Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Admission requirements

Entry into the doctoral program is limited to applicants who have earned an academic Master’s degree in Religious Studies or Theology in a recognized graduate program, or those who have finished the course requirements of such a program with a minimum CGPA of 3.5/4.0.

Advanced standing (Ph.D.2) may be granted if the completed Master’s level work included a thesis in the same area as that of the intended doctoral specialization and involved not less than six (6) courses (18 credits).

It is recommended that French and/or German be included in the bachelor’s or master’s work preceding doctoral study. For Asian Religions, students intending to enter the Ph.D. program must have preparation in the appropriate languages, normally Sanskrit or Pali for South Asian religion, Tibetan for Tibetan Buddhism, Chinese and/or Japanese for East Asian religion. For Biblical Studies, students intending to enter the Ph.D. program must have preparation in the appropriate languages, normally Hebrew and Greek.

Applicants for doctoral programs are requested to submit a substantial sample of their scholarly writing (15–20 pages) with their application.

Course requirements

Candidates admitted to Ph.D. 1 take a minimum of six graduate seminars during their first year and four seminars during their Ph.D. 2 year: those admitted to Ph.D. 2 must take a minimum of four graduate seminars. If possible, two seminars should be in their area of specialization, and at least one should be at the RELG 700-level. RELG 745 is a required course.

For a full list of available courses, please refer to Course Offerings.

Language requirements

The School of Religious Studies offers courses in primary text source languages, such as Biblical Hebrew, Aramaic, Biblical Greek, Sanskrit, Pali, Tamil and classical literary Tibetan. The School does not guarantee instruction in any languages other than those mentioned above. Therefore, if a student wishes to have a language such as French, German or Japanese counted as a second language, instruction may have to be sought outside the School.

The successful completion of at least twelve credits at the post-secondary level in a language course, or successful completion of a language examination administered by the appropriate member of the School, will constitute evidence of the student’s having the required reading knowledge of the language in question.

Students are required to give their area committee evidence of reading knowledge of two languages other than English. These languages must be chosen from modern languages in which there is a significant amount of scholarship relevant to the student’s area of research or from classical languages relevant to the student’s area of research (see also the Area requirements).

Research in some disciplines, or on certain thesis topics, may require proficiency in more than two languages besides English. In that case, additional language requirements may be stipulated by the supervisor.

Residency requirements

Refers to the number of terms (or years) students must be registered on a full-time basis to complete their program. Students are not permitted to graduate until they have fulfilled the residence requirement (or paid the corresponding fees) in their program.

Candidates admitted to Ph.D. 1 must be registered on a full-time basis for four consecutive years (8 terms) and candidates admitted to Ph.D. 2 must be registered on a full-time basis for three consecutive years (6 terms), after which they will continue as additional session students until completion of the program. Half-time study may be permitted upon request.

Program information

The purpose of the Ph.D. program is to engage students in advanced academic studies, normally in preparation for an academic career.

Advising

One of the professors in the area of specialization acts as program advisor of each candidate in that area until a thesis supervisor is selected. Each candidate must meet with his or her advisor or supervisor prior to registration to select courses and to obtain advice concerning the requirements.

Doctoral colloquium

As one of their requirements, all Ph.D. students in residence shall attend the monthly graduate colloquium, at which time a student's thesis project is formally presented and discussed. Each student is required to present an aspect of his or her thesis research to a meeting of the Doktorklub before the thesis is submitted.

Named after a more famous Doktorklub in 19th century Berlin, of which Karl Marx was a member, this Doktorklub is intended to debate theses and discuss dissertations. It serves two purposes:

  • to allow doctoral students to present their theses at the stage when the outline is settled and work well in hand – usually the year following acceptance of the thesis proposal. Consultation with the supervisor is necessary to confirm readiness to present.
  • to foster general discussion as to dissertation goals and method. Faculty members, or invited speakers on occasion, may present their own research as example.

Deferral of admission

Under exceptional circumstances, an admission for a particular semester can be considered for a deferral. This can be considered only if the student has not registered. If the student has already registered, no deferral can be granted. The student must withdraw from the University and apply for admission to a later term.

Tracking progress and program time limits

By annual registration, all doctoral candidates may maintain their connection with the University for four years after completing their residence requirements. The object of these regulations is to encourage candidates to complete their theses and qualify for their degree without undue delay. Ph.D. Candidates must complete the degree by Ph.D. year 7.

For more information, including details on policy compliance and extensions, please refer to the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies website on time limitations.

For details on required documentation to track research progress for graduate students, click here.

