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Graduate Degrees

The School of Religion offers graduate study at the master’s and doctoral degree levels in the field of religion and social ethics. Graduate work in religion and social ethics is designed to develop critical reflection upon problems of norms, values, social institutions and specific social issues within the framework of theological, philosophical and social scientific disciplines.

Graduate study in religion and social ethics is divided among three areas of concentration:

Area I. Religious and Philosophical Approaches to Social Ethics Studies the formation and historical development of social ethical traditions as they grow out of religious and philosophical commitments. Attends especially to such issues as the relationship of religious faith to the moral life, the relationship between religious and philosophical ethics, foundational and non-foundational perspectives on social ethics, ethical absolutism and ethical relativism, and religious and philosophical visions of a just society.

Area II. Religion and Culture Focuses on the social and cultural contexts, both ancient and modern, within which religious faith and moral character develop and religious and moral decisions are made. Concerns itself with such issues as the role of institutions in mediating religion, community, human services, and perceptions of the good life and good society; how the religious and moral character of individuals and groups is formed in particular social and cultural contexts; and how and why norms and values change. Makes use of field studies and other empirical research methods.

Area III. Ethical Analysis and Policy Formation Develops the capability to make sound judgments about ethical issues and to relate these judgments to policy formation. Relates theological, philosophical, legal and social scientific theories and methods to the analysis of questions of justice and rights in society. Special emphasis is given to ethical issues in medicine, business and the impact of technology on society and culture. Utilizes the case study method along with more traditional models of decision-making, goal-setting and the devising of strategies for positive social change.

Degree Requirements

These degrees are under the jurisdiction of the Graduate School. Refer to the Requirements for Graduation section and the Graduate School section of this catalogue for general regulations. All courses applied toward the degrees must be courses accepted by the Graduate School. Decisions regarding the number of transfer credits to be awarded will be made on a case-by-case basis by the faculty of the School of Religion.

Core Course Requirement

General Requirements
Doctoral students are expected to take three core courses, one in each of the three areas of concentration: Area I, 507 Social Ethics; Area II, REL 531 Sociology of Religion; Area III, REL 560 Normative Analysis of Issues. Master’s students are expected to take two of the core courses offered during their year of residency. At least one core course is offered each semester. Students are expected to take one core course each semester until the core requirement is met.

Normal Load
A normal, full-time load is two or three courses (eight or 12 units) each semester.

Master of Arts in Religion and Social Ethics

The M.A. degree program consists of 24 units of graduate-level course work and either a comprehensive examination or a thesis. A maximum of one third of the 24 units may be taken at the 400 level. No foreign language is required for the master’s degree.

Master’s degree students are expected to take two of the core courses offered during their year of residency and four additional elective courses for a total of six courses. The comprehensive examination consists of two half-day, four hour examinations, primarily in the areas of two of the core courses offered in the year of a student’s residency, but with some attention to the third area. The master’s degree with comprehensive examination option may be completed in two semesters of full-time work (12 units each semester). The thesis option requires research on a specific topic and requires registration in REL 594ab Master’s Thesis in addition to the 24 units of required course work.

Doctor of Philosophy in Religion and Social Ethics

Course Requirements
Sixty units of course work are required for the Ph.D. degree, including units of previous graduate work for which credit is allowed. Since students normally complete between 16 and 20 units a year, three years are required to complete the course work for students who have done no previous graduate study. Time of residency is contingent upon the background and preparation of the student.

In addition to the 12-unit core requirement, each student is required to take four elective units in each area of concentration. Students are also expected to take courses in areas which will support their dissertation work. Such courses may be offered in related departments in the university as well as in the School of Religion and should be selected in consultation with an advisor.

A maximum of eight units of 794 Doctoral Dissertation may be applied toward the 60 unit total requirement. A 3.0 GPA must be maintained in course work. Students are screened by a faculty committee after completion of 20 units (16 units for transfer students), and advised as to whether they should continue with the Ph.D. program.

Students with deficient backgrounds in the history of ethics are urged, after consultation with their advisors, to take one of the following three courses: PHIL 442 History of Ethics to 1900, REL 500 History of Theological Ethics or REL 504 Ethics in the History of Western Religious Thought.

Foreign Language Requirement
The School of Religion requires a reading knowledge of one modern foreign language. The student should pass the language examination by the end of the first full year of residency. The language requirement must be met before a student will be permitted to take the qualifying examination.

Qualifying Examination
A student is admitted to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree when the qualifying examination is successfully completed. The qualifying examination consists of five separate examinations: (a) three, three-four hour examinations in each of the three areas of concentration based on a combination of core bibliographies available for each area and student bibliographies. The Area III examination is a case study that deals directly with an issue that requires discussion of rights and justice, utilizes decision-making models and results in policy formation; (b) a three-four hour examination in the area of the student’s special interests and/or dissertation area; (c) a two-hour oral examination in which the student is questioned about the written examinations.

Students whose preparation for the dissertation could be facilitated by a case study more extensive than is feasible for a three-four-hour in-house examination may avail themselves of the following option: Instead of taking the Area III examination (case study) and the special interest area examination as two separate examinations, students may collapse the two into a 72-hour, take-home case study in the dissertation area.

Upon successful conclusion of the qualifying examination, the student immediately forms a dissertation committee, and submits to the dissertation committee within one month a 10-12 page dissertation proposal. The dissertation committee discusses the proposal with the student, suggests necessary alterations and additions, and bibliography, and requires the student to submit a final proposal for approval within one month.

The final stage of the program is the submission of an acceptable dissertation based on original investigation. The dissertation must show technical mastery of a special field, evidence of independent research, and the analytical and interpretive ability expected of a scholar.

Joint Doctor of Philosophy Program in Religion and Social Ethics with Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion

In conjunction with Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the Ph.D. Program in Religion and Social Ethics may be taken with a concentration in Judaic Studies. Applicants should apply to USC; applications will be considered jointly with Hebrew Union College. Individual programs may be developed within the parameters for religion and social ethics set forth above.

Dual Degree Program in Law and Religion and Social Ethics

The School of Religion, in conjunction with the USC Gould School of Law, offers a dual degree in law and religion and social ethics. The goal of this program is to provide the highest level of education and academic preparation to students committed to both disciplines. Students completing this program will be fully prepared to function as practicing lawyers, as well as to teach. Requirements for this dual degree are listed in the law school. To earn the J.D., all students (including dual degree students) must complete 35 numerically graded law units at USC after the first year. The associate dean may make exceptions to this rule for students enrolled in law school honors programs.

Professional Ethics

Students interested in bioethics, business ethics or professional ethics may develop an area of concentration in one of these fields. These fall under Area III.