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Doctoral Degree

Indiana University has a long and distinguished tradition of graduate education in the study of religion. Our Ph.D. program mentors future scholar-teachers who stand at the forefront of the contemporary study of religion. Our doctoral program combines the personal attention and flexibility of a smaller program with the vast opportunities for language study, interdisciplinary endeavors, and teaching experience of a large public research university. The department emphasizes individual doctoral work which is a combination of guided and individualized research. We are looking for creative, self-driven students to work closely with our faculty.

Our Director of Graduate Studies (DGS), Jeremy Schott, should be your first stop for information about requirements, financial aid, and the like. For further information, see the links to the left or consult the University Graduate School Bulletin for detailed information about University and departmental requirements.

Doctoral Fields of Study

Our existing areas of focus are listed below. Students are also encouraged to create their own areas of focus.

Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Religions
Buddhist Studies
Chinese Thought
Comparative and Transnational Studies of the Muslim Tradition
Ethics, Philosophy, and Politics in the Study of Religion
History of Christianity
Jewish Thought and Culture
Religion in the Americas
Religions of South Asia
Religion, Textuality, and Cultural Imagination

In their statement of purpose, applicants to the doctoral program should explain their intellectual interests and research plans, indicate what area of Religious Studies they hope to pursue, and specify which faculty they hope to work with, even if their interests do not coincide with one of the fields of study listed here. In some instances, qualified students who have interests that fall outside the fields of study currently offered may be admitted to ad hoc fields in which there is sufficient faculty expertise at IU, but a specific program of study has yet to be defined. For instance, students interested in Global Christianity or Religions in Africa could be considered under this provision. The basic credit-hour, exam, dissertation, and other structural requirements of the Ph.D. program as described on the degree requirements page remain in effect and may be augmented depending on the specific needs of the student.

Synopsis of Requirements for the PhD in Religious Studies

In order to receive a PhD from IU you must complete the following:

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I. Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Religions

Students in this field master the skills for research and teaching in the religions of the ancient Mediterranean and Near East. Our program aims to train scholars who work across traditional boundaries and frontiers—geographic, linguistic, chronological, theoretical, and methodological. While students often focus on a particular tradition or geographic region, their program of study emphasizes cultural exchange, continuity, and contact among the varied cultures, traditions, and peoples of the Mediterranean and Near East. Students can expect an individualized mentoring culture aimed at facilitating their specific interests and academic goals.

Special admissions requirements: Students applying to the doctoral program in Ancient Mediterranean and Near East Religions (AMNER) should have or be completing a masters program in a relevant or cognate field, though exceptional undergraduates with ample background in Religious Studies and training in languages may be considered. Applicants should have studied Greek, Hebrew, or Latin through the intermediate level. Additional language preparation is desirable.

Affiliated faculty: Jamsheed Choksy, Jason Mokhtarian, Jeremy Schott, Kevin Jaques, Herbert Marks

Sample Exam Structure: There are five written exams, taken over a period of two weeks, followed by an oral examination. Bibliographies for each exam will be determined through consultation between the student and each examiner.

  1. Historical and cultural context relevant to the primary area (e.g., the Roman empire; Greek literary culture) (2 hours).
  2. Primary area of concentration (4 hours).
  3. Secondary area/outside minor (2 hours).
  4. Theory and Method (2 hours)
  5. Special topic (focused area relevant to the student’s possible dissertation) (2 hours).

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II. Buddhist Studies

Ph.D. students in Buddhist Studies will learn to do independent, original research on a specialized topic of their own choice while becoming familiar with classical and canonical materials and emerging trends in current research. This Ph.D. track also equips students to teach effectively and creatively about Buddhism, cognate religions, and relevant methodological and theoretical concerns. At present, the department is best equipped to train students in Buddhist philosophy, cultural history, ritual studies, material culture, and textual studies; however, students may pursue work in other areas, such as anthropology, provided that they have sufficient prior training and/or support from other faculty members at IU. In their coursework, students are expected to develop a broad understanding of various Buddhist traditions, in addition to significant expertise in their chosen field of research.

