Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


The program for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in NELC at The Ohio State University has as its aim a concentration and breadth of study designed to foster productive and independent scholarship. The program encompasses advanced course work, the writing of independent research papers at the seminar level, the successful completion of written candidacy examinations, an oral examination, followed by admission to candidacy for the degree, original research, and ultimately the submission and defense of a dissertation that is a contribution to scholarly knowledge. The curriculum for the Ph.D. in NELC is designed to provide and maintain a context and atmosphere in which scholarship and creative activity can flourish.

coursework - modern scholarship languages - specializations - NELC research languages - exams - dissertation

I. Coursework

All students are expected to have completed a relevant Masters-level degree prior to admission to the NELC PhD program.  Upon enrollment, the Masters degree will be transferred as a bloc of 30 OSU graduate-level credit hours to count toward the minimum 80 graduate level credit hours required for an OSU PhD.  Students are expected to earn the remaining 50 graduate level credit hours according to the following categories and plan:

1. Core seminar

a. [enrollment prior to Autumn 2016]

  • NELC 5568 Studies in Orality and Literacy (3 credit hours)

b. [enrollment Autumn 2016 or later]

  • NELC 5101 Introduction to the Field of NELC (1 credit hour)

​(students who have already taken this course are not required to repeat it, nor may they repeat it for credit.)

2. Elective seminar(s)

a. [enrollment prior to Autumn 2016] - One of four courses (3 credit hours) 

  • CS 7360 Theorizing Culture
  • CS 7370 Theorizing Religion
  • NELC/CLAS 5401 Methodologies for the Study of Ancient Religions
  • NELC/CS 7301 Theorizing Literature

b. [enrollment Autumn 2016 or later]  - Two of six courses (3 units credit hours each)
[students who have already taken one or two of these courses while pursuing MAs are not required to take more of them, but may do so for credit.]

  • CS 7360 Theorizing Culture
  • CS 7370 Theorizing Religion
  • HIST 7900 Colloquium in the Philosophy of History, Historiography, and the Historian’s Skills
  • NELC/CLAS 5401 Methodologies for the Study of Ancient Religions
  • NELC 5568 / CS 5668 Studies in Orality and Literacy
  • NELC/CS 7301 Theorizing Literature

3. Departmental coursework

a. [enrollment prior to Autumn 2016]

  • At least twenty-four (24) units of NELC courses in a primary language and culture area of study at the 5000-level and above.
  • At least nine (9) units of NELC courses in a secondary language and culture area. These may be taken at an elementary or intermediate level (i.e. 1000-, 2000-, 3000-, and 4000-level) if necessary, but such courses do not count toward the 80 required to earn the PhD.

b. [enrollment Autumn 2016 or later]

  • At least eighteen (18) units of credit at the 5000-level or higher must come from courses bearing the prefixes managed by the NELC department: NELC, ARABIC, HEBREW, PERSIAN, and TURKISH.

4. Allied / Ancillary Field

[only for enrollment prior to August 2016]

A minimum of fifteen (15) units in an ancillary or allied field (minor field), which may follow a disciplinary, theoretical, geographical, or methodological plan. This may include language courses at the 5000-level and higher. The rationale for this cluster of courses requires approval by your advisor.

5. Advanced-level coursework

a. [enrollment prior to Autumn 2016] At least eighteen (18) units of credit at the 7000- or 8000-level among all the courses beyond the MA.

b. [enrollment Autumn 2016 or later] At least fifteen (15) credit hours at the 7000- or 8000-level.  Courses in this category may also be used to satisfy other requirements.

6. Assessment & credit hour basis

No more than twelve (12) of the fifty units in total may be taken as non-graded (S/U or PA/NP).

Beyond these restrictions, any course at the 5000-level or higher, if approved by the Graduate Studies Committee, may count towards the degree.  All courses are chosen in consultation with the student's Advisory Committee.

II. Modern Scholarship Languages

Students must demonstrate reading competence in at least two languages of modern secondary scholarship, usually French and German, by one of the following means:

  • receiving a grade of B or higher in either FRENCH 6571 French Reading for Research I or GERMAN 6101 Basic German for Graduate Students. [note: neither of these courses count toward the minimum 30 graduate credit hours coursework requirement.], or
  • passing the proficiency exam [ or] offered by the relevant department, or
  • petitioning the Graduate Studies Committee to consider other evidence of competence, such as an undergraduate major or minor in the language, or
  • passing a 6000-level or higher-level course taught in the language.

