MA in Religious & Theological Studies

Students who do not wish or expect to pursue the PhD at Boston University may develop an individualized program to suit their needs irrespective of the curricular requirements of the particular tracks, provided the general rules described in this section are followed.

Program Requirements

Course Requirements

In addition to any prerequisites required upon admission, 32 semester hours (normally eight 4-hour semester courses) are required as a minimum for the Master of Arts. Additional courses may be required at the discretion of the advisor and the Director. All students in the division must successfully complete two 4-credit courses in Approaches to Religious Studies. These courses are in most cases selected from the following:

  • GRS RB 795 Humanities Approaches to Religion
  • GRS RN 796 Social Science Approaches to Religion
  • GRS RN 797 Philosophical and Theological Approaches to Religion

Students are encouraged, but not required, to take all three. Students with a particularly strong background in one of these areas are not normally exempted from this requirement, but may be encouraged to take the other two courses. These courses count toward the required credits for the MA.


French, German, or another relevant modern foreign language is required of all MA candidates. This requirement may be satisfied by transcript evidence of having passed two years of undergraduate study of the language, by Division examination, or by passing GRS LG 621 (German) or GRS LF 621 (French). These are noncredit courses offered by the Department of Modern Languages & Comparative Literature (German) and Romance Studies (French). Additional languages may be required at the discretion of the advisor, in consultation with the Director.

Comprehensive Examination or Thesis

After fulfilling course requirements, an MA candidate must write and defend a thesis or pass a comprehensive examination in the student’s area of specialization. The contours of the exam or thesis are determined in the first case by the student’s advisor, in consultation with related faculty, and with the approval of the Director of Graduate Study.


When applying for admission to the program, graduate students choose an area of specialization within one of four tracks. The guidelines for each track are meant to ensure that students are well-prepared to produce high-quality academic work in their chosen areas of specialization while also remaining fully engaged in the broader trends in the study of religion most relevant to their work. Each track is guided by a group of faculty that includes, among others, members of the Religion Department and the School of Theology. These tracks, therefore, represent the ways in which the division faculty members work together, in groups, to provide a meaningfully collaborative and collegial educational environment, and to foster excellence in religious and theological studies.

Texts and Traditions

This program guides students to develop skills in historical, cultural, and textual analysis, combined with relevant linguistic proficiency, to illumine texts, traditions, artifacts, phenomena, or events of particular significance for the understanding of religion. Students in this program will typically develop mastery in the history, literature, and language(s) of a specific religious tradition, or a particularly significant body of religious writing. Current areas of strength within this track include: Ancient Christianity and Christian Origins, Greco-Roman Religions, Hebrew Bible, History of Christianity, Jewish Studies, Islamic Studies, Religions of China, Religions of India, and Religions of Japan.

Religious Thought

This program guides students to develop skills in analytic thought and expertise in one of the following disciplines: philosophy of religion, systematic theology, comparative religious thought, and religious ethics. Specialized research programs within this track include: (i) historical study of religious thought in one of these disciplines, (ii) constructive development of interpretations of religious subject matters within the domain of religious ideas, and (iii) the interdisciplinary study of religious thought in relation to cognate fields in the humanities, literary studies, fine arts, and social sciences.

Religion and Society

This interdisciplinary program seeks to examine the relation of religion and society in modern or traditional cultures. This program guides students to develop generalized skills in the social sciences and specialized expertise in sociology, anthropology, social ethics, or social history. Research programs within this track involve the application of one or more of these disciplines to one or more particular geographic area(s) or historic period(s), as chosen by the student, in close consultation with the advisor.

Religion and Science

This interdisciplinary program pursues religious and theological studies in relation to the physical, biological, and psychological sciences. Students develop skills in relevant scientific methods, and gain knowledge in the history and philosophy of science. In consultation with the advisor, the student develops a program that, among other types of research, involves (i) studying issues at the intersection of religion and science; or (ii) making religion the object of study by means of the physical, biological, and psychological sciences.

Time Frame for Completion

Master’s students have three years to complete their degree. After this time limit has been reached, students must petition the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences for an extension.

Students whose continuation in the program extends to seven years beyond the completion of their comprehensive examinations may be required to retake one or more of their comprehensive examinations, in order to ensure that they remain well-informed of current issues in the field.