Special Admissions Requirements: Students applying for the Ph.D. program should have, or be finishing, a master's degree in Buddhist studies or another relevant field. In addition, students must have achieved intermediate competence in at least one of the following languages: classical Chinese, classical Japanese, Sanskrit, or Tibetan. Those wishing to focus on East Asian Buddhism should also have achieved intermediate competence in modern Japanese or Chinese.

Affiliated Faculty: Richard Nance, Heather Blair, Rebecca Manring

Sample Exam Structure: The qualifying examinations prepare students to (1) embark on their dissertation research and (2) teach courses on Buddhist traditions and methodological approaches in Religious Studies. Typically these exams are structured around the following four areas, with reading lists to be determined jointly by the student and members of his or her advisory committee:

  1. Theory and method in the study of religion. This exam requires students to show that they are conversant with the history and current dynamics of the field of Religious Studies.
  2. Buddhist Studies. This exam assesses students’ mastery of important concepts in Buddhist Studies, as well as their ability to engage with major trends in research.
  3. Complementary field. This exam supports the development of expertise in a methodological, theoretical, cultural, or historical area relevant to the student’s research and teaching interests. The university requires all Ph.D. students to complete a minor in another department; for students in the Buddhist Studies track, the complementary field exam will most likely (but not necessarily) relate to this outside minor.
  4. Research topic. This exam targets the specific area of the student’s proposed dissertation work, and is meant to further the student’s ability to conduct original, independent research.

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III. Chinese Thought

This field trains students to produce original research on Chinese philosophical and religious thought. It also provides students with the skills and knowledge necessary to teach effectively about the religious traditions of East Asia. Students in this field learn to interpret the texts of early China in light of the various disciplines involved in the comparative study of religion, including philosophy, history, philology, and anthropology. While students will gain a broad knowledge of Chinese texts, the current focus of this field is the early period of Confucianism (roughly the 6th century BCE through the 3rd century CE). However, concentrating on another time period is possible, depending on previous student training.

Special Admissions Requirements:
Students should have, or be finishing, a master's degree in a relevant field. In addition, students must have studied classical Chinese through the intermediate level and have acquired an elementary proficiency in modern Chinese (Mandarin).

Affiliated Faculty: Aaron Stalnaker, Michael Ing, Heather Blair, Richard Nance, Manling Luo (EALC), P. Nicholas Vogt (EALC), Ling-yu Hung (Anthropology), Phillip Bloom (History of Art)

Sample Exam Structure:
The qualifying examination is designed to certify that the student has attained a sufficient level of knowledge to eventually teach courses on not only Chinese Thought, but also on the methodologies of Religious Studies, and on the religious traditions of East Asia. As such, students are required to complete four written exams as well as a subsequent oral exam.

Typically these exams are structured around the following four areas:

  1. History and methods of the study of religion. This exam will be developed from a standard bibliography plus additions determined by the student and faculty.
  2. Chinese Thought. The student, in consultation with the core faculty, will create a bibliography related to the student's planned dissertation.
  3. The religions of East Asia. This exam will be developed from a core bibliography plus additions determined through consultation between the student and faculty.
  4. The minor area. The department sponsoring the minor will develop this exam.

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IV. Comparative and Transnational Studies of the Muslim Tradition

The Muslim world extends across an immense area of the globe that includes widely diverse cultural, ethnic, linguistic, and religious traditions. In the centuries following their initial movement out of the Arabian Peninsula in the 7th century, Muslims dispersed from Europe to China, and eventually around the world. As they did so, Muslims individually and collectively continued to develop various practices as well as theological, legal, literary, artistic, and mystical traditions that in some cases were heavily influenced by the local cultures and religions they encountered, and in others, extremely resistant to them. The Comparative and Transnational Studies of the Muslim Tradition (CTSMT) field seeks to examine different regions of the Muslim world by focusing on the texts, practices, rituals, ideas, and other forms of Muslim religious meaning as they have developed over the course of history. While traditional Islamic Studies programs tend to encourage students to focus on only one region or one aspect of Muslim thought or action, the goal of CTSMT is to highlight the diversity of Muslim thought and practice by training students in the methods and theories of comparative religions in combination with anthropological methods of studying the transnational dimension of religion.

