History of Religions

Program Overview

The graduate program in the History of Religions provides training in the study of religion as a category of human thought and practice, and in the study of specific religious traditions. The program includes courses designed to introduce the student to the general field of phenomenological and comparative religious studies, as well as advanced courses in which the student will pursue specialized work in the practices, rituals, literatures, philosophies, and social and cultural histories of individual religious traditions. The History of Religions Program focuses on several principal traditions, though others are possible as well:

  • African and African Diaspora Religions
  • Buddhism (Chinese; Indian; Theravāda; Tibetan)
  • Chinese Religions
  • Hinduism
  • Indian Religions

The program is interdisciplinary and draws upon related courses in other departments and programs of the University, for example, Anthropology, History, and Asian Studies. Master's candidates are expected to concentrate on a single religious tradition. Doctoral students will concentrate on a specific religious tradition and also develop competence in a second religious tradition.


Program Types

The Department of Religious Studies offers three types of graduate degree programs: The Ph.D., the M.A./Ph.D., and the dedicated M.A. If a student wishes to pursue a Ph.D. and already has an M.A., he or she should apply for the Ph.D. program. If the student has a B.A. but does not have an M.A., he or she should apply for the M.A./Ph.D. If the student wishes to pursue an M.A. only, then he or she should apply for the dedicated M.A. program. The two Ph.D. programs are funded by the University of Virginia. The dedicated M.A. program is in most cases funded by the student.

The History of Religions committee may opt to admit an M.A./Ph.D. applicant to the M.A.-only program. Students in the dedicated M.A. program can apply to the Ph.D. program during the year in which they complete the M.A. They will be considered alongside all applicants at that time. Students who already hold an M.A. degree in Religious Studies or a suitable area studies program, and who have completed sufficient language preparation, may apply for “advanced standing” at the end of their first semester in residence, which applies up to twenty-four credits from prior M.A. work to the Ph.D. degree and program requirements. Nine hours of UVA Continuing Education courses taken prior to admission--if they are graduate courses in the relevant area--can be counted towards M.A. or Ph.D. degree requirements. If more than nine hours of UVA Continuing Education credits have been completed, the student must petition to count that work toward her M.A. or Ph.D. degree requirements.


The Dedicated Master's Degree in History of Religions

The dedicated M.A.program is flexible and can be tailored to students’ interests. The program consists of 30 credits, typically completed in four semesters, but no less than three semesters. All M.A. students must complete one full year in residence.

Language Requirement for the Dedicated M.A.

All M.A. candidates must pass a reading competency examination in one modern research language other than English that is relevant for their scholarly work (e.g., German, French, modern Chinese, Hindi, modern Tibetan, etc.). Alternatively, they may complete two courses (6-8 credits) in a language related to their area of specialization (e.g., Sanskrit, Tibetan, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Swahili, Kreyol).

Course Requirements for the Dedicated M.A.

  • The examination option: The student completes 30 credits of graded graduate coursework, followed by an M.A. comprehensive examination. A student selecting this option must complete a minimum of 15 credits in non-language seminars, 9 of which must be in seminars focusing on the same religious tradition, while 6 credits must be taken in courses with a strong emphasis on method. The M.A. examination is based upon a reading list approved by the relevant field committee.

  • The thesis option: This option involves the preparation and successful defense of a thesis that exhibits competence in the area of specialization, skill in a given method of study, and an ability to employ resources in the relevant foreign language(s). The program’s requisite 30 credits should include 24 graded credits in graduate courses and 6 ungraded credits. Of the 24 graded credits, a minimum of 15 credits must be in non-language (or “content”) seminars. Of the non-language seminars, 9 credits must be in seminars dealing with the same religious tradition, while 6 credits must be taken in courses with a strong emphasis on method. Students selecting this option should use their 6 ungraded credits, e.g., RELS 8999, to write the thesis under the guidance of a Religious Studies faculty member. The thesis must be approved by two faculty members and defended orally before two such members.

