Jun 15, 2024  
USC Catalogue 2023-2024 
USC Catalogue 2023-2024

Religion (PhD)

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Course Requirements

Sixty-four units of course work are required for the PhD degree, including units of previous graduate work for which credit is allowed. No more than two language courses at the 400-level and no more than two non-language courses at the 400-level (i.e., 16 units) may be applied to the total requirement of 64 units. Time of residency is contingent upon the background and preparation of the student.

Core requirements for all doctoral students regardless of track include REL 500 , REL 592 , REL 593  and a maximum of 8 units of REL 794a  Doctoral Dissertation to be applied toward the 64-unit total requirement.

Additionally, mandatory courses for students in the Asia Pacific Religions track include REL 545 , REL 645 , and one course from the REL 652 /REL 653 /REL 654 /REL 655  series. Mandatory courses for students in the Christian Studies track include REL 535 , REL 635  and REL 651 . Mandatory courses for students in the Global Islam track include REL 525 , REL 625  and REL 650 .

In addition to the mandatory courses, students are expected to take elective courses in areas that will support their dissertation work. Such courses may be offered in related departments in the university as well as in the School of Religion and should be selected in consultation with the primary adviser.

Each student entering the PhD program will select a primary academic adviser before classes begin. The adviser must be a member of one of the three tracks that the student envisions specializing in. In addition, at least one other faculty member from that track is selected to constitute, along with the primary adviser, the student’s “mentoring committee.” The mentoring committee is responsible for overseeing the student’s program of course work, course of language study, timing of qualifying exams and so on. The membership of the mentoring committee can be changed at any time with the agreement of the student, the student’s primary adviser, and the School of Religion director of Graduate Studies. The dissertation Committee (see below) will replace the mentoring committee once candidacy is achieved. Students are expected to maintain a 3.5 GPA in course work.

The mentoring committee conducts an annual review of the student’s academic performance and progress toward the degree in the spring of each year, before the end of the spring term. Should a student’s performance be considered unsatisfactory, following consultation with the director of Graduate Studies, the student will be placed on probation for one year and given the opportunity to improve his or her performance. If a student’s performance is still considered unsatisfactory at the end of the probationary year, the student will be dismissed from the program. Only after a successful annual review in the second year will the student be permitted to convene their qualifying examination committee.

Foreign Language Requirements

Language competencies vary by track and are determined in consultation with the mentoring committee. Here are some general guidelines:

Asia Pacific Religions Track: Advanced facility in at least one Asian language is considered essential to the Asia Pacific Religions Track. Each student selects a primary language area. The Mentoring Committee determines which possible additional languages are necessary for the student’s course of study, and the procedures for the evaluation of proficiency in those languages. The following is provided as a guideline depending on the area of sub-specialization.

  • Chinese: Classical and modern Chinese, as well as modern Japanese (as a research language) and a modern European research language.
  • Japanese: Classical (Bungo) and modern Japanese, as well as Kanbun, and one modern research language (European, modern Chinese, or modern Korean)
  • Korean: Advanced Korean, as well as either modern Japanese (as a research language) or a European modern research language.
  • Sanskrit and Hindi: Advanced competency in two South Asian languages, classical or modern, plus a modern research language judged relevant to the student’s research.

Christian Studies Track: Students are required to demonstrate advanced ability in two languages other than English in order to enable comparative research. Given the temporal and global span of Christian traditions, the specific languages will be determined on a case-by-case basis by the student’s mentoring committee. Customarily the committee will select one or two ancient languages and one or two modern languages. The following are the languages most frequently studied in the Christian Studies Track, but the mentoring committee can select others as needed:

  • Ancient: Hebrew, Greek, Syriac, Latin, as well as medieval vernaculars
  • Modern: French, Spanish, Italian, German, Portuguese, Korean

Global Islam Track: Required to demonstrate advanced ability in the primary lingua franca of Islamic civilization to ensure the ability to conduct original research. Secondarily, students are generally encouraged to acquire facility in a secondary language within traditional Muslim religious and secular literature. Students are also encouraged to acquire facility in one European research language where deemed appropriate.

  • Arabic: Classical and Modern Standard, as the primary research language.
  • Persian: Classical and Modern, as a possible secondary research language.
  • French or Spanish: (Elective) a reading knowledge to conduct research on or in specific modern communities.

Qualifying Examination and Dissertation Prospectus

The qualifying examination process consists of five stages: (1) constituting the qualifying examination committee (this would normally include the members of the mentoring committee), (2) determining the three exam areas by the student and the qualifying examination committee, (3) taking the written examinations, (4) submission of the dissertation prospectus, (5) the qualifying oral examination.

Preparation for these exams should begin early in the student’s course work. In consultation with the mentoring committee the students will select their primary area and also take an exam in the other two cognate areas. Preparation for the qualifying exam continues with supplementary readings based on a bibliography prepared by the student in conjunction with the qualifying examination committee. This committee is responsible for setting the exam questions for the cognate written exams. The student is given 24 hours to write on a total of three questions for each exam. Each of the written exams is evaluated by all members of the examination committee.

The dissertation prospectus should begin with a general review of the scholarship in the field, and situate the thesis within that field. It should clearly articulate the thesis and program of research, identifying the available source material to be consulted. The prospectus must include a chapter outline, and a full bibliography of primary and secondary sources.

The oral examination will occur shortly after the submission of the dissertation prospectus. It will focus on the content of the written exams, the basic literature in the student’s primary field, as well as the content and cogency of the prospectus.


The dissertation committee, consisting of three faculty members, is formed immediately following advancement to candidacy. The committee consists of at least two faculty members in the track of the student’s specialization as well as one other School of Religion faculty member. Candidates may also add an additional faculty member external to the School of Religion if appropriate. This final stage of the program requires the submission of an acceptable dissertation based on original investigation. The dissertation must show technical mastery expected in each track, evidence of independent research, and the analytical and interpretive ability expected of a scholar.

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