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Ethics and Society

OBJECTIVES: This program primarily prepares students to do research and teach in theological education and religious studies. Some of our graduates have also pursued successful careers in public policy and biomedical ethics settings. The program focuses on the social and moral significance of religion in modern society. Students are expected to complete and integrate course work in the academic study of religion, philosophical, theological, and social ethics, and social theory and analysis. Students in Ethics are also expected to have a minor field of study. This requirement may be satisfied in one of the other areas of study in the Graduate Department of Religion (i.e., Hebrew Bible, New Testament, Historical Studies, Critical Studies in Asian, Islamic, and Jewish Traditions, Homiletics and Liturgics, Religion, Psychology, and Culture, or Theological Studies). Students may also take a minor in a variety of cognate disciplines within the human studies and social sciences (i.e., philosophy, classics, political theory, comparative literature, historical studies, medical humanities, anthropology, sociology, political science, et al.).

Successful completion of the program depends on meeting four requirements. Students must [1] satisfy all course work with a minimum grade of B; [2] pass two language examinations; [3] complete a set of Qualifying Examinations, which are normally taken by or during the fifth semester after matriculation; and [4] successfully complete and defend a dissertation.

1. Course Work: The Graduate School requires that students complete 72 hours of course work, of which a minimum of 24 hours are to be done in residence at Vanderbilt. As much as 24 hours may be transferred from prior post-baccalaureate work having a grade of B or higher and showing relevance to the student’s major. (The number of transfer credits is determined by the area faculty.) At least 12 hours of course work taken at Vanderbilt will be required for the student’s minor; no transfer credits may satisfy this requirement. The remaining hours may be distributed among other courses, dissertation research hours, or special reading courses. Methods in Ethics is the only required course for majors and must be successfully completed prior to taking the Qualifying Examinations.

2. Language Examinations: Ph.D. students in Ethics must demonstrate research competence in two languages.  At least one of the languages should be a modern European language, often French, German, Spanish, or the student’s native language if not English. The choice of the second language can depend on the student’s research area and method: usually a second modern language relevant for research, a biblical or other ancient language, or a social science research method. Language examinations are to be satisfied according to the specifications of the GDR and Graduate School.

3. Qualifying Examinations: Qualifying Examinations are given twice a year, in November and April. After the completion of at least 36 hours of graduate course work and the satisfaction of the language requirements, examinations can be scheduled. The examinations, which are administered by a qualifying committee, must be satisfied by the eighth semester after enrollment. The Ethics program requires five examinations. The exams are in (1) Social Theory and Policy Analysis, (2) Philosophical Ethics, (3) Theological Ethics, (4) Minor Field, and (5) Dissertation Research. The examinations in Social Theory and Policy Analysis, the Minor Field, and Dissertation Research are usually satisfied by submitting papers. Philosophical Ethics and Theological Ethics are sit-down, timed examinations.

4. Dissertation: Dissertations in Ethics must meet scholarly criteria as well as the procedural specifications of the Graduate School. Some important considerations to observe when anticipating the dissertation are: [a] Is the student methodologically equipped to complete the project? [b] Is the project sufficiently focused? [3] Are there ample resources for pursuing the project in a reasonable time? [d] Does the dissertation make a significant contribution to the field? [e] Is the dissertation of publishable quality? After the dissertation has been completed, it will be defended before the Ph.D. committee.

This description of requirements supplements The Bulletin of Vanderbilt University Graduate School and "The Guidelines of the Graduate Department of Religion." Students are expected to meet all of the common requirements of the graduate program as described in those publications.