Years 1 & 2

Plan of Study, Coursework, Languages & 2-Yr Review


Plan of Study

In order to gain Committee approval of work to be done outside the specialization, the student must, in consultation with the advisor, submit a Plan of Study during their first term by early November (see forms). The Director of Graduate Studies will review and act upon the proposals received. Any later alterations in plans should be duly reported with an updated Plan of Study.


Full-time study during the first two years (4 half-courses per each term; a total of 16) with a minimum average grade of B, is required. Included in these course requirements are:

Specialization Studies

It is expected that students will complete satisfactorily all basic courses, including those classical languages within their area of specialization, needed to lay the foundation for advanced work. These will vary from person to person and field to field. Students are asked to participate in the activities of their fields, particularly the colloquia.

Common Seminars

  1. Religion 2001. The Cultural History of the Study of Religion (first year)
  2. Religion 2002. Contemporary Conversations in the Study of Religion (second year)

If, in the estimation of the faculty instructor of instructors of Religion 2001 or Religion 2002, academic problems arise in any enrolled student’s performance during the course of a semester, it is expected that instructors will follow the sequence below: 

  1. Give the student both written and oral warning about unsatisfactory academic performance in a timely way, i.e., as soon as there are serious concerns;
  2. Contact the student’s primary program advisor to discuss the concerns;
  3. In consultation with the student and the advisor, and the program director if necessary, general concrete guidelines in writing to address the perceived issue and improve performance in the seminar. These written guidelines must be made available to all concerned.

If, within a reasonable time frame agreed on by the discussants, the student fails to improve performance to the degree that the instructors view that the student should not continue as an enrolled member of the seminar, but should consider alternatives (such as taking the seminar a different year, or more drastically, reconsider continuation in the doctoral program), there must be an independent review of this assessment by the Doctoral Sub-Committee before the student is compelled to withdraw from the seminar.

Additional Coursework Outside Specialization

Satisfactory completion of a minimum of two additional courses outside the specialization is required. These are normally in another tradition, geographical-historical complex, or methodology than the student’s primary focus. The two courses should be in the same area and completed before the general examinations are taken. 

This expected "distribution" of courses in the student's first two years constitutes the minimum amount of course work required, and is designed to assure that a degree of balance between the specialized and general components of a student's program of study is maintained. At the same time it will serve to help the student prepare for the Theory and Methods General Examination that is required at a later stage.

Guidelines on Religion 3000, and Religion 3001 and Units of “Time”

When a student has already done substantial advanced work, he or she may include one half-course per semester of Religion 3001. Reading and Research with the approval of an appropriate faculty member.

Post-generals students (generally after year 4) engaged in dissertation work will normally register for one, two, three or four half-courses of Religion 3000: Direction of Doctoral Dissertation, in addition to whatever other regular course-work they may take in a given semester. 

While any number of Religion 3000 and Religion 3001 half-courses may serve to fulfill in part the degree course requirements, units of TIME (TIME-C, TIME-R, or TIME-T) will not.

TIME-C (time for course-related reasons) is to be used only for preparation for general examinations, normally during the one or two terms leading up to the anticipated time of generals, but not before the fifth term. The only exception to this is in the case of a student who takes the generals in the fourth or fifth term, in which case, TIME-C may be appropriate in the fourth or even third term. Please refer to the GSAS Student Handbook or consult the Program Administrator if you have questions about TIME-C.

All Ph.D. Teaching Fellows will be expected to register for one half-course of TIME-T (time for Teaching) per 1/5 teaching time equivalent per semester, irrespective of their stage of progress or year of study in the program. Note that 1/5 is typically one section in a course.

Any Ph.D. student hired as a Research Assistant will be expected to register for one half-course of TIME-R (time for Research Assistant reasons) per 1/5 research time equivalent per semester, normally 7 to 10 hours a week. Note that the Time-R work is research for someone else (i.e. a faculty member), not for the student’s own research. 



Language Requirement

1. All doctoral students—in consultation with their advisors—achieve at least intermediate reading competence in two modern languages of secondary scholarship relevant to their course of study (such as French, German, Japanese), in addition to whatever primary source languages are required in their field. (Note that languages needed for ethnographic or other research, requiring verbal competence, are for primary scholarship and thus cannot be used as one of the modern languages of secondary scholarship.)

2. The requirement in modern languages of scholarship commonly taught and examined at Harvard University (French, German, Spanish, etc.) can be met either by achieving a grade of B+ or better in two semesters of a second-year language course (in either HDS or FAS); by receiving a grade of A- or better in the Harvard Divinity School one-semester advanced intermediate language courses in French and German; or by achieving a “high pass” on an HDS qualifying exam. (Note: receiving A- or better in the HDS Summer Language Program does not meet the requirement – the exam must still be taken.) Students whose first language is not English may meet the requirement with a “pass” on the language exam.

3. In the case of modern languages of scholarship for which there is not an intermediate two-semester course at Harvard or a qualifying exam at HDS, the number of years required to achieve “intermediate reading competence” and the equivalent of “high pass” on language examinations will be determined by faculty in the relevant field. This involves an exam comparable to the HDS qualifying exam: translating a text of moderate difficulty in a one-hour exam with one dictionary, using a text of religious or historical significance or a scriptural text. The student should consult the Ph.D. Administrator or Director of Graduate Studies to arrange the administration of the exam.