Any proposed alternates to German or French must be approved by the Graduate Studies Committee.  Competence in English is assumed as it is the medium of instruction at OSU and does not satisfy the requirement.

III. Declared Specializations

[only for students enrolling during or after Autumn 2016] All graduate students in NELC receive PhDs in “Near Eastern Languages and Cultures,” not in Hebrew, Arabic, Islamic Studies, or another area. Nevertheless, students should designate two fields of study in conventional terms, in consultation with their academic Advisory Committee of two faculty members, as their fields of specialty. A few examples of possible fields are “Medieval Judaism,” “the Ancient Near East,” “Modern Middle Eastern Societies,” and “Pre-modern Iran,” with innumerable further possibilities. These specializations will guide students in their Candidacy exam topics and self-branding for the job market.  Each student’s Advisory Committee consults with the NELC chair and affected faculty to ensure that advisees have sufficient graduate courses to train them for Candidacy exams in their two fields. The declaration of these specializations enables the faculty to plan appropriate offerings effectively. These declared specializations may change by agreement of advisors and advisees.

IV. Near Eastern research languages

All students must pursue advanced training in the research languages required for their respective fields of specialization – i.e., the languages taught and researched by NELC faculty. Normally this entails at least one course per semester in the main research language for the duration of coursework and regular or sustained coursework in a second language. This is to prepare them for the Near Eastern research language exams and ultimately for conducting advanced research using these languages. It is the student’s responsibility to prepare for these examinations by taking advantage of every opportunity for training and advancement in the language. It is the responsibility of the student’s advisors to oversee the student’s preparation, by ensuring the offering of relevant courses, including independent study sessions where needed, to the student.

V. Exams

1. Translation Exams [only for students enrolling during or after Autumn 2016]  

PhD students must demonstrate ability in two different Near Eastern research languages by examination prior to scheduling the PhD Candidacy exams. These translation exams should be taken as soon as the student is ready, without delay.  Students do not take the Candidacy exams and proceed to dissertation work without first having passed the translation examinations, though both the translation and Candidacy exams may be scheduled for the same semester.

There are two ways to demonstrate research competence in a Near Eastern language in lieu of a translation exam.  Students may waive either their primary or secondary language or both translation exams, but may waive only one by each of the following means (i.e., may only claim native proficiency in one language, and/or can only cite coursework in lieu of one exam).

a.  Course work in lieu of one examination. The examination for one of these two, conceived as a secondary language in the student’s research, may be replaced by coursework: at least nine units of credit in courses in the language – including undergraduate, introductory-level coursework - with a grade of B+ or higher in each course. Typically this entails three semesters of work in the language. (Where possible, students are encouraged to pursue more than nine units of credit, proceeding to the highest level of ability attainable in the second Near Eastern research language, although this is not a requirement.)

b.  Waiver of one exam for native speaker of Near Eastern research language. The requirement of a translation exam is waived for one Near Eastern research language for students who speak one of their Near Eastern research languages natively (from childhood) and hold a degree from a university in which regular instruction is conducted in that language. The waiver does not hold when the research language is a pre-modern variety of the student’s native language (e.g., classical Arabic studied by a speaker of modern Arabic). Ability in different dialects or pre-modern varieties of a given language cannot be credited as more than one language for the purposes of these exams (e.g., modern and Ottoman Turkish do not count as two languages; classical Arabic and Judaeo-Arabic do not count as two languages).

Translation examinations are arranged by the student’s advisory committee (primary and associate advisor) but the examiners may include other faculty with the relevant language expertise. Translation examinations allow three hours for the translation of three passages of texts representing typical prose, poetry, or both, in one language.  PhD students taking two such examinations do so on different days.  At the discretion of the examiners, translation examinations may also include prompts for specific commentary or a short essay on the translated materials. Standards for the examinations in research languages necessarily vary according to the nature of the material extant in the different languages.  The goal is to demonstrate the competence to conduct research on texts in the language.  The student’s advisors decide whether the student may choose to employ a lexicon during the examination.  Examinations written with the help of a lexicon will be evaluated more strictly.

Grades include Pass or Fail.  Students who fail an exam may re-take the examination in that language once at a later date after suitable preparation, with different texts set by the examiners.  Students who fail the translation exam twice cannot retake the examination, cannot complete the degree program, and will not register for the next semester.

