MPhil in Classical Indian Religion | University of Oxford
Sanchi Stupa
Detail of the Northern Gateway to the Great Stupa at Sanchi
(Image Credit: Mahesh Basedia / Flickr)

MPhil in Classical Indian Religion

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.

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.

Other courses in this area

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:

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 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

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.

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

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.

Funding

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.

Costs

Annual fees for entry in 2019-20

Fee status

Annual Course fees

Home/EU (including Islands)£12,570
Overseas£25,387

The fees shown above are the annual course fees for this course, for entry in the stated academic year.

Course fees cover your teaching as well as other academic services and facilities provided to support your studies. Unless specified in the additional information section below, course fees do not cover your accommodation, residential costs or other living costs. They also don’t cover any additional costs and charges that are outlined in the additional information below. You may have seen separate figures in the past for tuition fees and college fees. We have now combined these into a single figure.

Course 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 course fees). 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.

For more information about course fees and fee liability, please see the Fees section of this website. EU applicants should refer to our dedicated webpage for details of the implications of the UK’s plans to leave 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 course fees, you will need to ensure that you have adequate funds to support your living costs for the duration of your course.

For the 2019-20 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,058 and £1,643 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. When planning your finances for any future years of study in Oxford beyond 2019-20, you should allow for an estimated increase in living expenses of 3% each year.

How to apply

You are not expected to make contact with an academic member of staff before you apply.

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, the specific areas that interest you and/or you intend to specialise in, and a brief indication of your career plans. 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:

  • comprehensive understanding of the subject area
  • understanding of problems in the area
  • 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.

Start or continue an application

Step 1: Carefully read the entry requirements on this course page to make sure you meet all the criteria.

Step 2: Check above what documents are required and prepare to apply by reading our Application Guide.

Step 3: Apply as soon as possible. Consult the Application Guide for more information about deadlines.

Application GuideApply

Was this page useful?*