Special Admissions Requirements: In accordance with the Department of Religious Studies, all students are required to complete an MA before beginning coursework toward their Ph.D. degree. In addition, CTSMT requires that all students have successfully completed Arabic through an intermediate level of instruction. At the discretion of the Field Chairperson, another language such as (but not limited to) Urdu, Indonesian, Persian, Turkish, Hausa, or Swahili may be substituted.

Affiliate Faculty: R. Kevin Jaques, Nur Amali Ibrahim, Shaul Magid, Rebecca Manring, and Aaron Stalnaker, John Hanson, Ron Sela, and Devin DeWeese.

Sample Exam Structure: The comprehensive exams are designed to certify that the student has attained a sufficient level of knowledge in the fields of Islamic Studies and Religious Studies. As such, students will be required to complete five written exams taken over two weeks as well as an oral exam to be completed not more than one week following the completion of their written exams. The exams consist of 1) History of Islam, 2) Theories and Methods in Comparative Religions, 3) Theories and Methods in the Anthropology of Religion, 4) Special Topics and,  5) Outside Area Exam.

History of Islam (Four hours)
This exam is divided into two sections: a) Islamic History from Origins to 1258 and b) Islamic History from 1258 to Present. It is based on an established bibliography of standard texts considered by the faculty to be “foundational” to the field. Specific topical foci for each exam are subject to agreement between examiner and student.

Theories and Methods in Comparative Religion (Two hours)
This exam will require students to apply the theories and methods of Comparative Religion to particular Muslim phenomena (textual or ethnographic) as they exist in two different areas or time periods. The text or ethnographic moment will be assigned to the student prior to the exam and the student will respond to a specific question that will focus on using the methods and theories developed during the course of study to understand the religious meaning of the phenomena in question.

Theories and Methods in the Anthropology of Religion (Two hours)
The exam requires students to exhibit their familiarity and comprehension of anthropological theorizing and empirical methods relevant to the study of a set of religious phenomena and/or practices in two separate ethnographic settings. Students will have to demonstrate that they have a sense of how to pragmatically and analytically approach the phenomenon in question, as well as of the body of theoretical literature to which its exploration would contribute.

Special Topics (Two hours)
Students are to choose an area of interest that will, in the dissertation phase of their research, become the central topic or issue for analysis. Topics can include, but are not limited to, Islamic law, theology, sacred biography, ritual, practice, art, media, mysticism, etc.; and issues can include examinations of how Muslims have addressed problems such as war, poverty, trade, migration, AIDS, identity, conversion, and so forth. Bibliographies for the exam will be developed in consultation with the examiner and should address the most pertinent aspects of the topic for the prospective dissertation.

Outside Area (Two hours)
The outside area exam will be based on a bibliography developed in conjunction with the student’s advisor in his or her minor department or program.

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V. Ethics, Philosophy, and Politics in the Study of Religion

This field of study centers on the relationships between ethics, philosophy, and political theory within the broader field of the study of religion. Emphasis is placed on the examination of philosophical, theological, ethical, and political perspectives on (and accounts of) religion, whether understood as social and cultural artifact or system of literature and thought. Particular foci could include the place of religion in culture, the formation and contours of religious identity, religion and law, religion and nature, comparative religious ethics, and philosophical and theoretical problems in religion. Work in this area is intrinsically interdisciplinary, and seeks to integrate and reconfigure traditional approaches to its range of subject matter. Students are expected to develop specific areas of historical and theoretical expertise that are informed by the range of contemporary approaches to the study of religion.

Special Admissions Requirements
Establishing proficiency in at least one foreign language prior to admission is strongly recommended. Normally this would be French or German.

Affiliated Faculty: Winnifred Sullivan, Lisa Sideris, Aaron Stalnaker, Constance Furey, Michael Ing, Shaul Magid, Richard Nance, Daniel Conkle

Sample Exam Structure
A series of written exams over two weeks totaling 12 hours, followed by an oral exam. Typically these exams will include four units: one unit will be a field exam broadly covering ethics, philosophy, and politics in the study of religion; one unit each on two areas of concentration; and one unit that furthers individual students’ planned dissertation research.

