PhD in Religion

The purpose of the PhD in Religion program is to train scholars of religion who will distinguish themselves through research, teaching, and service to universities, colleges, and the world at large. The program’s curriculum is 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. The program is guided primarily by the faculty of the Department of Religion, but our graduate faculty in Religion includes members from additional departments in GRS as well as faculty from other schools across BU. Program faculty stress methodological rigor and theoretical engagement; many have particular interests in religious interactions and interreligious boundaries.

Students entering the 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.

Learning Outcomes

Students graduating with a PhD in Religion are expected to:

  • Produce an original and substantial contribution to knowledge in the field of religious studies, utilizing appropriate research skills.
  • Demonstrate a rich, generalized mastery of the field’s subject matter and the variety of methods employed by its practitioners.
  • Obtain the necessary knowledge for future research and to teach broad introductory undergraduate courses in religious studies.
  • Comport oneself according to the highest ethical standards of the academy, exhibiting collegiality and fairness in treatment of teachers, peers, students, and subjects of study.

Course Requirements

In addition to any prerequisites required upon admission, sixteen 4-credit courses (64 credits) are required as a minimum for the PhD. This includes two 4-credit courses in Approaches to Religious Studies, normally taken within the first three semesters of study:

  • GRS RN 791 Approaches to Religion 1 Classical Approaches
  • GRS RN 792 Approaches to Religion 2 Contemporary Approaches
  • One thematic seminar, selected from a list maintained on the program website
  • GRS RN 793 Professional Development Seminar in Religious Studies

Additional courses may be required at the discretion of the advisor or Director of Graduate Studies (DGS).

Candidates admitted to the PhD degree program who come with a master’s degree in religious studies may transfer a maximum of 4 courses (16 credits). The exact number of courses required depends on how closely the student’s prior work parallels the PhD course requirements at Boston University; a decision about how many prior credits the program will accept for transfer credit is made at the end of the student’s first full year of study. Please see the GRS transfer credit policy and procedures for additional information about transfer credits.

World’s Religions Requirement

All students will be required to demonstrate broad knowledge of multiple traditions from multiple geographic areas. This requirement may be met by one or more of the following, with combinations permitted pending approval by the student’s advisor and DGS:

  • Prior graduate or undergraduate coursework
  • Graduate training taken at BU
  • Examination(s) in (select) religious traditions

Upon matriculation into the program, students will discuss their academic backgrounds and credentials with their advisor in order to determine if this requirement has been met entirely or only partially by prior coursework. All requests for exemption from this requirement as well as proposals for fulfilling this requirement (whether by exam or coursework) must be approved by the DGS.

Language Requirements

All students pursuing a PhD degree in Religion are required to demonstrate graduate-level reading proficiency in two languages (other than English) during the first two years of graduate study. Additional language competencies may be required, depending on a student’s specialization. Language proficiency can be demonstrated through either a language examination or successful completion of a noncredit graduate-level foreign language reading course offered by Boston University.

Beyond two contemporary languages, students who are working with primary sources in language(s) other than English will need to demonstrate a thorough knowledge of grammar, syntax, and vocabulary in these language(s), at a level of expertise appropriate to the particular area of specialization. Normally, this expertise will be evaluated directly by program faculty, during the stage of Qualifying Examinations.

Qualifying Examinations

Students of the GPR will take three types of examinations. Examinations will have both oral and written components, to be decided on by the specialization committee in consultation with the student’s primary advisor(s). Examinations reflect the corpus of knowledge the GPR expects the student to control before they can move to writing a dissertation prospectus.

  1. Specializations draw on diverse bodies of knowledge, address different historical periods and geographical areas, and demand discrete methodological skills. Consequently, each specialization will administer 1–2 examinations covering the historical periods, data, and historiography relevant to the specialization.
  2. Students across the GPR are required to master the theoretical models, interpretive schemes, and modes of analysis unique to their specialization. Hence, all students will be required to take one examination that will demonstrate the theoretical and methodological acumen necessary for interpretation of the materials particular to their specialization.
  3. In their dissertations, students will be making use of the requisite historical, theoretical, and methodological knowledge of their specializations to develop an original work of scholarly analysis. The final exam will consequently be aimed at demonstrating the student’s skill at analyzing their own area of expertise and interest in terms of those accepted interpretive schemes and bodies of knowledge.

PhD candidates, after successful completion of all coursework and language requirements but before proceeding to the dissertation, are required to pass three to 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 within 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. The student will draft their prospectus in consultation with at least two readers, usually drawn from their own specialization. Once the prospectus is provisionally approved by the first reader (advisor) and second reader, a draft of the prospectus will be circulated in advance, and the student will present their project to an audience of GPR faculty and graduate students. Following the presentation, the first and second readers will decide whether officially to approve the prospectus, or to approve following revisions. If revisions are required, they will be submitted to the two readers for their final approval.

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 GRS Student Handbook for program-specific advice and procedures.

If a student chooses not to continue in the PhD program and has otherwise fulfilled the course and language requirements for the MA degree, they may apply for the master’s degree. The required thesis or comprehensive examination for the degree will be determined by the student’s advisor, in consultation with related faculty, and with the approval of the Director of the GPR.