Theology, Ethics and Culture

Theology, Ethics, and Culture (TEC)

Theology, Ethics, and Culture (TEC) at the University of Virginia includes studies of the theological, philosophical, ethical, and cultural traditions that continue to inform religious thought and practice. The area is committed to understanding religious reflection and expression historically, critically, and constructively.

Faculty in Religious Studies enjoy a variety of interests that contribute to three Focus Areas in TEC: Religious, Theological, and Philosophical Studies; Religious Ethics; and Religion and Culture. In course work, comprehensive examinations, and dissertation research, students concentrate in one of these fields, while exploring other fields in TEC and throughout the Department and University. Each field of concentration within TEC periodically describes general topics that suggest the foci of TEC courses and comprehensive exams. (These general topics are always subject to revision by the faculty.)

I. Coursework Requirement

Note:  The following reflects the policies of the 2016–2017 Graduate Record. Specific requirements may differ for students who entered in other years.

Students must acquire 72 credits, at least 45 through satisfactorily completed graded course work at the 5000 level or higher (15 courses) and up to 27 other credits (often non-topical research). This coursework is normally completed in five semesters.

Students entering with an appropriate master’s degree may be granted advanced standing, for which they should apply in their first semester at UVA. If granted, this reduces the graded coursework requirement to 30 hours, or ten standard classes, which ideally will be completed in three semesters. Finishing coursework in three semesters requires one semester of four standard graded courses.

II. Focus Areas

Religious, Theological, and Philosophical Studies seeks, on one hand, to train students to understand and contribute to the interplay of philosophical thought and religious expression; and, on the other hand, to train students to understand and contribute to the theological and philosophical analysis, interpretation, and constructive understanding of problems raised by the cross-cultural and interdisciplinary study of religion. Courses and comprehensive examinations are offered in the following general topics:

1. Ancient to Medieval

2. Medieval Through Modern

3. Modern Through Contemporary

4. Topics and Thinkers

Religious Ethics comprises the study of ethical theory, issues, and methods both within and independent of religious traditions and systems of thought. Courses and comprehensive examinations are offered in:

1. Christian, Jewish, and Islamic ethics (historical and contemporary)

2. Applied Ethics (e.g., biomedical or political)

3. Philosophical Ethics

Religion and Culture encourages students to explore interrelationships between cultural creation (including the arts and forms of interpretation and criticism) and religious life, practice, and thought. Emphases are on narrative literature, poetry, drama (as well as other arts on occasion) and on the interpretation of religion as an aspect of culture. Courses and comprehensive exams are currently offered in:

1. Cultural History and Theology of Culture

2. Literature, Criticism, Philosophical and Theological Aesthetics

3. Interpretation Theory

4. Religion and the Social Sciences

5. Religion and Material Culture

6. Literary Interpretation and Adaptation of Scripture

Whichever of the three fields students choose to concentrate in, they are expected to take courses in other fields and departments, such as Philosophy, History, English, French, German, Classics, and other departments concerned with the history of culture and thought. Courses in Philosophy, Politics, and in the Schools of Law and Business may be appropriate for students whose focus is in Ethics. Students must meet the minimal course requirements for degrees in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and in the Department of Religious Studies. For TEC students, it is suggested that at least half of the courses be from fields in Theology, Ethics, and Culture.  Course selection must be done in close consultation with the student’s advisor.

III. Advising

Upon entrance into Theology, Ethics, and Culture, students will be assigned or will select an appropriate advisor from the TEC faculty, for purposes of advising course selection, monitoring the fulfillment of program requirements, and plotting progress toward comprehensive exams. In all these matters, students should consult with other faculty members as well. Students may request a new advisor as the shape of their program becomes clear.

When the time comes to write a dissertation proposal (see below), students must select a dissertation director and put together a dissertation committee. The committee will normally consist of at least three faculty members from TEC and, whenever appropriate, other faculty members from the Department and University.

IV. Comprehensive Examinations

Students in Theology, Ethics, and Culture must produce a comprehensive exam plan by the end of their second semester in the program. This plan will be determined in close consultant with the student’s advisor and other faculty. The plan lists the specific exams the student will take. It may be revised later only by permission of the Graduate Committee.

Many advisors in TEC also request a more detailed comprehensive examination proposal, to be prepared closer to the time the exams are held, to guide both the student and the student’s examining committee through the process of preparing for and taking comprehensive exams. In addition to listing the exams to be held, this document typically outlines the faculty who will supervise each exam, the specific materials for which the student will be held responsible, and the format for each exam. The advisor will discuss the proposal with the student and consult with the proposed examining committee. If satisfied that the proposal is in order, the advisor approves the proposal and makes sure the student provides all examining committee members with final copies of the proposal, including the comprehensive reading list.

The Advisor will then determine the date and times for the exams, solicit questions from the Examining Committee, and see that the exams are administered to the student in accordance with the Proposal and departmental policies.

Students will sit for at least five (six-hour) comprehensive examinations on the general topics pertaining to the fields of concentration in TEC. Normally students will not take more than six exams.

At least three exams will be in the student’s field of concentration and at least one exam will be from either or both of the remaining TEC fields.

Students may also be examined in topics from the areas of Historical Studies or the History of Religions as part of their TEC comprehensive exams, upon consultation with their advisors and appropriate faculty members in these areas. Students are also encouraged, and may be required when appropriate, to include faculty of other departments on their examining committees.

Each of the comprehensive examinations will be based on topics and reading lists the student is responsible for designing, in close consultation with and with the approval of his or her advisor and examining committee. Comprehensive exams must be successfully completed no later than the end of the semester following completion of coursework.

V. Language Requirement

Doctoral students in TEC are typically required to demonstrate reading competence in two modern languages, usually French or German. Other modern languages may be substituted if the TEC faculty deem it appropriate to the student’s mastery of modern scholarship in the chosen dissertation area. This requirement must be met before comprehensive exams are taken. In addition, students may also be required to show competence in other languages (modern or classical) pertaining to their dissertation; this requirement should be met by the time they submit a dissertation proposal.

Students concentrating in Theology and Philosophical Studies are expected to have had, or take, at least two semesters of college-level classical Greek, Latin, or Biblical Hebrew in any combination (e.g., two semesters of Greek, or one semester of Greek and one of Hebrew, etc.).

VI. Doctoral Dissertation

Within six months of successful completion of the PhD comprehensive examinations, the student will prepare a dissertation proposal and defend it orally before a committee. Formally, the proposal should include a succinct statement of the thesis to be investigated and the methods the dissertation will employ, a discussion of the significance of the thesis in relation to existing literature, an outline of the questions to be investigated with reference to the thesis, and a selected bibliography.

After defending the proposal before the student’s dissertation committee, and after receiving the committee’s direction and approval, the student may proceed to write the dissertation and thereafter defend it orally.

VII. Master of Arts

Candidates for the Master of Arts in Theology, Ethics, and Culture must meet the general course requirements for the MA in Religious Studies. As with doctoral students, each student will select or be assigned an advisor to assist in their progress through the program, to the point that MA comprehensive examinations are taken or a Master’s thesis director is chosen. Students electing to write a Master’s thesis must take eight courses (24 hours), at least four of which should be from TEC areas. Thereafter, they will sit for an oral examination of their thesis. Students electing to write comprehensive MA exams must take ten courses (30 hours), at least five of which must be from TEC areas. All MA students must pass the French or German reading exam; another modern language may be substituted if deemed appropriate for thesis research purposes. Competence in additional languages pertaining to the thesis may be required as well. Doctoral students may receive the MA degree upon completing their PhD comprehensive examinations; no thesis is then required.