PhD in Anthropology

The PhD program in anthropology is designed to provide a relatively broad background in the field with a primary emphasis either on sociocultural anthropology or biological anthropology. Major foci of research and instruction in sociocultural anthropology include religion, law and politics, ethnicity, gender, history and anthropology, problems of social change and economic development, culture and the environment, cognition and culture, and medical anthropology. The faculty has greatest strengths in the study of cultures and societies in the Islamic world, East and Southeast Asia, and Africa. Major foci in biological anthropology include human biology, behavior and evolution, and the study of living and fossil primates.

Course Requirements

In the first stage of the program candidates are expected to prepare themselves in general anthropological research methods and theories, as well as develop competence in their specific area (or areas) of specialization. This is accomplished by means of coursework, reading, and directed research during the period of residence.

The Graduate School of Arts & Sciences (GRS) requires that students entering with a bachelor’s degree must successfully complete at least 16 graduate semester courses for the PhD degree. (Those students who enter the program with a qualifying master’s degree must successfully complete at least 8 graduate semester courses for the PhD degree.) As core requirements, all PhD students must take three semesters of the departmental proseminar (GRS AN 703, 704, and 705) and a course in research methods.

In addition to these core requirements, students specializing in sociocultural anthropology must take at least two anthropology courses in social or cultural theory, and one anthropology course focusing on the ethnography of a specific geographical region outside of their own ethnographic area of specialization. Students specializing in biological anthropology must take at least three of the 500-level courses offered by the department in that area.

To ensure a well-rounded education in general anthropology, all students must take one course in the anthropology of language and an additional course focusing either on archaeology or the history of their research area. Students may be excused from this requirement by petition to the Graduate Committee if they can demonstrate adequate previous training in any of these areas.

The remaining coursework should be chosen in consultation with the student’s academic advisor to create a coherent program of study that may include courses from other departments.

Students who successfully complete the required 16 semester courses (or 8 semester courses and a special research paper) may be eligible to receive the Master of Arts in Anthropology.

For other Graduate School of Arts & Sciences requirements, time limits, and general procedures, candidates should consult the General Requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy under Degree Requirements in the Policies section of this website.

Language Requirement

Before taking the comprehensive examination, all students must demonstrate mastery of a scholarly language (other than English) that is relevant to their proposed area of research. If the only such language is English, any other major foreign language can meet the requirement. Students undertaking social or cultural fieldwork are expected to master the local language of their field site; this may be the same as the scholarly language in some cases. Mastery is normally indicated by the successful completion of three years of college language study or its equivalent; more may be required depending on the specific language.

During the first term of enrollment, students should give the Director of Graduate Studies a plan for meeting this requirement. Students must apply to the Director of Graduate Studies for the final approval of this requirement.

PhD Qualifying Examination and Thesis Prospectus

Each student must pass both a written and an oral PhD Qualifying Examination given by members of the advisory committee. The examination covers (1) general anthropological method and theory, (2) a subdisciplinary topic, and (3) at least one geographical area outside the United States for sociocultural anthropologists, or research specialization for biological anthropologists. The purpose of the examination is to determine whether a student will be recommended to continue working toward the PhD degree.

Following successful completion of these qualifying examinations, the student is expected to prepare a proposal defining the research problem for the PhD dissertation. This should be submitted no later than one semester after passing the Qualifying Examination. The proposal will include a statement of the theory, research methods or techniques to be employed, and the significance of the research. Written under the guidance of the advisory committee, the prospectus will be presented orally to the PhD advisory committee.

All members of the faculty and the graduate student body are encouraged to attend these presentations. Normally, dissertation research begins immediately after the examination of the proposal and continues for at least one calendar year.

Residence Requirement

See information on academic regulations under Policies.


Departmental approval of the dissertation proposal is obtained through successful presentation as outlined above. Two members of the faculty will supervise the candidate as she/he prepares the dissertation. The goal is a dissertation that makes an original contribution to knowledge and is clearly written.

Final Oral Examination

Upon completion of the dissertation, each candidate shall present a final oral examination before a committee of five members, at least four of whom are normally drawn from the department. The examination is based primarily on the dissertation and related problems in the field of specialization.