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Research focus for HB and the SOP


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How laser-focused should a research interest be in a PhD SOP? Should one say: "I'm wanting to research the intertexuality between Jeremiah 12:3 and Deuteronomy 2:5 from a feminist narrative critical perspective," or "I'm interested in researching literary criticism of the wisdom literature of the HB," or something in between? I guess behind my question I'm wondering how much to write my SOP as a dissertation proposal vs. an expression of general interest in exploring a genre or methodology to specialize in.

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Unless you're applying to a program that wants a thesis proposal, go broader. I emailed a professor once telling her that I was interested in something as specific as your Deut 2:5 example, and she told me that I was too narrow in my focus. Her explanation was that within the PhD, one learns so much to where their research interests will change. Furthermore, shooting too narrow could give the impression that you are unteachable or too laser focused to broaden, which will hurt you in your applications. Professors want students whom they can mold or direct if needed. Personally, I think that something like "intertextuality from a feminist perspective" would be sufficiently broad. 

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I'm basically in agreement with sacklunch and Almaqah Thwn, but I want to make what I think is an important and hopefully helpful distinction.

I don't think the former approach is a problem necessarily--what you don't want to do as a rule (i.e. what makes you seem "unteachable") is make it sound like you've already settled on an argument. That is the difference between an SOP and a dissertation prospectus, as well as the primary difference between US and UK/European applications. In other words, saying that you want to research the intertexuality between Jeremiah 12:3 and Deuteronomy 2:5 from a feminist narrative critical perspective isn't the same thing as saying, "If we research the intertexuality between X and Y from perspective Z, we discover A, B, and C. I argue for A, B, and C because..." The latter is what you do in a prospectus or an application to a school where all you are expected to do is write the dissertation without coursework or exams. If you do that in a US application, you're all but guaranteed to run into the problems Almaqah Thwn describes.

As Almaqah Thwn's example shows, different faculty are going to read these differently. In my department, the specificity of your first example wouldn't be a problem necessarily. They're looking for projects that provide a compelling base for a potential dissertation tend with the understanding that the project will likely change either a little bit or completely depending on the faculty who are interested in taking on the student. That's really the key--are you proposing something of which you're essentially already convinced, or are you proposing a project that sounds promising and compelling but is also open to the direction you're going to receive from your advisor, the RS department, and others at the institution through course work, exams, etc. 

My hunch is that many adcoms would see your citation of specific passages and think, "Well, maybe--we'll see," rather than thinking it's essential to the project. I think they're going to be much more interested in hearing about how you see a critical theoretical perspective informing your textual analysis.

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