GENERAL INFO and RECOMMENDATIONS for APPLYING
Altogether there are about a dozen faculty and three dozen graduate students in the Religious Studies department working in many different fields. Biblical and related studies is one of seven possible areas of concentration in the PhD program: African Religions; African American Religion; The Bible and Beyond; Jewish Thought and Philosophy; Mysticism, Gnosticism, Esotericism; Modern Christianity in Thought and Popular Culture; Religion & Psychology.
Faculty interest and expertise are broader than may appear from these seven formal areas of concentration. For instance, one professor specializes in Islam and another Buddhism. So it would be best to read through the faculty profiles, their cv’s and personal webpages in order to get an idea of the opportunities for study at Rice. A look at the list of current graduate students and their areas of concentration might also be helpful in this regard.
Moreover, interdisciplinary work is encouraged; up to a fourth of your coursework can come from outside the Religious Studies department. Suppose you are a student of early Christianity who happens to be interested in theurgy and later Platonism. You could take a Greek course on the Timaeus from Classics and a seminar on the Roman emperor Julian from History.
After reading around on the department webpage (http://reli.rice.edu/), the next step would be to contact the professor you might want to study with in order to discuss your interests, preparation, and so on. For those interested in Biblical and related studies, this would be Matthias Henze (Hebrew Bible, Syriac, etc) and/or April DeConick (New Testament, Coptic, etc). Both are very approachable.
Establishing contact is really important, especially when applying to a smaller program. The reasons are several. For one, it may be that the professor you want to study with is going to be on sabbatical and therefore will not be accepting any more students that year. Also, your potential advisor could easily have some suggestions on how to prepare further before you apply, as well as concerning the application process itself, such as what to put in your letter of intent or what to send as a writing sample. In fact, Prof DeConick gives a fair number of general suggestions on her blog:
The sooner you establish contact the better. A year in advance of the application due date would not be unreasonable. At Rice, applications are due January 15. And it’s worth noting, as an aside, that four, not three, letters of recommendation are required.
Currently there are some students who entered the PhD program without having an MA or equivalent already. But you’ll see in her recent post on preparing to study at Rice that Prof DeConick recommends getting a masters degree before hand, and there does not appear to be any info on the department website pertaining to a separate MA program. At any rate, I do not know what funding has been or would be like for students in that situation.
I gather that all students admitted to the PhD program are offered a full tuition waver, health insurance, and an annual stipend of about $16k. There is also a president’s graduate fellowship which provides an annual stipend of about $23k. The prescribed duration of the PhD program is five years (two for coursework, another for exams, and two more for the dissertation). Since I am a second year student, I am not familiar with the types of funding to be had after that, though they do exist.
You’ll be working closely with your advisor from day one, so the particulars of intellectual environment will depend on who you are studying with. For those interested in early Christianity, the following course contract from one of Prof DeConick’s syllabi is informative:
This course does not approach the bible from a faith or doctrinal perspective. By signing up for this course and accepting the conditions of this syllabus, you are agreeing to participate in open class discussions of the bible from a historical and critically-informed perspective. If you are especially uncomfortable or unwilling to think openly and critically about the bible in the context of the modern study of religion, I encourage you not to take the course. It is crucial that you understand this, since by accepting this syllabus and signing up for The New Testament and Christian Origins, you are entering an academic contract and intellectual community whose basic rules of engagement and discourse are fundamentally different from those you may be familiar with. Put differently, the discussions and ideas of this course and its readings are in no way bound by the authority or wishes of any religious community or individual, and the success of this course will depend largely, if not entirely, on how open and comfortable you are with studying biblical materials as a historian. By remaining in this course and accepting this syllabus, you are expressing your understanding of and agreement with these fundamental, non-negotiable conditions of intellectual freedom and critical engagement.
This is pretty standard I would imagine.
Besides in-class discussion, there are faculty-led research groups that meet monthly during the semester in which you present papers, talk about potential dissertation topics, and the like. Also, there is a general method and theory seminar each year for all students in the department, regardless of area of concentration. Guest lectures on a broad range of topics in religion also occur regularly as do conferences. Last year, Prof Henze organized a conference on the Apocalypse of Gabriel, and the year before that Prof DeConick organized one on the Gospel of Judas and the other texts in Codex Tchacos.
What is so nice about being in a smaller program is that students are able to interact more with the faculty, both on and off campus. To illustrate the latter, during hurricane Ike last year I got a call from the department chair. He probably spent half an hour on the phone with me making sure my family and I were prepared. And when the power did not come back on in our neighborhood for several days, Prof DeConick offered to put us up at her house. She has also invited us to spend holidays with her and her family, and they have come to our kids’ birthday parties.
Grant adds: Should there be any, I’d be glad to answer questions either in a comment or via email (gwa1 AT rice DOT edu). I’m sure the other students here would too, and you can find their addresses on the department website.