About the course
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 from the first term, 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 the contributions of different disciplines (theology, anthropology, philology etc) to the subject.
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.
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.
Other courses in this area
- MSt in Oriental Studies
- MSc in Modern South Asian Studies
- MPhil in Modern South Asian Studies
- MPhil in Tibetan and Himalayan Studies
- DPhil in Oriental Studies
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 2019-20
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.
Other appropriate indicators will include:
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 a regular feature of the admissions process, but a Skype interview may be arranged by the assessors if considered helpful; for example, to discuss the suitability of the chosen course. The interview will normally be held by the two assessors, and the date and time will be agreed by email. Candidates would not need to do any additional preparations for their Skype interview.
Publications are not expected.
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 Faculty of Oriental Studies 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 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.
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.
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.
Oxford is home to an outstanding range of library and museum collections that provide invaluable resources for the study of India.
The Bodleian Library houses one of the largest and most significant collections of Sanskrit manuscripts in the world, outside of India. The Indian Institute Library, now housed in the newly rebuilt Weston Library, holds more than 130,000 titles, one of the most substantial collections of books for South Asian studies available in the UK. The Weston Library also houses the Bodleian's Special Collections, including its Sanskrit and Tibetan manuscripts.
Open-stack access to the research core of the Indian Institute collection is available through the Charles Wendell Davis Reading Room, located on the top floor of the Weston, with commanding views of Oxford's old academic quarter.
There are also extensive collections pertaining to India in the Oriental Institute Library, the Sackler Library, and several of the colleges (especially Balliol, Wolfson, and St Antony's). The Bodleian Law Library has extensive holdings related to law in India, with a primary focus on the laws of the Indian republic, rather than pre-1947 colonial legislation. The Indian collections of the Ashmolean Museum are of international importance, and its coins, paintings, prints and textiles offer wider insights into some of the formative cultural influences operating in the subcontinent in the centuries when its modern languages were emerging. The Museum of the History of Science has a unique collection of Indian scientific instruments, and the Pitt Rivers Museum comprises a collection of well over 15,000 items, covering most aspects of the daily life of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Buddhists.
Students also 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, and a common room where tea and coffee are available and staff and students can meet.
There are over 1,000 full graduate scholarships available across the University, and these cover your course 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.
Applicants to this course may also be eligible to apply for other scholarship and funding opportunities, including the Ertegun Scholarship Programme. In order to be considered for this award you will need to complete the scholarships section of the course application form and submit additional supporting material. The programme’s website provides more details about the application process as well as any eligibility criteria which apply.