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VI. History of Christianity

Students in this field will acquire a broad understanding of the history of the western Christian traditions and master the skills to do independent and original research on some area of specialization within that range. The field's central scholarly focus is the relationship between Christian traditions and western European and American cultures, study of which is multidisciplinary and requires working with colleagues and students from other departments and programs in addition to Religious Studies (e.g. Art History, English, Classical Studies, History, Philosophy, Romance and Germanic Literature and Languages, and Medieval and Renaissance Studies). Currently the department is particularly well-prepared to support topics that focus on Christianity in Late Antiquity (through 500 C.E.) and Early Modern Europe (1400-1700 C.E.).

Special admissions requirements: Students applying to the doctoral program in History of Christianity should have or be completing a masters program in a relevant or cognate field. They must have studied Latin through the intermediate level. Depending on proposed topics of study, additional language preparation may be desirable.

Affiliated Faculty: Constance Furey, Patrick Michelson, Jeremy Schott, Aaron Stalnaker, Candy Gunther Brown, Paul Gutjahr, Ed Linenthal, Deborah Mauskopf Deliyannis (History), Karma Lochrie (English)

Special admissions requirements: Students applying to the doctoral program in History of Christianity should have or be completing a masters program in a relevant or cognate field. They must have studied Latin through the intermediate level. Depending on proposed topics of study, additional language preparation may be desirable.

Primary and secondary areas: Students choose a primary area of concentration and a secondary area from the following:

Sample Exam Structure: There are five written exams, taken over a period of two weeks, followed by an oral examination. Students are encouraged to get and begin preparing the bibliographies for their primary and secondary areas early in their doctoral coursework.

  1. Historical and cultural context relevant to the primary area (e.g., Christianity in Late Antiquity, Christianity in Early Modern Europe) (2 hours). Bibliography is determined through consultation between the student and the relevant faculty member.
  2. Primary area of concentration (4 hours). Bibliographies are available from the relevant faculty.
  3. Secondary area (2 hours). Bibliographies are available from the relevant faculty.
  4. Thematic exam (2 hours). This exam might focus on an issue related to another field in the department (e.g. Ethics, Philosophy, and Politics, or Ancient Religions), a specific method (e.g. textual or visual analysis) or a specific issue, delimited by period or genre (e.g. Gender, Art, or Literature). Bibliography is determined through consultation between the student and the relevant faculty member.
  5. Special topic (focused area relevant to the student’s possible dissertation) (2 hours). Bibliography is determined through consultation between the student and the primary faculty advisor.

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VII. Jewish Thought and Culture

This field encompasses a multidisciplinary approach to Jewish intellectual and cultural experience from late antiquity to the present, including philosophy, literature, mysticism/pietism, law, and the arts. Students will be trained to explore their area of specialization within the larger context of religious studies and will be encouraged to employ methodological approaches endemic to the study of religion in their research. Our department is particularly suited to accommodate interest in the following areas: rabbinic legal theory, medieval pietism and Kabbala, Hasidism, contemporary fundamentalism and religious renewal, Zionism/Diasporism, and gender. See also, Jewish Studies.

Special Admissions Requirements: Students applying to the doctoral program in Jewish Thought and Culture should have an MA in Jewish Studies or related field and two years of a Jewish language, usually Hebrew.

Affiliated Faculty: Sarah Imhoff, Shaul Magid, Jason Mokhtarian, Judah Cohen (Folklore and Ethnomusicology), Members of the Program in Jewish Studies

Sample Exam Structure: The qualifying examination will consist of 3 four-hour exams:

  1. An exam on an area of concentration outside the dissertation research
  2. An exam on a second area of study outside the dissertation research
  3. An exam on a specific subject or field related to the topic of the dissertation

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VIII. Religion in the Americas

This field of study focuses on the history and lived experience of religion within the United States, while recognizing transnational linkages with religious developments in Canada and Latin America.  Students will develop a historical and critical understanding of religion in the Americas from the sixteenth century to the present day, including the multiplicity of traditions and diverse modes of religious expression.  Students are expected to cultivate methodologies appropriate to their areas of interest, such as historical and literary analysis, ethnography, and cultural studies.  In addition, candidates are encouraged to explore intersections between religion and other facets of American experience, such as colonialism, modernity, race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, communications media, illness and health, popular cultures, and politics.  Potential areas of concentration are diverse, and may include (but are not limited to) African American Religions, Evangelical and Charismatic Christianity, and Religion and American Culture.  As with any subfield of religious studies, candidates are expected to be familiar with the primary and secondary literature on their chosen subject as well as relevant social-scientific and critical literatures that position their scholarship within the broader study of religion.