The Ph.D in the History of Religions

Language Requirements

All Ph.D. students must pass a reading competency examination in one modern research language other than English that is useful for their scholarly work. A “modern research language” is a language with a contemporary body of academic literature relevant to the student’s program such as French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, modern Japanese, modern Chinese, Hindi, modern Tibetan, Swahili or Arabic. It does not include classical languages such as classical Japanese, classical Chinese, classical Tibetan, Sanskrit, Pali, etc., or languages that lack a significant body of scholarship relevant to the student’s research. In addition to passing this reading competency exam, students must acquire proficiency in the languages necessary for advanced research in their area of specialization, as follows:

  • Hinduism: four years of either Sanskrit or Hindi and at least two years of a second South Asian language relevant to the student's research interests;
  • South- and/or Southeast-Asian Buddhism: (a) four years of either Sanskrit or another primary research language (Pali, etc.); and (b) two years of a second language relevant to the student's research interests (including Sanskrit for those who select Pali as their primary research language, or vice versa);
  • Tibetan Buddhism in South Asian Context or Tibetan Buddhism in East Asian Context: four years of Tibetan and three years of either Sanskrit or Chinese;
  • Chinese Buddhism: four years of Chinese and two years of a second language relevant to the student’s research interests, such as Japanese, Sanskrit, Tibetan, etc.
  • Chinese Religions: four years of modern spoken and written Chinese, and at least two years of classical Chinese.
  • African and African Diaspora Religions: the equivalent of three years of French, Spanish, Portuguese, Swahili or Arabic for students working in parts of Africa or the African Diaspora where these are the linguae francae. In addition, students should develop facility in the African or Diaspora vernacular they intend to use during fieldwork, e.g., Malagasy, Ewe, Twi, Wolof, Dholuo, Kreyol.
  •  Indian Religions: four years in a classical Indian language and at least two years of a second Indian language relevant to the student's research interests.

Methodology Requirement

All doctoral students enrolled in a History of Religions program must take two methodology courses. Entering graduate students are required to take Theories and Methods in the Study of Religion (RELG 7360). The second methodology course may be a methods or theory course offered in another program in the department (e.g. “Interpretation Theory”, RELG 5070), or in another department in the College, but it must be approved by the History of Religions field committee and the student’s adviser.

  • History of Religions methodology courses: These courses are listed at, or above, the five-thousand level, and are geared towards graduate students. The course description will specify that they fulfill the History of Religions methodology requirement. They are taught by History of Religions faculty. The courses may deal with specific issues such as ritual, gender, embodiment, etc., but they must do so with a focus on broader theoretical issues and approaches; alternatively, they may constitute surveys of various approaches in the history of religions without a thematic focus. Courses that fulfill this requirement include Seminar in the History of Religions (RELG 5170) and Ritual and Remembrance (RELA 5620).

Coursework and Examination Schedules

  • Coursework Schedules: Students with advance standing have five semesters to complete coursework. All pre-dissertating requirements, including comprehensive exams and dissertation prospectus, must be completed by the end of the sixth semester. Students without advanced standing have six semesters to complete coursework, and pre-dissertating requirements must be completed by the end of the seventh semester. Students should consult their respective program tracks, below, for details on primary and secondary concentrations.
  • Ph.D. Comprehensive Examinations: Comprehensive exams are written, timed examinations that are taken at the close of the semester in which one finishes coursework. There are four exams: primary tradition; secondary tradition; method and theory; and language. All four are mandatory. Standardized reading lists as well as sample questions for each exam will be distributed to students in their first semester of coursework.  

Dissertation Proposal, Fieldwork and completion of the Dissertation

No later than one semester after completing coursework, the candidate will present and defend a dissertation proposal to his/her advisory committee. After the proposal defense, the candidate must complete at least nine months of continuous fieldwork and/or study abroad in a country relevant to the dissertation research. Completion of the dissertation and the Final Examination will proceed according to the rules of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Course Requirements for Ph.D. Program Tracks

Program course requirements include thirteen graded seminars in the five Ph.D program tracks. Advanced standing (courses from a prior M.A. degree) may be counted for up to three of the thirteen graded, three-credit seminars required for each program listed below (nine credits of the total twenty-four credits of advanced standing applicable to the degree requirements). When choosing courses, note that every Ph.D. candidate must have a UVA faculty member from outside the department on his or her dissertation committee. To facilitate this process, students should take at least one course outside of the department. This course may be counted towards other requirements, typically in the Electives category.

