Qualifying Examinations


Preparation for the qualifying examinations consists of a combination of coursework and supplementary individual readings. While the dissertation will demonstrate the student’s capacities as a research scholar, the examinations test a student’s preparation to undertake research and powers of conceptual breadth and ingenuity. They are the culmination of coursework – an opportunity to show and interrogate what has been learned and where a student is headed.


The qualifying examinations in Religion and Modernity are taken after the conclusion of required coursework and must be completed before admission to candidacy. Students take their exams in the third year of residence, typically between January and April of that academic year.

The exams consist of both a written and an oral component.

The written exams consist of questions in the three areas the student has developed in the bibliographies. These three areas will be variations on the clusters denoted by the history of thought (philosophy, theology, art, politics, theory), religion and modernity as social forms, including questions of race, secularism, gender, postcolonialism, class, and the work of history, with a focus on the historiography of a particular theme or context, and including questions of method and perspective.

The oral exam is to allow for questions on the written material. Each examiner may ask questions about any of the written exams.


1. The three written exams are to be completed over a 14-day period. Students may use any research materials during this period and may work on them wherever they like, but they must not discuss them with anyone else.

2. The date of the written exams refers to the first day of the 14-day period. Questions for all three exams are given on the first day. The examinee emails all completed exams to all examiners at the end of this period. The date for the oral exam is set for a maximum two weeks after submission of written exams. Note: planning for exams should begin at least eight months in advance; dates for both the written and oral exams are to be set at least two months in advance. The chair of the exam committee initiates the scheduling and oversees the process.

3. Each of the three exams is supervised by a single examiner, who assists the examinee in developing the bibliography and preparing to write on it. There is latitude for each examiner–examinee dyad to establish ground rules for the nature, number, and timing of the questions. Some will prepare with sample questions, leaving the actual question(s) unknown until the exam itself. Others will prepare a list of possible questions to be selected from on the exam. Note: For all exams, examinee should have a choice of questions, e.g., pick one of two, pick two of four.

4. Length of each bibliography: Typically between 20 and 60 works.

5. Length of exams and number of questions: Examinee will typically complete 1-2 questions per exam. If more than one, s/he may connect the questions, and will perhaps inevitably do so. There is no advantage to keeping them discrete, unless a student needs them to be. Maximum word count per exam: 5000.

6. Everything else about each exam – structure of bibliography, coverage, style of questions – is up to the individual examiner in consultation with the examinee. At its best, preparation between faculty and student involves consistent mentoring practices that assist students in the threefold task of broadening, delimiting, and deepening their areas of interest.

7. In cases where a student is combining Religion and Modernity with another subfield, there will be adjustments made, for example a slightly larger exam committee and a possible additional exam(s), with the total number of exams (including oral exam) not exceeding six. In case of additional exam(s), the time period for their execution will be accordingly expanded.