Religion in the Americas

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Religion in the Americas

General Description

RiA_buttonThe field of Religion in the Americas emphasizes the multiplicity of religious traditions in the Americas and explores the links between religion and other aspects of American culture from the precolonial era to the present. Special features of the program at UNC include its close affiliations with related disciplines in the humanities and social sciences and the freedom it allows in the selection of sources and methods for the study of American religion.



Students must take the following gateway:

  • RELI 740

Approaches to the Study of Religion in the Americas Explores methods, theories, and genealogies that shape the study of religion in the Americas. The course introduces students to key historiographical contexts and theoretical debates that will help them situate the field within the discipline of Religious Studies.

Students must also take one of the following:

  • RELI 744 Religion in Colonial Americas

A study of religion in the Americas from pre-contact indigenous communities to 19th century wars of independence. The course examines cases of migration, encounter, rebellion, and institutionalization across the continent and introduces theoretical debates about colonialism, hybridity, revival, and revolution.

  • RELI 745 Religion in Postcolonial Americas

A study of religion in the Americas through the lens of post-colonialism understood as a concept, a method, and a historical period. This course introduces students to theoretical debates about power, culture, history, and representation to better understand the present and future of the field.



Each student is required to be competent in two modern research languages. These languages are commonly French and German, through other research languages can be substituted with the approval of the faculty in the field and the student’s advisor if appropriate for the student’s specific area of research.


Doctoral Examinations

Following completion of coursework, students will take four written exams. These examinations focus on religion in the United States (or, in some instances, the United States and other parts of the Americas), as follows:

  1. General history of American religion: The first exam entails a survey of knowledge consistent with that found in standard historical overviews of the field.
  2. The relation among society, culture, and religion in a particular period, geographical area, or sphere of activity: The second exam calls for both comprehensive and detailed knowledge of a given period (such as the colonial era), or geographical area (such as the South), or sphere of activity (such as church and state).
  3. The methods and historiography of the profession: The third exam focuses on the general historiography of the field, as well as ways that scholars in other disciplines (such as sociology) and in heretofore marginalized subfields (such as African-American and Roman Catholic history) have sought to reconstruct its boundaries.
  4. An outside field: The content of the fourth exam is to be determined by arrangement between the student and his or her advisor. Examples include the religious history of Renaissance/Reformation Europe, a major non-Western religion, New Testament, or the sociology of religion. The aim of the fourth exam is to demonstrate the student’s ability to teach an introductory college course in a related, but essentially different, period or discipline or body of texts.

Upon completion of the written exams, the student will take an oral examination based primarily on issues raised in the written exams.


Special Resources

Opportunities for the study of American religion here and at other institutions in central North Carolina are particularly strong.

Scholars in other Departments or programs at UNC such as Afro-American Studies, American Studies, Anthropology, English, Folklore, History, Latin American Studies, Political Science, and Sociology, regularly offer courses and participate in graduate examinations in the field.

There is a large and well-developed program in American religious history at nearby Duke University. Students at both institutions routinely enroll in each other’s graduate courses and participate in a series of jointly sponsored colloquia each semester. Read more about the collaboration between the two universities in the study of American religion.

The Southern Historical Collection, the North Carolina Historical Collection, and the folklore and ethnomusicology collections at UNC attract researchers from all parts of the nation. Specialized resources such as the Wesleyan collection at Duke, the Primitive Baptist collection at Elon College, the Friends collection at Guilford College, and the Southern Baptist collections at Wake Forest and at Southeastern Baptist Seminary, are easily accessible.



Core Faculty

Associated Faculty

Affiliated Faculty


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