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Qualifying Exams

Flexibility, comprehensiveness, and breadth are the goals of the general field exams. Except for the general questions on the study of religion exam, which are written by a common committee, the student’s examination committee, chaired by his or her adviser, determines the optimal format for the student’s examinations and writes the examination questions. There are three examinations:

One-week, written take-home examination in the study of religion administered during reading week of fall quarter (usually from 5 p.m. on the Sunday preceding reading week to 5 p.m. on the Friday of reading week). The exam is posted and submitted on Canvas.  Students may freely consult any books or notes while writing their exam. Each student answers one of two questions provided by the committee in each of three areas:

1) a problem or trend in the historical formation of the study of religion and of religions as a modern field of inquiry

2) the theoretical contributions characteristic of a particularly prominent theorist in this discipline

3) approaches to a particular theme (e.g., ritual, religion and the state, religion and political authority, hermeneutics, gender, colonialism, etc.) in the study of religion.

The questions are based on a reading list of not more than 25 works confirmed by the committee and posted on the website before the end of the previous spring quarter.  The list is intended as a foundation and guide.  Students are encouraged to refer to additional pertinent readings in order to prepare fully thought-out essays.  The answers to the first and third questions must involve substantive interaction with at least five of the works on the reading list, and none of those ten works can be the focus of the answer to the second question.  Each essay is limited to 2000 words, including in-text references or brief footnotes.

After reading the written exams, the committee holds an oral defense of not more than one hour with each student toward the end of examination week. The result of the exam is delivered immediately after the oral.  Students will not be asked to rewrite any portion of the examination; a student who fails must retake the exam with new questions in winter, spring, or summer quarter. See below for a resource list and for samples of exam questions that students have devised in conjunction with faculty members.

These two examinations may be configured in a number of ways. For instance,

Students following the double-major model must take one examination that is administered by their second department, following its normal procedures. The adviser consults with the pertinent faculty in the affiliated department to ensure that this examination approximates a Religion field examination as much as possible in its expectations and standards, if not in its format. When the affiliated department has no basic qualifying examination, the adviser, with assistance from the DGS, organizes and administers the external exam with assistance from the affiliated department.

Dissertation Prospectus

Students normally submit initial drafts of their dissertation prospectuses to their dissertation committees by the end of spring quarter of the third year.

The revised dissertation proposal must be approved by the third week of the fall quarter of the fourth year. All departmental and Graduate School requirements for candidacy must be completed before the final proposal can be considered.

Prospectuses are typically no more than 15 pages in length (not including the selective bibliography) and include a clear statement of the problem the student anticipates exploring, a discussion of the work already done in the general area, and a statement of how the dissertation will contribute to knowledge in three areas: a particular subfield of the discipline, religious studies generally, and the humanities or social sciences broadly.

The prospectus defense includes presentation and discussion of the dissertation prospectus. It scheduled by the GPA and attended by the student’s adviser, a second Religious Studies faculty member, and either a faculty mentor from another department or a third Religious Studies faculty member, as is appropriate to the student’s program. The discussion lasts approximately 90 minutes to two hours, after which the student leaves the room and the faculty determines whether the result is approval, conditional approval, or failure.

Previous Exam Questions

You are encouraged to look over these exam questions, which were formulated by examiners and students in conversation with each other, and when appropriate to work off them in shaping your own examination questions. The questions are divided into three parts: a historical section (that looks at the history of the making of "religion" as an object of inquiry since early modernity); a section devoted to a particular theorist; and a final section that focuses on big issues in the study of religion, such as the nature of ritual, the meanings of"tradition," the relationship between theological inquiry and religious studies, and problems of interpretation. We have chosen not to post the bibliographies students developed for their exams, because it is our hope that each student will craft a reading list according to his or her particular interests and concerns.

Students constructing personal exams are encouraged to begin by consulting the reading list below; no student should read all works listed, and all students should read beyond the list.

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