Monday, June 06, 2005

PhD Questions

Over on Deinde, Danny Zacharias asks some interesting questions about the kinds of things for post-graduates to bear in mind in pursuing a PhD and asks for other bloggers' opinions. I am not yet through all my accumulated blogroll, so it's possible that what I write here will duplicate what others have already said, but here are some of my own thoughts on Danny's interesting questions:
First off, are most other PhD's this demanding in terms of languages? Second, How important is German and French? I find in my studies (NT and NT backgrounds primarily) that German is not as prevalent as it used to be. I am seeing less and less footnotes to German works, and many of the significant German works are being translated into English pretty quickly. Is the German requirement fading?
I'd say that it is fading in some places, that it is not regarded a seriously as it once was, but that this should not be encouraged. I questioned a student in a PhD viva once about a German work and s/he answered, quite unapologetically, that s/he could not have read the work in question because it was in German. The difficulty here is that if one wants to prepare for the academic life, competence in German is necessary and therefore it is not worth looking to find ways of side-stepping this. French is much less important, but still some competence is desirable. At Duke it is apparently obligatory to have competence: "Students must pass competency exams in German and French before taking their preliminary exams." (Graduate Program in Religion: New Testament).
Third, are PhD programs increasingly 'silently requiring' Aramaic or Latin as well?
I'd say it depends very much on the topic of your dissertation. I have no Aramaic and very limited Latin. I want to work on both and some time will manage it. But clearly there are some topics where it would be required and others where it would be highly desirable.
Fourth, I'd love to hear some blogger opinions for myself and other readers on PhD programs. If someone were interested in NT, where should they aim for? What about OT? Judaica? Theology? . . . . I am not sure if Duke can be beat. As an NT student, Notre Dame is also luring (My sights are narrowed to North America, I simply cannot afford to cross the pond). What are some other opinions?
I am afraid that the truth of the matter is that Duke is suffering a great loss to its graduate programme with the retirement of E. P. Sanders, in my opinion the finest living NT scholar, just no question about it. But I would agree that it is a fantastic graduate school; it's one of several reasons that I was absolutely delighted to be offered a post there. If I've understood correctly, the Dept of Religion, where I will be based, and the Divinity School work together in the Graduate Program in Religion. I don't know enough about other American universities to be able to comment; I'm a learner there. In the UK, there are several you could mention and I am nervous of listing them lest I miss anyone out!

Update (Tuesday, 23.25): Joe Cathey comments with a focus on Hebrew Bible. Anyone else?


Mark Cheeseman said...

I've added a few comments at:

John Lyons said...

I wonder if you aren't missing the point a bit here, Mark. There are two issues. (1) In any PhD viva, anyone who has not read a piece of work in "any" foreign language is likely to be in trouble, not just German. I well remember being told by John Rogerson that the best Commentary on Deuteronomy was in Dutch! If a PhD is to be original (a big if), how can one claim this unless one has read "all" the relevant secondary literature. This leads on to (2). Just how important is German these days? Working in, say, canonical criticism as I did it is almost totally irrelevant. Any German scholar interested in this largely anglo-american project is generally put into Englsh immediately. German scholarship as a whole is not interested. But if these works are not translated, the PhD student who works on theses ideas must still find out what they say, just as they must if the work is in Spanish, Norwegian, or Polish. So, Mark, is German still a requirement for "the academic life"? Working on Chrysostom, as I am at the moment, I can tell you that Italian would be a lot more useful. The idea of the "Neutestamentler" is a powerful one, but is it really where New Testament scholarship is today?