PhD in Religious Studies

The purpose of the PhD in Religious Studies program is to train scholars of religion who will distinguish themselves through research, teaching, and service to universities, colleges, seminaries, and the world at large. All students will choose an area of specialization within one of the program’s four tracks:

Track 1: Texts and Tradition
Track 2: Religious Thought
Track 3: Religion and Society
Track 4: Religion and Science

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. For more information on each of these tracks and the requirements for the PhD in Religious Studies, see the Graduate Division of Religious Studies (GDRS) page.

Students entering the post-bachelor’s PhD program will have majored in religious studies (or a related discipline) or otherwise show transcript evidence of advanced coursework in a single religious tradition and introductory coursework in multiple religious traditions. Students entering the post-master’s PhD program will normally hold a degree (bachelor’s or master’s) in religious studies (or a related discipline), showing transcript evidence of advanced coursework in a single religious tradition and introductory coursework in multiple religious traditions. A master’s degree is required for students entering Track 4.

Course Requirements

Post-Bachelor’s Requirements

In addition to any prerequisites required upon admission, sixteen 4-credit courses (64 credits) are required as a minimum for the post-bachelor’s PhD. All students in the GDRS must successfully complete two 4-credit courses in approaches to religious studies.

Course requirements by track:

Track 1: Texts and Traditions

  • GRS RN 795: Humanities Approaches to Religion

Track 2: Religious Thought

  • GRS RN 797: Philosophical and Theological Approaches to Religion
  • GRS RN 723: Core Texts and Motifs of World Religions: West
  • GRS RN 724: Core Texts and Motifs of World Religions: East

Track 3: Religion and Society

  • GRS RN 796: Social Scientific Approaches to Religion

Track 4: Religion and Science

  • GRS RN 723: Core Texts and Motifs of World Religions: West
  • GRS RN 724: Core Texts and Motifs of World Religions: East
  • One science literacy course

Additional courses may be required at the discretion of the advisor or track Coordinator.

Post-Master’s Requirements

For the vast majority of our entering post-master’s students, 40 credits are required for the PhD. This includes eight 4-credit courses (32 credits) plus two 4-credit approaches to religious studies courses. Track core course requirements are the same as the post-bachelor’s program.

Language Requirements

All students pursuing a PhD degree in Religious Studies are required to demonstrate graduate-level reading proficiency in two modern foreign languages during the first two years of graduate study, one of which will usually be French or German. The second language, if not French or German, should be a modern foreign language clearly related to the dissertation research. Additional language competencies may be required, depending on a student’s research and track specialization. Language proficiency can be demonstrated either through a language examination, successful completion of a non-credit graduate-level foreign language reading course offered by Boston University, or the equivalent of two years of undergraduate study of the language at Boston University.

Students in the Religion and Society track may be permitted, with the approval of their advisor, to substitute for the second modern foreign language an exam in a relevant research methodology (such as statistics, ethnographic fieldwork methods, or other forms of qualitative or quantitative research skills).

Students in the Religion and Science track will be required to substitute, for the second modern foreign language, an exam in a science skill (such as cognitive and neural modeling, ecological modeling, mathematics, computer programming, or statistics for empirical research), depending on the direction of research. For additional lab requirements pertaining to this track see the GDRS Track 4 page.

Qualifying Examinations

PhD candidates, after successful completion of all coursework and language requirements but before proceeding to the dissertation, are required to pass three or four separate qualifying examinations. At least one of these examinations should have an oral component. At least two of these examinations must have a written component. Exams should be completed within the third year of study (normally one year after completing coursework).

Dissertation and Final Oral Examination

Candidates shall demonstrate their abilities for independent study in a dissertation representing original research or creative scholarship. A prospectus for the dissertation must be completed and approved by the readers, the director of graduate studies, and the department chair/program director. Candidates must undergo a final oral examination in which they defend their dissertation as a valuable contributions to knowledge in their fields and demonstrate a mastery of their fields of specialization in relation to their dissertation. All portions of the dissertation and final oral examination must be completed as outlined in the GRS General Requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy Degree, and the GDRS student handbook for program-specific advice and procedures.