Primary Religion

  • African and African Diaspora Religions. 6 seminars.
    • Specific courses must be approved by the student’s Ph.D. adviser.
  • Buddhism. 6 seminars.
    • Areas include East Asian Buddhism, South- and/or Southeast-Asian Buddhism, Indian-Tibetan Buddhism, and Chinese-Tibetan Buddhism. Students are urged to choose courses that focus on Buddhism’s development in a number of different cultures. For the possibility of additional courses in Buddhism, see the section on electives, below. Courses must be approved by one's adviser.
  • Chinese Religions. 9 seminars.
    • Up to three of the seminars can be taken outside the department with the adviser's approval. No more than 5 seminars can be taken in a single religious tradition.
  • Hinduism. 6 seminars.
    • Two courses can be taken outside the department, but such courses must be approved by one’s adviser.
  • Indian Religions. 9 seminars.
    • Up to three of the seminars can be taken outside the department with the adviser's approval. No more than 5 seminars can be taken in a single religious tradition.

Secondary Religion

  • African and African Diaspora Religions. 3 seminars. Typically Islam or Christianity.
  • Buddhism. 3 seminars. Typically Chinese Religions or Hinduism.
  • Chinese Religions. N/A (see Primary Religion)
  • Hinduism. 3 seminars.
  • Indian Religions. N/A.  (see Primary Religion)

Methodology - 2 Seminars

  • All areas of study have the same requirement of two courses. One of these will be Theories and Methods in the Study of Religion (RELG 7360), which students will take in the first semester of their program. Others include Seminar in the History of Religions (RELG 5170) and Ritual and Remembrance (RELA 5620), or others in the Department with a significant focus on method and theory in religious studies.  Courses outside of the department can be agreed to if a case can be made for why they are most relevant. The second methodology course should be decided upon in consultation with one’s adviser, and filed as a  petition to the HR field committee.

Electives - 2 Seminars

  • All areas of study have the same requirement of two courses. These are required courses, but their specific nature is variable. However, these courses should be selected from among those offered in other departments, or from course offerings in the Religious Studies Department outside of the areas covered in the primary tradition’s area. Language courses cannot be counted as electives, and all of these courses must be approved by the student’s Ph.D. adviser.

Languages

  • African and African Diaspora Religions
    • Primary language: Six courses or the equivalent are required in French, Spanish, Portuguese, Swahili, Arabic, Amharic, Hausa, Kreyol or another relevant lingua franca. If the appropriate language is not offered at UVA, then it is the student's responsibility to identify summer language institutes that offer intensive courses in the desired language–whether in the United States or abroad. FLAS fellowships are available for summer study in certain African languages, and students are, again, expected to pursue such possibilities.
    • Secondary language: A student should develop proficiency in the vernacular he/she intends to use in fieldwork. As indicated above, students should pursue opportunities for language study at FLAS institutes, or by applying for GSAS summer grants to travel to Africa or the Caribbean for intensive language study. During the academic year, students should strive to improve their skills through utilizing tapes and manuals; or locating native speakers and arranging tutorials.
    • One modern research language: It is necessary to pass a reading competency exam in one modern research language relevant to student's field of research. This requirement can be fulfilled by the comprehensive exam in one's primary language if it qualifies as a “modern research language.”
  • Buddhism
    • Competency in one modern research language and advanced ability in two classical languages is required. It should be noted that for Tibetan, this entails a requirement to study both classical and modern Tibetan. In most cases, the student will be expected to attain mastery equivalent to completing four years of instruction in one, and three in the other. Students must commence studying language as soon as possible and should discuss their choice of languages with their advisers. In limited cases, advanced language courses may also be used to fulfill other requirements if a research paper is written and it includes a significant research component. As mentioned, above, students must demonstrate competence either through examination or coursework in at least one modern research language relevant to student's field of research. This requirement can be fulfilled by the comprehensive exams in one's primary or secondary language if the language qualifies as a "modern research literary language." The French and German departments offer courses to enable graduate students rapidly to gain a reading knowledge of these languages; they also administer examinations to test competency.
  • Chinese Religions
    • Primary language: The student must be able to demonstrate competency in both modern and classical Chinese.
    • One modern research language: It is necessary to pass a competency exam in one modern research literary language relevant to student's field of research. A modern research literary language is defined as a language with a contemporary body of academic research literature relevant to the student's program of study, such as French, German, or modern Japanese.
  • Hinduism
    • Primary language (Sanskrit or Hindi): 8 courses.
    • Secondary language (Sanskrit, Hindi, Urdu or other modern Indic languages taken in summer and/or external programs): 4-6 courses.
    • One modern research language: It is necessary to pass a reading competency exam in one modern research language relevant to the student's field of research. This requirement can be fulfilled by passing comprehensive exams in one's primary or secondary language if the language qualifies as a "modern research language." A modern research language is defined as a language with a contemporary body of academic literature relevant to the student's program of study. It does not include such classical languages such as Sanskrit.
  • Indian Religions
    • Primary language: The student must complete 8 courses in a classical Indic language, such as Sanskrit, Urdu, or Pali.
    • Secondary language: The student must complete 4-6 courses in a second Indic language.
    • One modern research language: It is necessary to pass a competency exam in one modern research literary language relevant to student's field of research. This requirement can be fulfilled by the comprehensive exam in one's primary or secondary languages if the language qualifies as a "modern research language." A modern research literary language is defined as a language with a contemporary body of academic research literature relevant to the student's program of study, such as French, German, modern Japanese, modern Chinese, or modern Tibetan, and so forth. It does not include such classical languages as classical Japanese, classical Chinese, classical Tibetan, Sanskrit or languages without relevance to the student's program of study.

