PhD in Judaism

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.