language and a third-year level competency in a second. For students of Hinduism, one of these languages will almost invariably be Sanskrit. The second will be a regional, "mother-tongue" language. For students of South Asian Islam, the languages will normally be distributed between Urdu, Persian, and Arabic. For students of Sikhism, Punjabi (including the language of the Guru Granth) will be the principal language, and three years of additional competence will normally be contributed by Urdu and/or Braj Bhasa. Some dissertation topics may require an additional (third) language, in which the student should acquire at least intermediate competency. The designations “Hinduism” and “Sikhism” are not meant to exhaust the realm of potential field concentrations, some of which may be hard to capture within the framework of an “ism.”

It is optimal that this "four/three" (or, when necessary for the individual student’s project, four/three/two) requirement be met by the end of the student's third year in the program--if necessary, by doing language work in a structured program either in the United States or elsewhere during one or two summers. The minimum expectation, however, is that the student will have achieved a "three/two" competency by the end of the third year.

The MPhil Exam

Part 1: Written exam (9-11 double spaced pages) on the state of the Field of South Asian Religions, focused on problems of method and perspective/theory.  This exam is intended to set a broad context for dissertation research and teaching in the student’s primary area of scholarship (up to 50 titles).

Part 2: Written exam (9-11 double spaced pages) focused on one aspect of the student’s broad field of concentration—a band, period, or stream within South Asian religions. (30 titles).

Part 3: Written exam (9-11 double spaced pages), focused on a second aspect of the student’s field of concentration. (30 titles). Alternatively, this exam could explore a complementary field of interest within the span of South Asian religions.  In either case, Parts 2 and 3 should draw upon different titles and address different themes or methodologies.

Additional material to be submitted before the oral exam:

A design for a course (syllabus) that would either be comparative or fall within the South Asian realm. The syllabus should include an annotative essay of five pages double-spaced explaining the rationale of the course and should include all the trappings of a regular syllabus, as if it were to be submitted to some institution’s Committee on Instruction for approval as a regular course.  Students should specify at what level the course is proposed to be taught, and in what sort of educational setting.

The Dissertation prospectus and oral defense

Within 6 weeks of completing the M Phil exam (or over the following summer), in preparation for the dissertation prospectus oral defense, the student should submit to their committee members the following:

  1. The dissertation prospectus.  The prospectus should be approximately 25 double-spaced pages long and should include a chapter outline with brief chapter summaries, as well as a detailed bibliography of relevant sources.
     
  2. A portfolio of seminar papers written during the student’s coursework in the program.  The portfolio is intended to give committee members an overall sense of the student’s intellectual trajectory and to encourage students to think about papers they may eventually want to develop further for publication.  Students are not expected to revise these papers for inclusion in the portfolio.