Qualifying Exams

Qualifying examinations are designed to confirm that you possess the necessary grasp of theoretical and methodological thought within the field of Religious Studies and the requisite knowledge for teaching undergraduate courses in the areas in which you specialize.  Each exam is closed-book and closed-notes. Each topical exam (language exam excluded) will be comprised of three essay prompts, from which you will select two to answer in four hours. Language exams will last four hours, in which examinees will translate, without dictionaries or computer assistance, approximately four to five pages of text.

Four qualifying exams are required for each field:

  • Primary tradition. 1 exam
  • Methodology. 1 exam
  • Secondary tradition. 1 exam
  • Language. 1 exam

Exam schedules are as follows:

  • If entering with advanced standing, exams will be taken in the week preceding the beginning of Fall semester following the student’s 4th semester.
  • If entering without advanced standing, exams will be taken in the week preceding the beginning of Fall semester following the student’s 6th semester.

Dissertation Prospectus

  • If entering with advanced standing, the prospectus defense must be completed by the end of the student’s 5th semester in the program.
  • If entering without advanced standing, the prospectus defense must be completed by the end of the student’s 7th semester in the program.
  • See the HR dissertation prospectus form here [add link]

Course Load

Students will typically enroll for a minimum of 12 credit hours per semester (please note that a TA-ship counts towards this total - see below). It is possible to take more credit hours, but students should consult their adviser. Be sure that you are making substantial progress toward degree requirements with each and every course. An example for Ph.D. students in the Buddhist Studies track is as follows:

·     Seminar -- 3 credits

·     Seminar -- 3 credits

·     Classical language -- 3 credits

·     TA-ship -- 3 credits (Students should register under RELS 8995)

Or

·     Seminar -- 3 credits

·     Seminar -- 3 credits

·     Classical language -- 3 credits

·     Classical language -- 3 credits

Note that, for students in the Tibetan religions programs, literary and spoken language courses are counted as a single course for the purposes of determining course load. For example, third-year Modern Spoken Tibetan (3 credits) and third-year literary Tibetan (3 credits) may be counted only as 3 credits when determining course load, despite their real value of 6 credits.

Non-Topical Research Courses

Entering full-time students must enroll in a 12-hour course load with no more than three hours of non-topical research. Entering part-time entering students must register for 6 hours with no more than three hours of non-topical research. Each department has been assigned numbers for four non-topical research courses listed below:

·     RELS 8998 Non-Topical Research: Preparation for Master's Research, no thesis director

·     RELS 8999 Non-Topical Research: For Master's thesis, taken under the supervision of a thesis director

·     RELS 9998 Non-Topical Research: Preparation for Doctoral Research, no dissertation director

·     RELS 9999 Non-Topical Research: For Doctoral Dissertation, taken under the supervision of a dissertation director

For courses numbered 8998 and 9998, a faculty member will have to be assigned for each student. For 8999 and 9999, the student's research advisor would be the appropriate faculty member.

Students working on a master's degree should enroll in either 8998 (if they have not selected a thesis advisor) or 8999 (if they have selected a thesis advisor), and students working on a Ph.D. degree should enroll in either 9998 (if they have not selected a dissertation advisor) or 9999 (if they have selected a dissertation advisor).

  •