MA Degree

Increase font size
Decrease font size

The M.A. Degree


Please note: the Department does not admit students seeking an M.A. as a terminal degree.

Students In The M.A. Program are introduced to general problems and methods in the study of religion and pursue concentrated study in a specific field of specialization.

During the first year of study, the Director of Graduate Studies serves as the academic advisor for each new M.A. student. By the end of the second semester of study, each student must designate a faculty advisor (or advisors) in the student’s field of specialization.


Fields Of Specialization

The graduate program offers concentrated study in the following fields of specialization:

  • Ancient Mediterranean Religions
  • Islamic Studies
  • Medieval and Early Modern Studies
  • Religion and Culture
  • Religion in the Americas
  • Religions of Asia

Each new student is admitted into one of these fields of specialization. Each field has specific degree requirements that must be completed in addition to the general requirements for the M.A. and Ph.D. degrees.



All M.A. students must complete 30 hours of course work (10 courses). At least half of the courses taken must be numbered 700 or above, and each student’s coursework must include the required courses described below.

Students may take up to 12 of their 30 course hours outside of the Department. Students generally take 3 semesters of 3 courses each and complete their theses in the 4th semester.

With the recommendation of the Department and approval of the Graduate School, a maximum of 6 graduate course hours may be transferred from another accredited institution and be accepted toward the fulfillment of the 30-hour minimum. Students who have successfully completed graduate level courses in this University prior to formal admission into the Religious Studies graduate program may also be accredited with 6 credit hours.

Each semester students must have their prospective schedules approved by their faculty advisors and can make subsequent changes only with the consent of their advisors.


Required Courses

All M.A. students are required to take two courses: RELI 700 (Theory and Method in the Study of Religion) and a gateway course outside their own field of specialization. This two-course sequence prepares students to serve as Teaching Associates. These courses are included in the 30-hour minimum course requirement.

RELI 700. Theory and Method in the Study of Religion, usually offered every fall semester, is a required course for all first-year graduate students. The course is designed to provide students with a thorough grounding in the history of religious studies and knowledge of some of its primary theoretical orientations. At the conclusion of the course, a final examination is administered.

Gateway Courses. Different fields of specialization within the Department regularly offer graduate seminars designed especially to introduce important themes and methodologies relevant to the field. These seminars are designated as “gateway courses.” By taking a gateway course outside their own field of specialization, students achieve a broad expertise across different subfields within the discipline. Designated gateway courses include the following:

  • RELI 707 – Early Christian History and Literature (Ancient Mediterranean Religions)
  • RELI 720 – Critical Lineages in Religion and Culture (Religion and Culture)
  • RELI 740 – Approaches to American Religions (Religion in the Americas)
  • RELI 744 – American Religions to 1865 (Religion in the Americas)
  • RELI 745 – American Religions since 1865 (Religion in the Americas)
  • RELI 780 – Methods in Islamic Studies (Islamic Studies)
  • RELI 885 – The Study of Asian Religions and the Construction of the Field (Religions of Asia)

Every M.A. student is required to take at least one gateway course in a field of specialization other than his or her own before the completion of the M.A. program or, if the student is bypassing the M.A., before proceeding to the Ph.D. program.

Additional Required Courses. Faculty teaching in each field of specialization may also prescribe additional course requirements for students in the field.



All M.A. students must demonstrate reading competency in one modern research language before beginning their M.A. thesis. This language is usually either French or German, but in some circumstances, with the approval of the student’s advisor and the faculty in the student’s field of specialization, a student may substitute a different modern language as more relevant to the student’s research interests.


M.A. Final Examination

Each M.A. student is required to take a comprehensive examination in the student’s field of specialization (the “Field Examination”). The Field Examination is designed to test general knowledge of scholarship within the chosen field, as well as detailed knowledge of specific topics. In consultation with the student’s faculty advisors, each student is expected to develop an individualized reading list of approximately thirty to forty significant works that provide an opportunity for the student to explore major themes, issues, and arguments within the field of specialization.

The Field Examination usually consists of one or more essay questions. It is three hours in length and closed-book. Some fields may also schedule an oral consultation after the written Field Examination, but the grade recorded will be the grade achieved on the written examination.

The Field Examination is scheduled by the student and the student’s faculty advisor, normally at the beginning of the third or fourth semester of study. In consultation with the student, the faculty advisor will establish a two-person faculty committee for the Field Examination. This committee will construct the questions and evaluate the examination.


M.A. Thesis

Each M.A. student must write and defend (by oral examination) a thesis in the student’s field of specialization. The thesis is a limited research project designed to demonstrate scholarly potential in the field. Students may count a maximum of 6 credit hours of RELI 993 (Master’s Thesis) towards the required total of 30 credit hours. Students normally register for RELI 993 credit hours in the fourth semester of residency, but a student may not begin writing the thesis until passing the Field Examination.

The M.A. thesis demonstrates the ability of the student to research, organize, and write an extended essay. An acceptable thesis involves sustained research in a body of primary materials, interpretation of those materials in a methodologically self-conscious manner, and presentation of one’s work in a clear, well-written essay. The M.A. thesis thus serves as an indicator of a student’s promise for doctoral work. The M.A. thesis should be cast as an extended essay, approximately fifty to sixty pages (only rarely exceeding one hundred pages), typed, double-spaced, including appropriate footnotes and bibliography.

The oral examination covers the contents of the M.A. thesis and any other matters deemed appropriate by the thesis committee members. The committee may approve the thesis, require revisions, or reject it. Following approval of the thesis, candidates must meet all University specifications for formatting and submitting the final version of the thesis manuscript to the University.


Duration Of Degree

Students must complete all requirements for the M.A. degree within five years of initial registration in the graduate program. Most students are awarded the degree within two to three years.

The requirements specified above may not prove adequate for students whose previous training in religious studies is lacking in certain respects. In such cases the Department may require, through the student’s advisor, an additional course of study.


Proceeding To The Ph.D. Program

Upon a student’s successful completion of all M.A. requirements, the student’s faculty advisor may recommend to the Graduate Studies Committee (GSC) that the student advance to the Ph.D. program. Upon receipt of this recommendation and a petition from the student that specifies the direction of his or her proposed doctorial research, the GSC will vote at its next regular meeting on the student’s admission to the Ph.D. program. Recommendations received after May 1 will be considered at the first regular GSC meeting of the fall semester.

The completion of the requirements for the M.A. degree provides no guarantee that a student will be accepted into the Ph.D. program. In addition to these general guidelines for admission into Ph.D. program, there may be additional requirements specific to the various fields of specialization.


Bypassing The M.A. Degree

At the end of one full year of coursework (18 credit hours) at the M.A. level and after completing the Field Examination, students initially admitted into the M.A. program who have already completed an advanced degree in the study of religion from another academic institution and who can demonstrate sufficient preparation in religious studies may petition the GSC to bypass the Department’s M.A. degree. Petitions to enter the Ph.D. program must be submitted with the endorsement of the student’s faculty advisor by no later than one month after completion of all the requirements to bypass the M.A. degree.

Bypassing the M.A. degree allows students to bypass up to 12 hours of coursework and the M.A. thesis requirement. All students initially admitted into the M.A. program are required to take RELI 700 and at least one gateway course, to show competency in one modern research language, and to pass the Field Examination prior to admission into the Ph.D. program.