By the end of the third semester, students must have finished the coursework as explained in the previous section, fulfilled the requirements of TOEFL and TPA (for those who have not fulfilled them and were given dispensation during admission), and be ready to take the Comprehensive Examination, which is comprised of a dissertation proposal and a literature review, as explained below.
Students are advised to do some preliminary research, both literature and, where appropriate, field research, to make sure that the problem proposed in the proposal is sound and they are ready to immediately start their research upon acceptance of the proposal. Consultation with the promoter and co-promoter(s) should be undertaken intensively during the preparation of the proposal and literature review. If there is any difficulty in timely communication or in mutual understanding of the project with the (co-)promoters, students should be in contact with the ICRS director/associate director/doctoral faculty/academic coordinator.
The two pieces of writing, the dissertation proposal and literature review on the topic related to the dissertation, are to be submitted, at the latest, four weeks before the last week of the third semester.
Length: 8,000–10,000 words
Structure: The proposal will include the required elements of a research proposal as introduced in the Research Design course, including:
1. Title (and subtitle if needed).
An abstract is a summary of the proposal: ideally it should be just one paragraph. It should briefly describe the general area, the precise topical focus, and the core argument that will be made in the research thesis.
This should include:
- Explanation of the background, which situates the dissertation. It will briefly discuss the general context within which the research is situated, leading to your research problem. A good background will lead readers to agree with the student that the research is worthy of being the subject of a doctoral thesis.
- The statement of the research problem/question, either as a question or hypothesis, initially in one sentence. This is normally followed by sub-questions and two to three paragraphs expanding on the research problem/question to explain more about the topic on which the problem is focused, its context, variables, and so on.
- The goal(s) of the research: e.g. (a) to identify and investigate relationships between factors impacting the research problem; (b) to arrive at conclusions about relations and possible resolutions of the problem.
- Significance of the research, cross-referenced to the separately submitted literature review: This section gives a fuller sense of background, indicating the scholarly and interdisciplinary area of the research and how the research will fill a gap in the existing scholarly literature. It shows why the topic is worthy of scholarly study, its significance in relation to existing scholarship, and the academic discipline(s) in which the study is situated.
4. Theoretical Framework
Describe the theoretical framework in which the research is situated in a few paragraphs. As well as naming the chosen framework, show its derivation from older theoretical frames in the case of very new theories, and indicate how the theoretical framework justifies the choice of topic, methods, literature, and data sources.
5. Research Design:
Describe the methodology/ies including reasons for choosing the method(s) adopted rather than others; what the student hopes to achieve through the research; schedule or timeline of the anticipated research tasks and when they will hopefully be completed.
6. Data Sources: field subjects and/or primary texts and/or other sources.
7. Data Collection and Analysis: this section should include where, when and how the student expects to collect data, and the data selection principles followed; the likely approaches the student will take to analyzing data and any early anticipation of possible findings – in other words it is helpful for the student to say what they expect to find while at the same time acknowledging that their expectations may be changed by what they actually find out.
8. Institutional and Societal supports, partners or collaborators: in the case of field-based theses students are encouraged to be in touch with organizations or with other researchers who are going to be able to give them ‘access’ to the chosen field of study and these should be indicated here.
9. Conclusion: a paragraph is all that is needed by way of conclusion of the research proposal draft. The paragraph will most likely return to the research question with which the proposal began and restate it and indicate how the student believed the proposed research design now outlined, will give a new perspective on the topic.
Literature review paper
Length: 8,000–10,000 words
The second piece of writing will be a literature review of 50-80 academic books and journal articles related to the proposed doctoral thesis. The literature review is a required component of the PhD thesis, in which the topic is situated in its academic and cultural/religious contexts by means of careful engagement with the most highly cited and classic (where appropriate) works in the field of study.
The review should summarise and critically compare key points in academic sources but not in the form of a list. The aim is to create what will become a stand-alone thesis chapter which evidences mastery of the academic literature in the chosen field and which is composed in the form of a thematic essay in which the student joins up their reading of the sources into a structured argument that paves the way for the research program and thesis contents. The aim is to show how the research is situated in existing academic literature and how the research will fill a gap in that literature or will significantly modify the approach taken in that literature to the topic of the research. It is envisaged that this literature review will eventually be incorporated, in revised form, if necessary, into the introductory chapters of the final thesis.