Qualifying Examinations

Nature and Purpose

The qualifying examinations in Ethics are taken after the conclusion of required course work and must be completed before admission to candidacy. In order to remain in good academic standing, students must complete their examinations and have an accepted dissertation proposal prior to the start of their seventh semester in the program. Hence, students should plan to take their examinations during their third year (see timeline below). Preparation for the qualifying examinations is comprised of a combination of course work and supplementary individual readings. As a general rule, the student should strive for the level of knowledge and expertise required to construct and teach a graduate-level course on the subject. The examinations are not meant to test the students’ ability as a research scholar. Course work, research papers, and the dissertation will do that.

Descriptions and Procedures

The qualifying examinations include written field examinations in three areas (theological ethics, philosophical ethics, and social ethics), followed by an oral review.

The field exams are meant to allow students to exhibit mastery of a range of core literature, thinkers, and problems in each of the three areas :

The field examination in Theological Ethics normally includes historical and contemporary ethical literature, both Roman Catholic and Protestant. Students are encouraged to develop competence as well in the ethics of a tradition other than Christianity.

The field examination in Philosophical Ethics includes the history and literature of moral philosophy in the west, and at least one of the following from the modern period: Franco-German existentialism and phenomenology or Anglo-American moral philosophy.

The field examination in Social Ethics includes general materials in the social teachings of a religious tradition, sociopolitical writings in the West, and at least one of the following: ethics and sociology of religion; ethics and psychology; ethics and economics; selected issues in an area of contemporary societal concern, e.g., medical ethics.

Students will submit to the faculty in the teaching group in Ethics a list of six questions, two for each of the three field examinations. The scope and focus of each question is a matter of discussion and negotiation with the faculty. The questions will be comprised of a paragraph stating the problem to be explored, together with a bibliography of texts for which the student will take responsibility. Bibliographies should indicate specific pages and page number totals; an average of 1000 pages per exam is considered normal. Responsibility for formulating the final version of the questions rests with the faculty. They will attempt to do justice to the questions submitted to them, though they may rework and add to the questions. Every effort will be made to assure comprehensiveness without surprise or misunderstanding.

Writing of the exams is done over a single 14-day period. While students may not take their examinations prior to the completion of coursework, they may opt to prepare one or more questions/bibliographies in concert with directed reading courses or other courses, as long as the examination bibliography goes significantly beyond the reading list for the course. The student may opt for writing in either of two modes:

a) After the questions are distributed to the student, he or she will have a 14-day period to prepare answers. He or she may consult whatever books and articles are deemed most helpful. The answers finally submitted will compromise in toto no more than 90 typewritten double-spaced pages.

b) Questions will be distributed to the student, half on the first day of the 14-day period, the other half on the 8th day of the same period. In preparing answers, the student may, again, consult whatever books and articles are deemed most helpful. On the 7th day, and on the 14th, the student will appear at the departmental office and write the answers. The student may write for six hours on each of these two days, and will submit his or her answers by the end of each of the two days. During these six-hour exams the student may not consult books, articles or notes.

Within six weeks, and if at all possible within two weeks, an oral review will be conducted by the faculty examiners. Normally, the examination board will include at least three members, at least two of whom are members of the ethics teaching group. This oral exam is given in order to provide the student with an opportunity to clarify obscurities in what he or she may have written, to expand on what he or she would have liked to have written but lacked time to elucidate adequately, and to permit faculty members to consider areas inadequately covered in the written exams.