UVA's Graduate Program in Comparative Scripture, Interpretation, and Practice prepares students for advanced research and teaching about the phenomena of scriptural study, textual interpretation, and religious practice in all three of the Abrahamic traditions. The first goal of the Program is to examine the Bible, the Qur'an, and other scriptures as literatures that generate communities of religious practice: practices of study, of interpretation and philosophy, of ritual, and of social life. The PhD prepares students for teaching positions in departments of Religious Studies, where they will be able to offer advanced courses in their primary tradition of study and more general courses in Abrahamic and other traditions.

Coursework in SIP focuses primarily on the three Abrahamic traditions. There are foundational courses in the languages, texts, and histories of the Tanakh, the New Testament, and the Qur'an; and in the interpretive traditions of rabbinic Judaism, of early and Patristic Christianity, and of classical Qur'anic exegesis and interpretation. There are ethnographic and comparative courses in the religious practices of individual traditions, from reading practices to ritual and prayer practices, in the past and today. There are courses on interpretation theory, on ritual theory, and in philosophical hermeneutics, pertinent to each of the traditions and to broader, comparative studies. And there are courses on the practice and theory of "scriptural reasoning": our term for modes of study, fellowship, and analysis that bring Abrahamic and other text-traditions into sustained dialogue.

The COMP SIP unit also offers specialized terminal MA programs. There are two such programs: MA Concentration in Religion, Politics, and Conflict; MA Concentration in World Religions/World Literatures

COMP SIP Faculty

  • Ahmed H. al-Rahim: Islamic Studies, Islamic intellectual history
  • Elizabeth Alexander: Rabbinic literature and hermeneutics
  • Jessica Andruss: Jewish intellectual history in the Islamic world, Judeo-Arabic literature, Biblical exegesis, Historical thought in medieval Judaism and Islam
  • Asher Biemann: Modern Jewish thought, German-Jewish intellectual history
  • Larry Bouchard: Religious and Ethical Studies of Imaginative Literature; Interpretation theory
  • Mehr Farooqi: (Dept. of MESALC) Urdu literatures
  • Zvi Gilboa, Transnational literatures
  • Greg Schmidt Goering: Classical Hebrew language; Jewish wisdom literature
  • Shankar Nair: Sufism and Islamic philosophy; Qur'anic exegesis; Hindu philosophy and theology; Muslim-Hindu interaction in South Asia; Arabic, Persian, and Sanskrit literatures; South Asian religions
  • Peter Ochs (convener): Philosophy, Semiotics and scripture, Abrahamic Scriptural Reasoning
  • Vanessa Ochs: Jewish ritual studies; material culture, ethnography, Abrahamic feminisms

Associate Faculty:

Students may also take courses with other members of the Department of Religious Studies and, with approval, other members the Arts and Sciences Graduate Faculty.

Degree Requirements:



Scriptural Tradition: Upon matriculation, students declare their primary and secondary traditions of study. Currently, most students in the program specialize in Judaism, Christianity, or Islam.  

Course Requirements:


Students should engage one member of the Core Faculty in the Study of Judaism as graduate advisor. Individual courses of study must be approved by the advisor, in consultation with the Core Faculty.


All Doctor of Philosophy candidates in Comparative SIP who do not hold a graduate degree are required to pass a minimum of 45 credits in courses at the 5000 level and above, plus 27 credits in other courses (may be non-topical research) for a total of 72 credits.

Students admitted directly to the PhD program (i.e., who already hold a graduate degree in religious studies, such as the MA, MDiv, or some equivalent) may petition the Graduate Committee for advanced standing no later than the end of their first year of residence and may be allowed to transfer up to 15 credits toward the course work. 

PhD students should complete required coursework by the end of their fourth semester. All doctoral students must take RELG 7360: The Study of Religion, normally during their first semester. All SIP area students in coursework must take the Proseminar (1 credit, each semester).

All Ph.D. candidates in SIP must fulfill the following distribution requirements:

  • Scriptural Tradition: At least four courses in their primary tradition of study and two courses in their secondary tradition.
  • Pillars of SIP

  1. Scripture: “What is Scripture”' (RELG 5960) or an alternate course as designated by the faculty.

  2. Interpretation“Interpretation Theory” (RELG 5070), “Pragmatism and Semiotics,” or an alternate course as designated by the faculty.

