Requirements for a PhD

A student must complete a minimum of 18 courses (the actual number of courses may be higher depending on the language proficiency of the student). These include the required language courses, the three required departmental seminars, and other courses relevant to the student’s chosen specialty. The latter may include courses offered in other departments as well as in SALC. Students may not receive a grade of ‘R’ in any of the courses counted among the required 18 courses, and none of these may be an informal reading course. These requirements must be fulfilled before admission to candidacy.

Before being admitted to candidacy, PhD students must also fulfill the following requirements which are given in further detail below:

  • meet general language requirements
  • complete the three required departmental seminars
  • receive a passing grade on the two qualifying papers
  • formulate two reading lists and pass an oral examination based on them
  • write and defend a dissertation proposal.

Students with prior graduate work in South Asian languages and civilizations or those holding a relevant Master’s degree may petition at the end of their first year to satisfy a portion of the 18-course requirement. Only courses taken at accredited institutions will be accepted, and the petition will have to be approved by the departmental Director of Graduate Studies.

The PhD is awarded following approval and successful defense of the completed dissertation.

Students normally take 4 to 5 years to complete all pre-dissertation work. Students who have not completed the PhD by the end of the ninth year will no longer be permitted to register in the degree program, but those who go on to complete their dissertations later may petition the Department to be allowed to defend the dissertation and receive the degree.


Language Requirements

The Department encourages varied research devoted to the ancient, medieval, modern, and contemporary cultures of South Asia. All research in the department has as its main prerequisite suitable advancement in the languages appropriate to a student's chosen field of specialization. The languages in which the department presently offers concentrations are Bangla, Hindi, Marathi, Sanskrit, Tamil, Tibetan, and Urdu. Instruction in Persian and Arabic is also available through the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. Courses may occasionally be offered in other languages; special arrangements must be made in advance with the instructors of these languages, and students must petition the Department in order to count these languages for their requirements.

Three languages are required: (i) the South Asian language of concentration (the major language); (ii) a second South Asian language relevant to the student's program of study (the minor language); and (iii) a third language of scholarship (e.g. French, German, Hindi, Japanese, and Arabic).

Students are required to achieve advanced proficiency in their major language. Students who already possess both linguistic competence and analytical skills in their major language should contact the language instructor for placement at the appropriate level. However, at least one year of advanced language courses in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations has to be successfully completed regardless of the student’s level of language competence.

In their minor language, students are required to achieve a proficiency equivalent to at least 2 years of formal study at the University of Chicago. Again, students who already possess a knowledge of their minor language should contact the language instructor to determine the level of proficiency. Students who already possess a proficiency level equivalent to 2 years of formal study at the University of Chicago may fulfill the requirement by taking an exam without prior coursework.

The student’s selection of the major and minor language will have to be approved by the departmental Director of Graduate Studies. While the choice of the major language will obviously depend on the student’s research projects, students are strongly encouraged to consider for their minor language one that opens up new perspectives and that will help to gain a broader knowledge of South Asia. Students are expected to demonstrate satisfactory progress each quarter in the required language courses.

For the third language, the language of scholarship, students should choose a language on the basis of how useful it will be for their chosen field of study. They should make a case in writing that a significant body of secondary literature relevant to their primary area of research has been or is being produced in that language. The choice of the language of scholarship has to be approved by the departmental Director of Graduate Studies. Proficiency in reading the language of scholarship is typically assessed by an examination administered by the Office of Language Assessment or by the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, as appropriate to the language in question. For Persian and Arabic, students should contact the NELC Department.



