The research proposal is a crucial element of a D.Phil. application. It should communicate, not so much the applicant’s personal autobiography, as his or her academic commitment and seriousness. Assessors are looking to be persuaded that applicants know the field they propose to conduct research in, are committed to spending several years working in it, understand what study in Oxford could offer them, and have considered the aptness of Oxford’s resources to the proposed research. Each proposal will be read and carefully evaluated by specialists, and should contain – in about two pages – an outline of the research planned and the goals intended. Within their proposals, applicants should explain:
• the specific field of Theology or Religion in which they propose to conduct research (e.g. Study of Religion, or Old Testament, or Modern Theology, or Philosophical Theology, or Christian Ethics, etc.);
• how they intend to structure and undertake their research;
• the questions, problems, issues, and debates with which they expect to engage;
• how they see the proposed research building on their previous study;
• their knowledge of any languages required for their research project;
• what they hope to do with an Oxford D.Phil.
Applicants may also wish to include a provisional title for their dissertation. While it is normal for plans to change in the course of developing a project, applicants should nevertheless make their best effort in their proposal to define their intended research, identify the focal question or problem to which it will constitute an answer or solution, specify a finite body of core texts or sources, and explain the methods involved.
A research proposal is assessed in terms of:
• the intellectual coherence and academic originality of the project;
• evidence of the applicant’s motivation and understanding of the proposed area of study;
• the demonstration of aptness between the proposed research and Oxford’s resources; and
• the feasibility of successful completion of the project in the time available for the course of study (a maximum of four years full-time and eight years part-time).