Two faculty members designated by the student’s advisory committee, in consultation with the DGS, evaluate each translation examination. In case of a disagreement in results, a third faculty member is recruited by the DGS to review the examination and to decide. When only one faculty member is available having expertise in the language of the examination, a second faculty member nevertheless reviews the examination and its results for fairness. Extradepartmental graduate faculty may participate in the administration and evaluation of these examinations.

When no faculty member has expertise in a given Near Eastern language, examinations for that language are not available and will not be administered.

2. Candidacy Exams

The full and authoritative articulation of policies governing Candidacy and Candidacy exams for all students appears in the Graduate School Handbook sections 7.4 through 7.8.  The policies and guidelines articulated at are intended as a complement to, rather than a replacement for, the policies stated in the Graduate School Handbook; in the event of any apparent contradiction or conflict between the two, the Graduate School Handbook should be understood as the definitive resource.

a. Scheduling.  Ideally, students are preparing for Candidacy exams throughout their graduate work, and students are encouraged to plan the date of their Candidacy exams as soon as they pass their translation exams. The Candidacy examinations must be taken by the end of the student’s third year, unless special provisions are made by the Graduate Studies Committee in consultation with the department chair.

Students must complete all of the individual requirements listed in categories I. through V.1 prior to the commencement of their Candidacy exams.  This includes all coursework and “modern” scholarship language requirements, the receipt of formal Graduate Studies Committee approval for declared specializations, Near Eastern research language requirements, and translation exams.  By that time, students should have accumulated at least 68 graduate credit hours; this will leave 12 units of dissertation work over four semesters to count towards the PhD.

b. Content & Format.  Student will take three written examinations in three different fields, followed by a two- hour oral examination within one month of the completion of the written portion of the examination.  To assess the three exams a Candidacy Exam Committee will be selected consisting of the student’s advisor and at least three other faculty members with expertise in the areas of the examinations. At least three of the four must be members of the NELC graduate faculty; an outside committee member can be included with the approval of the NELC Graduate Studies Committee.

c. Completion & Candidacy Status.  If the student’s candidacy exams are not found to be satisfactory, the student can make another attempt with the permission of the Graduate School. The Candidacy Examination Committee must remain unchanged. A repeated attempt requires another oral examination to be scheduled.

Students officially advance to the status of Doctoral Candidate at the start of the semester following their successful completion of Candidacy exams, and status as a Doctoral Candidate expires after 5 calendar years for any student not having completed and successfully defended their dissertation.

VI. Dissertation

Once advancing to Candidacy status, there are four steps to completing the doctoral degree: Appointment of Dissertation Committee, Writing and submission of dissertation prospectus, researching and writing the dissertation, and the final oral examination.

1. dissertation committee

The student must select members of a Dissertation Committee, consisting of at least 3 members of the Graduate Faculty (possibly but not necessarily drawn from the membership of Candidacy Exam Committee) and chaired by a dissertation advisor.  The Dissertation Committee must be approved by the Graduate Studies Committee.

2. prospectus

The student then writes a dissertation prospectus and submits it to the Committee. The prospectus outlines the proposed research project of the student's dissertation, indicates the significance of the project, and explains the methods to be used. The dissertation prospectus is normally fifteen to thirty pages, including extensive bibliography.

The dissertation prospectus cannot be a statement of findings before the research is carried out and written. It raises questions and issues and outlines the methods by which the answers will be sought. Normally the dissertation prospectus ranges in length from five to twenty pages, including an extensive representative bibliography.

The prospectus should be submitted soon after the Candidacy Exams, certainly within one semester. If the student has passed the Candidacy Exams at the end of the second year of PhD work, then the immediately subsequent summer is usually sufficient to write the prospectus.

3. research & writing

The Dissertation Committee reviews the prospectus and suggests changes before it is approved. Once the prospectus is approved by the committee, the student works continuously on researching and writing the dissertation.

4. defense

Once the dissertation is completed and submitted, the student undergoes a two-hour Final Oral Examination on the dissertation. The Final Oral Exam Committee consists of the Dissertation Committee with the addition of a Graduate Faculty Representative appointed by the Graduate School.

[policies for students enrolling prior to Autumn 2016 approved by Council of Academic Affairs Spring 2012 and updated Autumn 2013; policies for students enrolling Autumn 2016 and after approved by Council of Academic Affairs, June 22, 2016]