MSt in Syriac Studies | University of Oxford
Manuscript
A manuscript in the Bodleian Library, the opening of Isaac Eshbadnaya’s Anthem on Divine Providence (MS. Syr. c. 13 f.1 v.)
(Image Credit: Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford)

MSt in Syriac Studies

About the course

The MSt in Syriac Studies is a one-year taught degree which has been designed to give students experience in reading and interpreting a wide range of Syriac texts, from a choice of genres and in all the major scripts, as well as a broad knowledge of Syriac literature and history, and an ability to use key research tools. It is can thus be either a stand-alone qualification or a solid foundation in the subject for those intending to go on to do doctoral research.

You must choose to study texts in three of the following subjects: Biblical versions; exegetical literature; early poetry; liturgy; historical literature; secular literature; monastic literature; hagiography; translations of Greek patristic texts; theological texts; (or any other subject approved by the Faculty Board). The choice of the precise texts to be read in each of the three subjects selected is decided by consultation between yourself and your supervisor in the first week of Michaelmas term.

No more than three of these subjects will be taught in any one year. Teaching takes the form of text-classes (usually 6 hours per week), for which you are expected to prepare; seminars (usually one and a half hours per week), for which you are expected to prepare oral or written presentations on specified topics; and lectures on the general background of Syriac literature (normally one hour per week). These classes and lectures are normally given by Professor David Taylor or Professor Alison Salvesen. You are also encouraged to attend seminars in relevant areas: there are regular series in Patristic studies, Late Antique and Byzantine studies, Armenian Studies, Jewish Studies in the Greco-Roman Period, Old Testament, and New Testament, Ancient Near Eastern studies.

The examination (towards the end of the third (Trinity) Term) takes the form of four three-hour papers. The first of these consists of essay questions on the history, literature, and culture of the Syriac Churches; you are required to answer three questions (out of seven or more that are set). The other three papers will each have an obligatory Question 1, containing four passages from the set texts for translation into English and for comment. Questions 2-6 will be essay questions, most of which concern some aspect of the specific set texts. Question 7 will be an unseen Syriac passage for translation. You are required to answer two out of questions 2-7. You will also be examined viva voce unless you  have been individually excused by the examiners. In taught graduate degrees the pass mark is 60. In the MSt. a distinction may be awarded for a final overall mark of 70 or above. The final mark is arrived at as a numerical mean of the marks on individual papers, with the qualification that you must also pass on each paper individually.

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.

Related courses

Changes to the course

The University will seek to deliver this course in accordance with the description set out in this course page. However, there may be situations in which it is desirable or necessary for the University to make changes in course provision, either before or after registration. For further information, please see our page on changes to courses.

Entry requirements for entry in 2017-18

Within equal opportunities principles and legislation, applications will be assessed in the light of an applicant’s ability to meet the following entry requirements:

1. Academic ability

Proven and potential academic excellence

Applicants are normally expected to be predicted or have achieved a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours (or equivalent international qualifications), as a minimum, in any subject.

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

If you hold non-UK qualifications and wish to check how your qualifications match these requirements, you can contact the National Recognition Information Centre for the United Kingdom (UK NARIC).

No Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or GMAT scores are sought.

Applicants should have a basic knowledge of the Syriac language. If in doubt about the level of their knowledge, potential applicants should contact Professor David Taylor at david.taylor@orinst.ox.ac.uk.

Other appropriate indicators will include:

Supporting documents

You will be required to supply supporting documents with your application, including references and an official transcript. See 'How to apply' for instructions on the documents you will need and how these will be assessed.

Performance at interview(s)

Interviews are not normally held as part of the admissions process.  

Publications

Publications are not required. 

2. English language requirement

Applicants whose first language is not English are usually required to provide evidence of proficiency in English at the higher level required by the University.

3. Availability of supervision, teaching, facilities and places

The following factors will govern whether candidates can be offered places:

  • The ability of the Oriental Institute to provide the appropriate supervision, research opportunities, teaching and facilities for your chosen area of work. 
  • Minimum and maximum limits to the numbers of students who may be admitted to Oxford's research and taught programmes.

The provision of supervision, where required, is subject to the following points:

  • The allocation of graduate supervision is the responsibility of the Oriental Institute 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 Oriental Institute.

Where possible your academic supervisor will not change for the duration of your course. However, it may be necessary to assign a new academic supervisor during the course of study or before registration for reasons which might include sabbatical leave, maternity leave or change in employment.

4. Disability, health conditions and specific learning difficulties

Students are selected for admission without regard to gender, marital or civil partnership status, disability, race, nationality, ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation, age or social background.

Decisions on admission are based solely on the individual academic merits of each candidate and the application of the entry requirements appropriate to the course.

Further information on how these matters are supported during the admissions process is available in our guidance for applicants with disabilities.

5. Assessors

All recommendations to admit a student involve the judgment of at least two members of academic staff with relevant experience and expertise, and additionally must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies or Admissions Committee (or equivalent departmental persons or bodies).

Admissions panels or committees will always include at least one member of academic staff who has undertaken appropriate training.

6. Other information

Whether you have yet secured funding is not taken into consideration in the decision to make an initial offer of a place, but please note that the initial offer of a place will not be confirmed until you have completed a Financial Declaration.