  3. Practice“Ethnography and the Study of Religion” (RELG 5835) or an alternate practice-based course as designated by the Faculty.


At the end of their first semester, in consultation with their advisors, students are expected to file a plan for language acquisition. Students must demonstrate by examination a reading knowledge of at least one modern research language, usually French or German. Candidates must also demonstrate by examination a reading competency in the scriptural languages in their areas of specialization as well as supplemental languages that their advisor requires. Language competencies must be certified before a student may proceed to comprehensive examinations.

Comprehensive Exams and Doctoral Candidacy:

Students must successfully complete comprehensive examinations no later than the end of the semester following completion of coursework. Some exams may be taken during coursework at the discretion of the faculty. When all comprehensive exams are completed and languages are certified according to the student’s Language Plan, the student is admitted to doctoral candidacy.

Students must pass five comprehensive exams taken in the following areas:

1) Primary scriptural tradition: A six-hour exam in either Hebrew Bible and Rabbinic Interpretation; or Old/New Testament and Patristics; or Qur'an and classical/medieval interpretation.

2) Secondary scriptural traditionsA four-hour exam in a second Abrahamic tradition of scriptural reading and interpretation, or in another tradition if approved by the SIP faculty.

3) Practice: A four-hour exam or equivalent research paper, as approved by the SIP faculty, on religious practices in the scriptural traditions (such as ritual practice, liturgical or other), and/or on religious material culture, and on how best to study these practices (for example, through ethnography and/or ritual theory as applied to any one of the scriptural traditions).

4) Interpretation: A six-hour exam or equivalent research paper in methods of interpretive reasoning appropriate to SIP: for example, scriptural and textual hermeneutics or semiotics; theories of scriptural interpretation (commentarial, legal, literary, theological, or philosophic).

5) Special Topics: A three-hour exam or an equivalent research paper, as approved by the SIP faculty, in a sub-discipline appropriate to a student’s research and teaching.

Candidacy Deadline:  

All pre-dissertation requirements, including coursework, language examinations and comprehensive examinations, are expected to be completed by the sixth term of study.

Dissertation proposal:

Upon successful completion of the comprehensive examinations, a PhD candidate will be invited to choose a dissertation advisor from the SIP Faculty and, with the advisor's guidance, to gather a dissertation committee including two other members of the Religious Study Faculty and at least one faculty member outside of Religious Studies (in any other Area of the Graduate School). The candidate will then prepare a dissertation proposal and submit it to the committee for approval.


With the approval of the dissertation proposal, students proceed to the writing of a dissertation that demonstrates a high level of research skills, sophistication of method, originality of insight, and specialized knowledge. The candidate is strongly advised to complete the dissertation within two years—and no longer than three years—after completing the comprehensive exams.


Dissertations must be defended in oral examination before the student’s dissertation committee and a University of Virginia Arts and Sciences graduate faculty member from outside the department.


Scriptural Tradition:

On matriculation, students declare their primary tradition of study (Judaism, Christianity, or Islam). MA students specialize in one Abrahamic tradition and take courses in the other two traditions as well.

Course Requirements:

The MA in Comp SIP has the following general requirements. Either: a) the successful completion of 24 credit hours (eight courses) of course work and the preparation and successful defense of a thesis that exhibits competence in the area of specialization, skill in a given method of study, and an ability to employ resources in the relevant foreign language(s); OR b) the successful completion of 30 credit hours (ten courses) of course work and the satisfactory performance in a comprehensive examination based upon a reading list approved by the relevant field committee; (The choice between these options is determined in consultation between the student and faculty advisors, and with a view to the student's objectives in graduate study.)

Course Distribution Requirements:

MA candidates in SIP must fulfill the following distribution requirements:

• Scriptural Tradition: At least one course in two of the three Abrahamic traditions, and at least three courses in the primary tradition of study.

• SIP Proseminar: All students in coursework are required to enroll in the one credit SIP colloquium offered each semester.


A reading knowledge of either French or German and must to be demonstrated by examination (although another language may be substituted under appropriate circumstances and with the approval of the Committee on Graduate Studies). Students are expected, as well, to pass an examination in at least one scriptural language.