New Guidelines Effective October 2014

PhD Comprehensive Examination 


The purpose of the comprehensive examination is to test the student’s knowledge of significant literature in two fields: the general field of study to which the student has applied (Religion and Culture; Religions in Canada; Religions in the Graeco-Roman World) and the specific field of study to which the student’s thesis will contribute.

Reading lists 

Students will propose a reading list of 30 to 50 significant scholarly works (books, articles) for a) their general field of study, and b) their specific field of study. The reading lists must be accompanied by an explanation of the proposed field and some comments on the reading lists. The reading lists must be approved by the thesis director and two faculty members who have agreed to be examiners of the fields. It is the responsibility of the thesis director to obtain the agreement of these two faculty members. Both examiners must be members of the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies and at least one examiner must be a member of the Department of Classics and Religious Studies.

After the reading lists have been approved by the examiners, each is submitted to the Director of Graduate Studies, along with a cover page that indicates:

  • Name of student
  • Degree sought
  • Name(s) of the thesis director(s)
  • Name of the field of study
  • Names of two faculty members who have agreed to be examiners and a statement of their approval of the lists (copy of an email is fine)
  • Signatures of the student and the thesis director
  • Date signed

These documents will be placed in the student’s file.


Prior to the oral examination, the student will prepare an analytical discussion, approximately five pages single-spaced, 12-point font, of each of the reading lists. The purpose of this paper is to allow the student to demonstrate her or his understanding of the literature and to provide the examiners with a point of departure for the oral examination.

The student will submit these papers to the thesis director and the Director of Graduate Studies, along with title pages indicating the name of the student, the name of the field, the thesis director, the names of the two examiners, and the date of submission.  The thesis director and two examiners must approve the papers in order for the oral examination to take place. Should the papers not be acceptable, the student will have one opportunity to revise and resubmit them.

After approval by the thesis director and examiners, the Director of Graduate Studies, through the Graduate Assistant, will schedule oral examinations for each field. In each case, the purpose of the oral examination is to evaluate a) the student’s knowledge of the field as delimited by the reading list and b) the student’s ability critically to assess the assumptions, arguments, and methods of the literature.

The examination will be evaluated Satisfactory or Not Satisfactory. A student may attempt an examination of a field a second time if the result of the first examination is Not Satisfactory. The examiners may request a supplemental written examination if they deem this necessary.

The list below outlines the learning outcomes that are expected from the Comprehensives, and the attached template will be used to assess the level of understanding and critical awareness that the student has attained.

Learning outcomes:

  1. Knowledge
    1. Knowledge of the important scholarly literature in the field
      1. Diachronic: Knowledge of the “classics” in the field
      2. Synchronic: Knowledge of current scholarship
      3. Comprehensive: Knowledge of scholarship written in English, French, and other languages as relevant to the field of study
  2. Knowledge of the main lines of scholarly inquiry
    1. Diachronic: Historically
    2. Synchronic: At the present time
  3. Critical thinking
    1. Ability to discern the underlying assumptions
    2. Ability to engage in analysis and critique of scholarship
    3. Ability to critically compare and contrast methodologies
      1. Diachronic
      2. Synchronic
    4. Ability to situate one’s own project in the broader context
  4. Communication
    1. Written
    2. Oral

MA and PhD Thesis Proposal


The thesis proposal outlines the expected contribution of the thesis and the method by which the research is expected to achieve that contribution. The purpose of the presentation, review, and approval of the thesis proposal is to ensure that the thesis project is methodologically sound and practically feasible. For research involving human subjects, departmental approval of the thesis proposal is required as a condition of approval by the University’s Research Ethics Board. 

Preliminary Proposal

The preliminary proposal is to be completed no later than the second session for MA students and the fifth session for PhD students. All MA students and, unless exempted because they have completed an MA thesis, all PhD students will prepare the preliminary proposal as part of the requirements of SRS5928. The length of the proposal should be approximately 8-10 pages double-spaced, 12-point font, excluding bibliography. 

The cover page of the preliminary proposal should indicate:

  • Name of student
  • Degree sought
  • Proposed title of the thesis
  • Name of thesis director(s)
  • Names of two faculty members who have agreed to review the final proposal
  • Signatures of the student and the thesis director
  • Date signed

The body of the preliminary proposal should describe the thesis project under the following categories:

  • Research Question and Tentative Hypothesis
  • Literature Review
  • Conceptual Framework and Method
  • Tentative Table of Contents
  • Bibliography

These categories may be modified or expanded at the discretion of the thesis director, though all of them should be included in the proposal in some form.


After the thesis director has approved the preliminary proposal and obtained the agreement of two faculty members from the Department of Classics and Religious Studies to attend the colloquium and review the final proposal, the student will submit the proposal, including the cover page, to the Director of Graduate Studies, who will schedule a colloquium. (One or more “colloquium days” will be scheduled at the end of the Winter session, but individual colloquia may be scheduled at other times during the year, if required.) The colloquium is open to all faculty members and graduate students in the department. The two faculty members who have 
agreed to review the final proposal must attend in person or by an electronic means. The proposal will be circulated to faculty and graduate students before the colloquium. The student is expected to give an overview of the thesis project (no more than 20 minutes), to be followed by a question period. 

Final Proposal

After the colloquium, the student will prepare the final version of the thesis proposal, structured as above. Suggestions received at the colloquium are to be incorporated into the proposal, in consultation with the thesis director. Prior to being submitted to the Director of Graduate Studies, the final proposal must be read and approved by the two faculty members who agreed to do so. 
Normally these faculty members would also be internal examiners of the thesis, though there may be instances where this may not be the case. (MA theses are evaluated by two internal examiners, i.e., examiners who normally come from the Department; PhD theses are evaluated by three internal examiners, i.e., examiners who normally come from the department or the university, and one external examiner.) If the two reviewers have major concerns or criticisms of the proposal, the student, thesis director, and reviewers should come to agreement as to how these concerns or criticisms will be addressed. The final proposal is to be signed and dated by the student, the thesis director, and the two reviewers, and submitted to the Director of Graduate Studies. This document will be deposited in the student’s file in the departmental office.

Approved in principle by the Religious Studies Sector
Approved by the Departmental Assembly

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