Classical Indian Religion MPhil

Myths of the Hindus & Buddhists (1914) p. 64: Rama sending his signet-ring to Sita by K. Venkatappa

This course introduces you to the religions of India whose literature has been expressed primarily in Sanskrit and the Middle Indic languages, especially Prakrit and Pali. The course provides an overview through the study of original sources in Sanskrit, as well as the opportunity to choose two Indian religious traditions in which to specialise. 

The course is intended for those wishing to begin a new field of study at the graduate level or wishing to add a second field. It can also serve as a preparation for careers in the arts, libraries, journalism, diplomacy, law, government service, non-governmental organisations, or secondary school education.

In the first part of the course, lasting five months, you will make an intensive study of the essentials of the Sanskrit language. There will be daily homework exercises as well as memorization of aspects of Sanskrit grammar and vocabulary. At the same time you will attend a class on methods in the study of classical Indian culture, attend lectures and seminars, and write several tutorial essays related to general themes in Indian religion. There is a written examination in the middle of March of your ability to translate prepared texts in Sanskrit and of your knowledge of Sanskrit grammar.

After successfully passing this examination you will enter the second part of the course, which continues to the end of the second year. You will have regular classes in reading Sanskrit texts. For these classes you will prepare texts in advance and, along with your classmates, will read and translate them into English. Your classes will cover prescribed lists of texts that belong to two Indian religious traditions, which you will have chosen from among four options: Shaiva, Vaishnava, Buddhist, and the mainstream tradition that derives from the Vedas. You will also be given regular tutorials in these two traditions, for which you will read assigned secondary sources and prepare essays to discuss with your tutors. There are also lectures and seminars regularly offered. Students who come to Oxford with a significant background in Sanskrit may with permission attend advanced classes, or other language classes offered at Oxford, though they will not be explicitly examined in these languages. All students are encouraged to attend lectures both in the Faculty and elsewhere in the university, as their work permits and their interests dictate.

In the final examination, there is a three-hour written paper in the textual component of the course. This paper has two halves, one for translation of portions of texts that you have read during the course, and the other for translation from comparable sources in Sanskrit that you have not read before in a class. There are also two three-hour written papers on the history of classical Indian religion, with the subject matter divided more or less chronologically. In these papers you will write essays in response to questions posed on topics covered by your tutorials.

There will also be a take-home paper due at the end of Trinity term. You will be given a question based on your chosen areas and thesis topics that requires you to demonstrate a critical appreciation of different methods of studying Indian religious texts.

In addition to the three written examinations and take-home paper mentioned above, you will either have to sit for a fourth written three-hour paper, on approaches to the study of Indian religion, or write a thesis of up to 25,000 words. In practice most students choose the latter option. It is usual to write the thesis mostly during the vacations, and it has to be handed in at the beginning of the final term. Tutors will discuss the choice of topic with you and supply a bibliography, and may criticise a first draft, but the final version of the thesis is entirely your own work. If you are subsequently admitted for a research degree, a successful MPhil thesis may form the basis of your doctoral dissertation.

Supervision

The allocation of graduate supervision for this course is the responsibility of the Faculty of Oriental Studies and it is not always possible to accommodate the preferences of incoming graduate students to work with a particular member of staff. Under exceptional circumstances a supervisor may be found outside the Faculty of Oriental Studies.

Entry Requirements

Degree-level qualifications

As a minimum, applicants should normally hold or be predicted to achieve the equivalent of the following UK qualifications:

  • a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours in any subject.

If your degree is not from the UK, visit our International Qualifications page for guidance on the qualifications and grades that would usually be considered to meet the University’s minimum entry requirements.

For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA sought is 3.5 out of 4.0.

Graduate Destinations

Oriental studies graduates have found employment in many and diverse fields including business, finance, law, civil service, journalism, government and industry. Many graduates have also undertaken further research into subjects linked with oriental studies and have pursued successful careers in the academic world, education and in museums.

Further Information

For further information please refer to the Graduate Course Handbook.

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