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. The degree prepares students for careers in academia or consulting. 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/psychological 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.

Applicants should have obtained the BA or MA degree in anthropology or show evidence of equivalent preparation in social science subjects.

Course Requirements

Post-Bachelor’s Requirements

Students entering with a bachelor’s degree must successfully complete at least 16 graduate semester courses (64 credits) for the PhD. Course requirements are as follows:

Core Course Requirements

  • GRS AN 703  Proseminar: Ethnography and the History of Social Theory in Anthropology
  • GRS AN 704  Proseminar: Contemporary Anthropological Theory
  • GRS AN 705  Proseminar: The Biological and Historical Past
  • One course in research methods
  • One course in the anthropology of language
  • One course focusing either on archaeology or the history of the student’s research area

Specialization Requirements

Sociocultural Anthropology

  • At least two anthropology courses in social or cultural theory
  • One anthropology course focusing on the ethnography of a specific geographical region outside the student’s ethnographic area of specialization

Biological Anthropology

  • At least three of the 500-level courses offered by the department in that area.

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

Students may be excused from the anthropology of language or archaeology or the history of their research area requirements by petition to the Graduate Committee if they can demonstrate adequate previous training in any of these areas.

Post-Master’s Requirements

Students who enter the program with a qualifying master’s degree must successfully complete at least eight graduate semester courses (32 credits) for the PhD. Course requirements are the same as in the post-bachelor’s program.

Language Requirement

All students pursuing a PhD degree in anthropology are required to demonstrate graduate-level reading proficiency in a foreign language that is relevant to their proposed area of research before taking the comprehensive examination. 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.

Language proficiency can be demonstrated either through a language examination, successful completion of a non-credit graduate-level foreign language reading course offered by Boston University, or the equivalent of three years of undergraduate study of the language (more may be required, depending on the specific language) at Boston University.

Qualifying Examination

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.

Dissertation and Final Oral Examination

Candidates shall demonstrate their abilities for independent study in a dissertation representing original research or creative scholarship. A prospectus for the dissertation must be completed and approved by the readers, the director of graduate studies, and the department chair/program director. Candidates must undergo a final oral examination in which they defend their dissertation as a valuable contribution to knowledge in their field and demonstrate a mastery of their field of specialization in relation to their dissertation. All portions of the dissertation and final oral examination must be completed as outlined in the GRS General Requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy Degree.