Dissertation Proposal

After successful completion of the preliminary examination, you (now a candidate for the Ph.D.) will submit a formal proposal for a dissertation topic to the dissertation committee—a committee of 4 to 5 faculty, including the director of the dissertation, chosen by you in consultation with the director and approved by the Director of the Graduate Program in Religion. 

Approval of Dissertation Topic

You must receive your doctoral committee's approval for the proposed study. The following steps should be taken:

  1. Consultation with the probably principal advisor regarding the dissertation topic.
  2. Presentation in writing to the advisor of a proposal for the dissertation topic. Where possible, the proposal (maximum of 10-12 pages) should include:
    •  a working title
    •  a statement of the problem to be address and the core thesis to be developed
    •  a brief defense of the topic's significance, including the prospective dissertation's location within a wider field of scholarship, paying particular attention to the context of the field's secondary literature (i.e. who is working in related or parallel areas and how does the dissertation differ from or build upon their work)
    •  a brief statement regarding the methodology and foreign languages to be used
    •  a working outline, including descriptive chapter headings and a brief statement of the material to be covered within each section
    •  a basic bibliography of key primary and secondary sources
  3. The Advisor circulates the proposal to all members of the proposed dissertation committee (DC).
  4. At least 3 members of the committee meet with you to discuss the proposal and approve it.
  5. The student submits an abridged form of the proposal to the GPR office for the Committee on Doctoral Committees (CDC) to consider it. The abridged form of the proposal should be double-spaced and should not exceed 1000 words, excluding a brief bibliography, normally consisting of key primary and secondary sources. It should also include, in shortened form, and in language accessible to non-specialists, the other elements listed above.
  6. If you, for any reason should radically change your proposal from the one originally approved, you must take the above steps for the approval of the new proposal.

Dissertation Guidance

While the dissertation advisor has principal responsibility for advice and guidance, it is understood that any member of the committee is available for guidance. You are urged, and your advisor may require this, to submit sections of your dissertation while it is still in the process of preparation to various committee members for criticism. Any member may request that certain sections or chapters of the dissertation be submitted to him/her before they reach the stage of final draft.

Complete Dissertation

The dissertation must meet the standards of the Graduate Program in Religion and the Graduate School of Duke University. Doctoral dissertations ordinarily run 90,000 to 100,000 words including notes and bibliography. For information about the format specified by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, see Guide for the Preparation of Theses and Dissertations.

Dissertation Defense

When the dissertation is completed, you will defend it orally before the dissertation committee. Defenses, while conducted by the dissertation committee, are open to the university community.

The oral defense usually lasts 2 hours. All members of the dissertation committee, including the advisor, must be present at the defense or may participate by video or conference call.