Comprehensive exams

During Ph.D. 2 students should approach a member of the faculty to request supervision of the dissertation and to plan the Comprehensive Examinations (Comps). Full-time students normally complete the Comps after course work in Ph.D. 2 and before the beginning of dissertation research in Ph.D. 4. However, students may choose to commence Comps from the beginning of Ph.D. 2. At the latest, the Comprehensive must be completed by the end of Ph.D. 3. Comprehensives will be held during the first week of November, February and June. Students will declare their intention, in writing, to their faculty advisor or supervisor to sit the November, February or June Examinations. The thesis proposal should be submitted shortly after the completion of the Comprehensive, normally by the beginning of Ph.D. 4.

These examinations are designed to ensure that candidates are adequately prepared to undertake the research required for a doctoral thesis and to teach university level courses in their chosen field. They are meant to test students' competence in: (1) their field of specialization; (2) one or two cognate areas. The latter are areas related to the chosen field and are to be determined by the supervisor in consultation with the candidate.

Guidelines

The School of Religious Studies Guidelines for Comprehensive Examinations complement section 10.4 "Ph.D. Comprehensive Policy" of the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Calendar. This document uses the terms "Area" and "Field". The Biblical Studies Area is comprised of three fields, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies, Early Judaism and New Testament Studies. The Christian Theology and Church History Area is comprised of two fields, Christian Theology and Church History. The Religion and Culture Area is comprised of two fields, Philosophy of Religion and Religious Ethics. The Asian Religions Area is comprised of two fields, Buddhism and Hinduism.

Format

In general, Comprehensive Examinations in the School of Religious Studies follow a standard 3-part format.

A 3-hour major comprehensive exam (RELG 701)

The Major Comprehensive Examination tests the doctoral student's knowledge and understanding of the entire field in which he or she specializes. The content includes foundational texts and authors, main concepts and theories, the methodologies usually employed in that field, significant secondary scholarship, and important issues in current scholarship. The Examination determines whether the student has the professional scholar's grasp of the field.

A 3-hour minor comprehensive exam (RELG 702)

The Minor Comprehensive Examination tests the doctoral student's knowledge and understanding of a secondary field which is cognate or comparative to the field of specialization. The student should have sufficient knowledge and understanding of the field to be able to teach an introductory course in that field.

Students may propose to take the Minor Comprehensive Examination in a field outside the Area of their specialization. The actual determination of the Minor field will be determined in discussion between the candidate and the thesis supervisor. In consultation with the thesis supervisor, the professor responsible for the Minor field will prepare a select bibliography and set a three-hour examination.

A student who wishes to write a Minor Comprehensive Examination in a field not listed in these Guidelines must make a formal written proposal which must be approved by the Graduate Committee.

An oral exam of 90 minutes or less (RELG 703)

The Oral Comprehensive Examination is conducted by the examiners of the Major and Minor Comprehensive Examinations and is based on, but not limited to, the student's answers to the Major and Minor Examinations. The Examination provides the examiners an opportunity to clarify any questions which may have arisen on the earlier examinations, and the candidate an opportunity to supplement his or her written answers with oral explanations.

Exceptions to this format are noted below under Content and Format. Since the specific content and format of the Comprehensive Examinations depend on the program of study, the candidate must always consult a faculty advisor in the program in question. Depending on the candidate's research project, the thesis supervisor may require competence in additional languages or minor fields of study (see also Area requirements).

Content by area of study

Biblical Studies

A. Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies

(Professors Kirkpatrick, Oegema)

The (three-hour) Major Comprehensive consists of two sections: (1) a journal surveying the field of Old Testament Studies identifying the main areas and perspectives of the field, the issues currently being discussed within a perspective and the main scholars participating in the discussions; (2) a written examination on six selected topics in the field of Old Testament which will be agreed upon by both the candidate and the supervisor. The exam will be three hours and consist of questions in three of the six area topics. The examination will only be given after the completion of the journal.

The (three-hour) Minor Comprehensive will assess the candidate's knowledge of a cognate area. The professor responsible for the cognate field in religious studies will set a three hour examination.

After both the major and the minor have been successfully completed the candidate will be given an Oral examination of no more than three hours based on the work covered for both the minor and the major written examinations.

B. Early Judaism

(Professor Oegema)

The (three-hour) Major Comprehensive consists of two sections: (1) a journal surveying the field of Early Judaism identifying the main areas and perspectives of the field, the issues currently being discussed within a perspective and the main scholars participating in the discussions; (2) a written examination on six selected topics in the field of Early Judaism which will be agreed upon by both the candidate and the supervisor. The exam will be three hours and consist of questions in three of the six area topics. The examination will only be given after the completion of the journal.

The (three-hour) Minor Comprehensive will assess the candidate's knowledge of a cognate area, normally either Old Testament/Hebrew Bible or New Testament. The professor responsible for the cognate field in religious studies will set a three hour examination.