Affiliated Faculty: Candy Gunther Brown, Paul Gutjahr, Cooper Harriss, Sarah Imhoff, Ed Linenthal, Stephen Selka, Winnifred Sullivan, Kevin Jaques, Shaul Magid, Lisa Sideris, Claude Clegg, David Nord, Vernon Williams

Sample Exam Structure: Students are required to take four written exams (each 3 hours in length) over two weeks, followed by an oral exam. Although the topics of the exams vary from student to student, typically these exams are structured around the following four areas: (1) a historical exam assessing documentary knowledge, (2) a methodological exam focused on historiographical and critical approaches, (3) a subject area exam related to the student’s planned dissertation, and (4) a secondary exam, focused on the student’s outside minor.  Each of the departmental exams is guided by a different bibliography, developed in consultation between the student and the core faculty; bibliographies should be prepared by the summer following the first year of a student’s Ph.D. program.

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IX. Religions of South Asia

Students choosing Religions of South Asia master the theoretical, historical, ethnographic and linguistic skills they need to carry out original research and to teach at both graduate and undergraduate levels.  Students will select a particular focus for their studies, and will also develop a broad background in both South Asian religious history and the field of Religious Studies as a whole.  Current faculty strengths are in the areas of Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism.

Special Admissions Requirements:  Students should have, or be finishing, an MA in a relevant field.  Prior work with ancient or modern South Asian languages is a plus, although IU offers at least two years each of Hindi, Urdu, Persian, Sanskrit, Tibetan and Bengali.

Affiliated facultyDavid Haberman, Nur Amali Ibrahim, Kevin Jaques, Rebecca Manring, Richard Nance, Michael Dodson (History), Paul Losensky (Comp Lit / Department of Central Eurasian Studies), Susan Seizer (Communication and Culture), Pravina Shukla (Folklore), Elliot Sperling (Department of Central Eurasian Studies), and John Walbridge (Near Eastern Languages and Culture).

Sample Exam Structure:  Three exams plus the minor exam, if required.

  1. History and methods of the study of religion (core bibliography plus additions determined through consultation between student and faculty)
  2. Religious cultures of South Asia
  3. Area of concentration, determined by dissertation topic (reading list to be developed by the student in consultation with faculty).

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X. Religion, Textuality, and Cultural Imagination

Religion, Textuality, and Cultural Imagination encourages students to interrogate imbrications of the category of religion in and through artifacts expressive of human cultural imagination—including but not limited to narrative, poetry, visual and material arts, music, film, drama, and other modes of performativity. In addition to competence in specific genres of cultural expression, students will master legacies of theoretical and cultural criticism, specialize in at least one region/tradition/methodology in the study of religion (Religion in the Americas, East Asian Religions, Islam, or Ethics, for instance), and complete necessary language requirements.

Affiliated Faculty: Constance Furey, Cooper Harriss, Jeremy Schott, Sonia Velázquez, Heather Blair, Rebecca Manring, Patrick Michelson, Richard Nance, Lisa Sideris, Winnifred Sullivan, Guadalupe González-Diéguez, Paul Gutjahr, Patricia Ingham, Alisha Jones, Herbert Marks

Sample Exam Structure: Religion, Textuality, and Cultural Imagination qualifying exams consist of at least four written exams (3 hours each) taken over the course of two weeks and followed by an oral examination. Students should, in consultation with faculty, acquire and develop exam bibliographies early in their coursework.

  1. Primary Genres: Students may elect a major and minor genre of cultural expression for the exam. Genres may include lyric poetry, tragedy, opera, the novel, or other forms selected in consultation with the primary advisor and approval of the core faculty.
  2. Method: Theory and Criticism: Students will construct a diachronic bibliography of significant cultural criticism ranging from ancient to contemporary examples.
  3. Area of Religious Expertise: This exam qualifies students for university level teaching in a chosen subfield while promoting mastery in a specific region, tradition, or methodological approach in the study of religion.
  4. Special Topics: An exam that may be related to the dissertation topic.

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