Resources

Syriac has been studied and taught in Oxford since the 1570s. As a result of the 440 year tradition of teaching Syriac the University of Oxford has one of the world’s greatest library collections of printed Syriac books, and related materials, as well as an important collection of Syriac manuscripts. The Bodleian Library is the main research collection, but the Oriental Faculty also has a major collection of Syriac books. Other relevant collections are housed in the Sackler Library (archaeology, Classical languages, ancient Near East) and the Theology Faculty Library.

You will have access to the University's centrally provided electronic resources and the faculty IT Officer. There is a computing room for the use of graduate students in the Oriental Institute, as well as a common room where tea and coffee are available and staff and students can meet.

Funding

There are over 1,000 full graduate scholarships available across the University, and these cover your course and college fees and provide a grant for living costs. If you apply by the relevant January deadline and fulfil the eligibility criteria you will be automatically considered. Over two thirds of Oxford scholarships require nothing more than the standard course application. Use the Fees, funding and scholarship search to find out which scholarships you are eligible for and if they require an additional application, full details of which are provided.

A number of awards are available from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) each year, to support graduate students in a range of disciplines. To be considered for any of these studentships you must apply before the January admissions deadline.

Costs

Annual fees for entry in 2017-18

Fee status

Tuition fee

College fee

Total annual fees

Home/EU
(including Islands)
£12,300£3,021£15,321
Overseas£19,335£3,021£22,356

The fees shown above are the annual tuition and college fees for this course for entry in the stated academic year; for courses lasting longer than one year, please be aware that fees will usually increase annually. For details, please see our guidance on likely increases to fees and charges.

Tuition and college fees are payable each year for the duration of your fee liability (your fee liability is the length of time for which you are required to pay tuition and college fees).

For more information about tuition fees, college fees and fee liability, please see the Fees section of this website. EU applicants should refer to our dedicated webpage for details on the impact of the result of the UK referendum on its membership of the European Union.

Additional information

There are no compulsory elements of this course that entail additional costs beyond fees and living costs.  However, as part of your course requirements, you may need to choose a dissertation, a project or a thesis topic. Please note that, depending on your choice of topic and the research required to complete it, you may incur additional expenses, such as travel expenses, research expenses, and field trips. You will need to meet these additional costs, although you may be able to apply for small grants from your department and/or college to help you cover some of these expenses.

Living costs

In addition to your tuition and college fees, you will need to ensure that you have adequate funds to support your living costs for the duration of your course.

For the 2017-18 academic year, the range of likely living costs is between £1,002 and £1,471 for each month spent in Oxford. Full information, including a breakdown of likely living costs in Oxford for items such as food, accommodation and study costs, is available on our Living costs page.

How to apply

You are welcome to make contact with an academic member of staff before you apply if you wish, though this is not a pre-requisite to an application. 

The set of documents you should send with your application to this course comprises the following:

Official transcript(s)

Your transcripts should give detailed information of the individual grades received in your university-level qualifications to date. You should only upload official documents issued by your institution and any transcript not in English should be accompanied by a certified translation.

More information about the transcript requirement is available in the Application Guide.

CV/résumé

A CV/résumé is compulsory for all applications. Most applicants choose to submit a document of one to two pages highlighting their academic achievements and any relevant professional experience.

Statement of purpose/personal statement:
Up to three pages

Your statement should be written in English and explain your motivation for applying for the course at Oxford, your relevant experience and education, and the specific areas that interest you and/or you intend to specialise in. The overall page count should include any bibliography.

This will be assessed for:

  • your reasons for applying, especially to Oxford
  • evidence of motivation for and understanding of the proposed area of study
  • commitment to the subject
  • preliminary knowledge of research techniques
  • capacity for sustained and intense work at a high intellectual level
  • reasoning ability
  • ability to absorb new ideas at a rapid pace.

Written work:
Two essays of 2,000 words each

Academic essays or other writing samples from your most recent qualification, written in English, are required. Extracts of the requisite length from longer work are also permissible. 

The word count does not need to include any bibliography or brief footnotes.

This will be assessed for:

  • ability to construct and defend an argument
  • powers of analysis
  • powers of expression
  • clarity and accuracy of thought and writing
  • conceptual sophistication
  • critical skill
  • control of relevant primary and secondary sources
  • presentation of material in the appropriate scholarly form.

It is helpful if written work relates closely to the proposed area of study, though it is not compulsory, as there are many things that the assessors look for in the written work which are not specific to the subject area, such as ability to construct and defend an argument and presentation of material in the appropriate scholarly form.

References/letters of recommendation:
Three overall, generally academic

Whilst you must register three referees, the department may start the assessment of your application if two of the three references are submitted by the course deadline and your application is otherwise complete. Please note that you may still be required to ensure your third referee supplies a reference for consideration.

Whilst it is appreciated that obtaining academic references will be difficult for some candidates, academic references are requested because it is necessary to establish whether a candidate is intellectually prepared for a course. It is unlikely that this is something that can be established from a professional or personal reference, so you should only submit such references if there is absolutely no alternative.

Your references will support intellectual ability, academic achievement, motivation, and fitness for chosen course of study.