After both the major and the minor have been successfully completed the candidate will be given an Oral examination of no more than two hours based on the work covered for both the minor and the major written examinations.

Summary:
  • Journal (60 pages): A Critical Assessment of 100 years of scholarship on Early Judaism. Written Exam, based on 3 of 6 topics from the Persian, Hellenistic and Roman period of Jewish religious, social and political history.
  • Minor Comprehensives: Either in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible or New Testament/Early Christianity. A minor comprehensive in Jewish Studies, Classical History and/or Archeology is presently investigated.
  • Oral Exam: 2 hour oral examination on Major and Minor Comprehensives.

C. New Testament Studies

(Professor Henderson)

The (three-hour) Major Comprehensive Exam consists of two parts:

  • A three hour written exam on New Testament Greek (use of Lexicon is permitted).
  • A three hour written exam on the Major Issues of Introduction of all New Testament writings with more in-depth knowledge expected for the writing(s) related to the intended thesis topic (e.g. Pauline letters, or the Gospel of John).

The (three-hour) Minor Comprehensive Exam for students specializing in New Testament Studies consists of a three hour, written exam in a Cognate field (e.g., Hebrew Bible, Greco-Roman Judaism, Patristics). The content covered in the exam is to be determined in consultation with the professor in the cognate area who will supervise the exam.

The Oral Comprehensive consists of a 90 minutes exam given by at least two faculty members. It will be on the same material covered in the Major Comprehensive, Part B.

The Minor Comprehensive Exam in New Testament Studies for students specializing in a different field consists of a three hour written exam. The content covered in the exam is to be determined in consultation with the professor in New Testament Studies who will supervise the exam.

Christian Thought and History

A. Christian Theology

(Professor Farrow)

The (three-hour) Major: The examiner and the student will agree together on a list of eight to ten questions as a basis for the examination, which will contain no more than five of these. Preparation will be guided by an appropriate bibliographical foundation, which will also be agreed in advance.

The (three-hour) Minor: The examiner and the student will agree together on a list of six questions as a basis for the examination, which will contain no more than four of these. Preparation will be guided by an appropriate bibliographical foundation, which will also be agreed in advance.

After completion of the Major and Minor Examinations, an Oral Examination of one and one half hours will be conducted by the Major and Minor examiners. The Oral Examination will be based upon the candidate's written answers on the Major and Minor examinations.

B. Church History

(Professor Kirby)

Both the (three-hour) Major and the (three-hour) Minor Comprehensive entail an examination of the candidate's habitual knowledge of major themes in the history of the thought and action of the Christian Church. Candidates may elect to write on one of four major periods of ecclesiastical history: a) the early Church (up to seventh Ecumenical Council); b) the medieval period; c) the Reformation; or d) the modern era. In preparation for this three-hour written examination candidates will meet with their program advisor to agree on an appropriate reading list of primary and secondary texts. This reading list may emphasize particular elements of the history of doctrine and theology, institutional structures and development, or some other central theme, e.g., iconography, liturgy and worship, the relation of Church and State.

The (three-hour) Minor Comprehensive in Church History is ordinarily in a cognate field or area (e.g. Biblical Studies, Theology, or Philosophy of Religion); students are encouraged to discuss their choice of the Minor with their program advisor. Candidates should consult a faculty advisor in the area of the Minor to determine the specific requirements of this Comprehensive Examination.

An Oral Comprehensive Examination of 90 minutes will be held after completion of the two previous examinations, to be conducted by the examiners for the Major and Minor Comprehensives.

Religion and Culture

A. Philosophy of Religion

(Professor Green)

The (three-hour) Major Comprehensive Exam covers foundational figures, texts, and themes in Philosophy of Religion. Candidates are to demonstrate a broad knowledge of the history, development, and contemporary state of the field, and to situate their address of particular aspects of, or possibilities within, the field in this broad context. In consultation with the program advisor, students formulate six exam questions (four of which will appear on the exam) with primary reference to the figures and problems that characterize the unfolding of the discipline.

The (three-hour) Minor Comprehensive Exam covers materials within the philosophy of religion that are clearly differentiated from those of the Major, or from the cognate research field of the candidate. Both the area and the topic are proposed by the student and agreed upon by both the Major and the Minor advisors, in order that the exam complement the specific research interests of each candidate. In consultation with the program advisor, students formulate five exam questions (three of which will appear on the exam) with primary reference to the particular figures, themes, and problems of importance to the candidate¹s research.

An Oral Examination of one and a half hours (based upon the candidate¹s written answers on the Major and Minor Exams) will be convened accordingly. Both exams are established upon a bibliographical foundation of primary and secondary texts, developed with and approved by the Major and Minor advisors.

