(Concerning program of study, qualifying
examinations and dissertations)
The number of international students in the Graduate Department of Religion has grown in recent years, and the Department is committed to diversification and globalization. We try to be alert to problems as well as possibilit9ies, and to learn from our experience.
International students are often interested in topics connected with their own social, cultural, or religious setting. We have noticed some potential difficulties that may accompany such interests, and thus we are attempt here to identify them and deal with them constructively. These difficulties may come to light during course work, or in preparing for Qualifying Examinations, or in developing the dissertation proposal, or in writing the dissertation itself. We hope that any problems can be identified well in advance.
1. The subject matter to be dealt with may be massive in scope. This may be because it is not easy to separate one issue or one social institution from others. It may be because there is not yet a body of research drawing scattered materials together or analyzing the distinct themes or problems. We must emphasize the importance of gauging both the feasibility of a project and its potential contribution to research. These can be achieved more readily if the project is related to already existing lines of research, developing them farther or in new ways.
2. The project or the dissertation may be programmatic in character. Some international students are interested in developing and arguing a construtive position—a theology or an ethic or an ecclesiastical program—for their particular situation. A programmatic dissertation may not only be massive in scope but require extensive argumentation. It is important that a dissertation of this character take criticisms and alternative positions into account.
3. Many aspects of the work may be outside the expertise of any faculty members within the University. In such a case, the Graduate School always has the right to ask that some other line of research be undertaken, more in keeping with the faculty’s own research experience. But we try to accommodate to students’ interests. Faculty members have considerable experience in dealing with many topics outside their chief field of research; thus they can always be of help in assessing how thorough the research has been or how convincing an argument is. They may insist that the student’s research be brought into relationship with analogous kinds of research that are more familiar in our own academic setting. But it may also be possible to ask for help from scholars outside the University, and perhaps outside the U.S. They might be needed at various stages: in administering the qualifying examinations, or in advising the dissertation, or as readers of the final dissertation. Inevitably questions will arise about how to select the appropriate persons, whose recommendations to follow, and how to check on their expertise or their opinions. Suggestions from international students will be welcomed, but of course we cannot limit such “external readers” to those suggested by the students.