4. All language requirements must be met before General Exams are taken.

(Ph.D. and Th.D. Language Requirement, adopted Spring 2011)

Additional information about languages

Students having extraordinary difficulty in passing language requirements are encouraged to contact both the Program Administrator and the Faculty Director of Language Testing.

Language exams taken as a student in a Masters program at HDS may be used to fulfill the language requirement if the required grade of High Pass was achieved. However, final exam results for the language courses in the Summer Language Program or the full-year German tutorial are not acceptable; doctoral students must take the official language exam. 

Language Exams

Language competency exams are given three times a year: early September, late January and late April. A “High Pass” on a language exam attests that a student has sufficient knowledge and skill to use the language in scholarship. Some mistakes in recognizing grammar or vocabulary are allowed if they do not seriously undermine the student's ability to understand and translate the text. During the one-hour exam, students are asked to translate a one to two page text of intermediate difficulty. Students may use a dictionary.

Language exams are normally given for Hebrew, Greek, Latin, German, French, Arabic and Spanish. Students who need to be tested in another language should consult the Faculty Director of Language Studies at HDS.

If you have any preparation in the required languages, you are strongly urged to sign up for and take one or more of the language qualifying exams given in early September of your first year. You may pass the exam, but even if you do not, you will be much better prepared to choose an appropriate course or study on your own before trying again. A failure is recorded on your internal record sheet, but is never released on a transcript.

Ph.D. students may qualify for a limited number of tuition waivers for summer language courses offered in FAS during the summers immediately preceding and following their first year. Students admitted after fall of 2015 qualify for tuition, program and application fee waivers for enrollment in the HDS Summer Language Program. It is advisable to do coursework prior to the HDS qualifying exam. Copies of prior exams are available from the HDS Registrar.

Guidelines for Religion 3002. Foreign Language Certification Course

Eligibility: Students applying to take Religion 3002. Foreign Language Certification to fulfill the language requirement should first have: 1) attempted the Language Qualifying Exam (HDS) and been unsuccessful, and 2) prepared to re-take the language qualifying exam by completing course work at Harvard

Applying: A student first must consult with and have permission of 1) the primary advisor, 2) the Faculty Director of Language Studies (HDS), and 3) the proposed instructor of the course.

After this initial approval, and before registering for the course, the student should submit a list of readings to the instructor of the course and to the Faculty Director of Language Studies for their approval. It is the student's responsibility to collect the readings, in consultation with the instructor and the Faculty Director of Language Studies if necessary, and to provide copies of the approved list to both these faculty members. 

Procedure for certification of coursework: After completion of the readings, the instructor administers an exam (preferably written; oral with permission) and evaluates the student’s ability to translate. The instructor submits the results to the Faculty Director of Language Studies for certification. The results may take one of two forms: corrected translations or a brief letter describing the translation and the testing method.

After receiving the evaluation material, the Faculty Director of Language Studies informs the Program Administrator of the evaluation. The instructor reports a grade of “SAT” to the Registrar for recording on the student’s transcript. 

Second Year Review

The main purpose of the Second Year Review is to consider and clarify the overall design and progress of a student’s academic program. There are usually two faculty reviewers: one in the student’s field of specialization, normally the advisor, and one outside the student’s field. A second purpose is to assess the student’s academic progress in general and in regard to the particular program requirements for degree. A third purpose of the Second Year Review is to review the fields that the student is proposing to cover on the General Examinations. 

The Second Year Review should, as needed, lead to any or some of the following recommendations: clarify a timetable for completing any remaining requirements, specify any further coursework, address any issues in advising, and clarify the fields and timetable for General Examinations. A written summary of all such recommendations should be sent to the student as soon as possible after the review and provided to the Program Administrator for the student record.

Second Year Review Materials

A student participating in the Second Year Review must submit two major course papers to their reviewers; one in the specialization, and one outside their field or discipline, as well a a 1 to 2-page statement of academic purpose. One paper may be from a course taken with one of the reviewers, but the second paper should be from a course taken with some other faculty member, not a reviewer.

Procedures for Second Year Review

When ready, the student submits to the Program Administrator an "Intent to Take Second Year Review" form. On this form, the review committee and papers are proposed by the student and the advisor, as well as semester to be taken. The review is to occur either in the third or the fourth semester of study.

The student should schedule a time for the review with the two faculty reviewers and notify the Program Administrator of the meeting date and time. The review normally is 1 to 1 ½ hours. The two papers, a copy of the statement of purpose and an updated review form must be submitted to both reviewers, and the Program Administrator, at least two weeks prior to the meeting.

The A.M. Degree

In the Study of Religion students are only admitted for the Ph.D. program; no one is admitted as a candidate for the A.M. Nevertheless, the requirements for the master’s degree must be satisfied by all students as they move toward the doctorate, and are expected to be completed by the end of the fourth term.

The requirements for the A.M. degree are:

  • a minimum of two full years of coursework (16 half-courses with a minimum average grade of B) completed;
  • the modern language of secondary scholarship requirements met;
  • the course requirements outside the specialization fulfilled;
  • a satisfactory second year review completed.

For students who take a terminal A.M., a second year review is not required. The A.M. degree may be granted when these requirements are fulfilled. In order to receive the degree, Ph.D. students may log in to my.harvard, request a Master’s in Passing, and apply as soon as their requirements are complete and recorded.