B. Religious Ethics

(Professor Fiasse)

The (three-hour) Major Comprehensive is a three-part examination of three hours that assesses the candidate's knowledge of (1) theoretical ethics, (2) the history of one religious tradition with emphasis on its ethical systems, and (3) practical ethics.

The candidate will prepare a set of eight questions covering the field of specialization in consultation with the thesis supervisor. The set of eight questions should deal with important issues from the three sections (theoretical, religious and practical). After the questions have been approved by the thesis supervisor, the student will be given an examination of three hours. The examination will consist of three of the questions that the candidate has prepared.

The (three-hour) Minor Comprehensive will assess the candidate's knowledge of a cognate area (for example: philosophy of religion, Christian theology, Asian religions).

The professor responsible for the cognate field in religious studies and the student will agree together on a list of six questions as a basis for the examination. The professor will set a three hour examination for which the candidate will write answers to three questions. Preparation will be guided by an appropriate bibliographical foundation, which will also be agreed upon in advance.

After completion of the Major and Minor Examinations, an Oral Examination of one and one half hours will be conducted by the Major and Minor examiners. The Oral Examination will be based upon the candidate's written answers on the Major and Minor examinations.

Asian Religions

Asian Religions Area

(Professors Braitstein, Pinkney, Sharma)

For the (three-hour) Major Comprehensive Examination, the candidate will prepare a set of eight questions covering the field of specialization in consultation with the thesis supervisor. The set of eight questions should deal with important issues which either span the historical spectrum or employ more than one methodological approach (historical, philosophical, social scientific, etc.). After the questions have been approved by the thesis supervisor, the student will be given an examination of three hours. The examination will consist of four of the questions that the candidate has prepared and the candidate will be asked to write answers to three of the four questions.

The (three-hour) Minor Comprehensive Examination tests the candidate's grasp of a field cognate to the field of specialization. The actual determination of the cognate field will be decided in discussion between the candidate and the thesis supervisor. The professor in the Faculty of Religious Studies responsible for that cognate field will prepare a select bibliography and set a three-hour examination, for which the candidate will write answers to three questions.

After completion of the Major and Minor Examinations, an Oral Examination of one and one half hours will be conducted by the Major and Minor examiners. The Oral Examination will be based upon the candidate's written answers on the Major and Minor examinations.

Timeline

Full-time students normally complete the Comprehensive Examinations after course work in Ph.D. 2 and before the beginning of dissertation research. However students may choose to commence Comprehensive Examinations from the beginning of Ph.D. 2. At the latest, the Comprehensive Examinations must be completed by the end of Ph.D. 3. Since the Comprehensive Examinations are meant to supplement the student's thesis research, the student should already have approached a member of the faculty during Ph.D. 2 to request thesis supervision, develop a Thesis Proposal and plan a schedule for the Comprehensive Examinations. The student must approach the Thesis Supervisor early to allow time for adequate preparation.

The Graduate Committee will monitor the progress of students who have not completed the Comprehensive Examinations by the end of the Ph.D. 3. A student who has not completed Comprehensive Examinations by the end of Ph.D. 3 may not qualify for T.A. employment, may not teach as a sessional lecturer and may not commence formal dissertation research and writing.

At the beginning of the term during which they plan to complete a Comprehensive Examination, students register in one of RELG 701 (Major Comprehensive), RELG 702 (Minor Comprehensive) or RELG 703 (Oral Comprehensive).

Assessment

In all cases, the Examinations are graded by the faculty person who sets the Examination. The Oral Examination is conducted and graded by the faculty persons responsible for the Major and Minor Examinations.

The examinations will be graded Pass/Fail. After grading, the examiner(s) will provide a written report giving feedback to the student on the strengths and weaknesses of the student's performance on the Examinations, including the Oral Examination. The examiner's report of the grade and the student's performance will be kept in the student's file for reference during Degree Audit.

For Oral Examinations, the student may request the presence of another faculty member to act as a neutral observer and/or to tape-record the examination.

In the event of a failure, the policy of the McGill University Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Office applies (see Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Calendar, section 10.4 "Ph.D. Comprehensives Policy: Failures"). In the present policy, the student is allowed one repeat of the Examination. The student is informed in writing of the reasons for the failure and of the procedure for the repeat Examination. In such circumstances the grade of HH (continuing) will be used. The Advisor may impose conditions on the student for the repeat Examination, e.g., requiring the student to take further courses in an area of weakness. In the event of a second failure, a grade of F will be reported to the Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. After failure in any of the Major, the Minor or Oral Examination, the student will be asked to withdraw from the Ph.D. program.

Students may ask for a re-read of an Examination according to the procedure outlined in the "Graduate Studies Reread Policy" (Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Calendar, section 10.5).