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Comparative Scripture, Interpretation and Practice

Affiliated Faculty: Maya Boutaghou (French), Elizabeth Fowler (English)

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 a comparative perspective. The first goal of the program is to examine scriptures as literatures that accompany 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 on a primary tradition and, if the student in consultation with their advisor elects for one, a second tradition. Students may study these traditions as areas of primary competence and secondary competence, respectively, or as co-equal areas of scholarly facility. Students approach their studies in different ways. Some choose to compare features of one tradition with those of another, while others examine relations between traditions at some point in history. For some, comparison is explicit, for others comparison is implicit and informs the work in more subtle ways. For students with a primary concentration in Judaism, Christianity, or Islam, there are foundational courses on the languages, texts, and histories of the Hebrew Bible, 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. Students taking up the study of scripture in other traditions, such as Hinduism or Buddhism, are similarly offered foundational courses in the relevant classical and modern languages, as well as the texts and histories of the traditions in question. 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 semiotics and 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.  A regular proseminar for SIP students provides opportunities for serious, collaborative analysis of religious texts.

Coursework Requirements

PhD coursework is focused on graduate-level seminars and tutorials. Seminars of interest to SIP students may be located within the Religious Studies department or in other departments. All students must take “Theories and Methods in the Study of Religion” (RELG 7360) in their first semester. Students without a graduate degree must take a total of 45 hours of graded coursework. Students who enter the PhD program with an appropriate graduate degree in hand should petition for “advanced standing” at the end of the first semester, in order to obtain up to 15 transfer credits toward their UVa degree, thereby reducing the graded coursework requirement to 30 credit hours.

Language Requirements

All PhD students in Religious Studies are expected to obtain competency in at least two non-English languages necessary for advanced research in their area of specialization and specified in their language plan. In their first semester of study, SIP students should identify the most relevant languages for their work in consultation with their advisors.

Comprehensive Exams

SIP students must successfully complete their comprehensive examinations by the end of the semester following the completion of coursework. The purpose of the exams is to confirm that students possess the necessary knowledge to begin dissertation research and to teach undergraduate courses in their area of specialization. Students take four exams, on topics to be determined in consultation with their advisor. Students working comparatively between two traditions must take at least one exam related to each tradition.