Qualifying Papers

In their first year of study, students are required to submit a qualifying paper on a subject agreed upon with a faculty member. This paper should demonstrate the student’s ability to write scholarly prose, to formulate a clear research argument, and to situate it within the context of secondary literature relevant to the topic. It must be submitted during the third week of the Spring quarter of the first year. The length of this paper must be 5,000 to 6,000 words, including footnotes, references, and bibliography (12 pt font, double-spaced, with 1 inch margins). There are two grade categories for this first qualifying paper:

  • No Pass
  • Pass

In their second year of study, students are required to submit a second qualifying paper on a subject agreed upon with a faculty member. This paper should demonstrate the student's ability to formulate a research topic involving primary materials, to argue its importance and to situate it within a history of scholarship, to articulate the principal questions of theory and method relevant to this topic, and to present conclusions in a clear and precise manner. It must be submitted in the third week of the Spring quarter of the second year. The length of this second paper must be 8,000 to 10,000 words, including footnotes, references, and bibliography (formatted as specified above). There are three grade categories for the second qualifying paper:

  • No Pass
  • Pass (with progress beyond the MA degree not permitted)
  • Pass

There are two readers for each of the qualifying papers. While it is the responsibility of the student to approach a potential first reader, the second reader will be selected and appointed by the Chair of the Department in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies.

MA Degree

Upon successful completion of the two qualifying papers, students may apply for the MA degree. For the degree to be awarded, students must have completed, in addition to the qualifying papers, (1) the three required departmental seminars, and (2) the major language requirement. There can be no outstanding Incomplete grades. It is very strongly recommended that students avoid Incomplete grades at all times.

Reading Lists and Oral Examinations

While the program asks students to pursue specialized research in their area of concentration, it is essential that they do this in relation to a broad understanding of the cultural and historical context in which their objects of specialized study are situated. The Department therefore requires oral examinations on the basis of two reading lists in (1) a major area of study, and (2) a minor area of study.

Each of the student’s two reading lists is to be designed in consultation with one or more members of the SALC faculty in a given area. No one faculty member should serve as sole adviser for both lists, and the two lists must be on clearly different areas. The first must deal with an important aspect of the literary, cultural or other history of the student’s principal area of research. The second must pertain to an area of South Asian studies other than his or her field of concentration. The reading lists should not exceed twenty books and should constitute a serious, deep, and broad set of readings in important issues in the area of study. The relative weight of primary as opposed to secondary texts should be a matter of consultation between the student and the faculty member(s) concerned.

Each of the two reading lists in their final form must be approved and signed by the faculty member(s) who supervised their preparation. The two signed lists must be shared with the Chair and the Director of Graduate Studies of the Department for verification that the lists meet all the formal requirements. An approved and signed copy of each will be deposited in the student’s permanent file. These signed copies must be submitted to the departmental office no later than thirty days before the proposed date of the oral examination. It is the student’s responsibility to ensure that the reading lists are filed in time.

The faculty members who approve the reading lists serve as examiners for the oral examinations, which are normally taken in the Winter or Spring Quarter of the student’s third year. The two exams are administered in one session; each is approximately 45 minutes long. One composite grade  ‘Pass’ or ‘No Pass’  is awarded for the oral examinations.


Required Departmental Seminars

Competence in South Asian languages and civilizations is demonstrated as much by close familiarity with South Asian texts as by a broad knowledge of the plurality of South Asian practices and traditions. To this end the PhD program includes three required departmental seminars, consisting of the two “research themes courses” and the course on South Asia as a Unit of Study. These seminars are taught in a two-year cycle. The three required seminars must be completed in the first two years.

These required departmental seminars are to be taken by students in the first and second years of the doctoral program. Students must enroll in each of these courses as they become available, until the requirement is met. Students cannot opt out of a course when it is offered with the expectation of taking an equivalent course later.

1. & 2. Research Themes in South Asian Studies 

These two seminars will each approach a broad theme in South Asian studies from a perspective transcending any narrow focus on a specific language or region. The objective is to introduce students to current research themes and methods pertinent but not exclusive to the study of South Asia. Seminar topics include South Asian court cultures, genres, material aspects of textual culture, poetic theories, political thought, translation practices, region in South Asia, etc. The topics will be indicated in the subtitles of the courses.

3. South Asia as a Unit of Study 

This course aims to acquaint students with major historical and methodological questions pertaining to the field of South Asian languages and civilizations. Topics include the history of Orientalism, colonial forms of knowledge, South Asia in a global context, etc. This course will be offered in alternate years.

Time to Candidacy and Time to Degree

Time to candidacy should be four years and must be no more than five years. Time to degree must be no more than nine years, and preferably less. Failure to meet either of these maximum deadlines will result in the student being administratively removed from the graduate degree program.