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American Religions


The American Religions area focuses on the religious cultures of the United States, domestically and transnationally, in both historical and contemporary contexts. As such, the program is interdisciplinary, encompassing historical, theoretical, cultural studies, and anthropological approaches to the study of religion. Nineteenth and twentieth-century US religious history forms the foundation of our training. Students and faculty in American Religions examine religion as a product of particular communities, institutions, and histories, always understood alongside larger cultural, social, economic, and political contexts. Analyses of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, law, economics, and politics are therefore integral to training in American Religions.

Faculty bring expertise in American Protestantism, Mormonism and minority religious traditions, African American religious cultures, Buddhist modernism, American Catholicism, secularism, law, politics, spirituality, and social reform, among other topics—as well as historical and cultural studies methods. Students typically take courses and often comprehensive exams with faculty in other areas of the department, taking advantage of the wide range of faculty expertise across traditions and methods in Religious Studies at UVA.

Graduate students in American Religions have a long tradition of studying closely with faculty and graduate students in the US History track of the Department of History. Students are also encouraged to work with faculty in Anthropology, Art History, the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies, English, Jewish Studies, Media Studies, Music, Politics, Sociology, the School of Law, and any other relevant department or program at UVA.

The University of Virginia offers a number of graduate certificate programs that may be of interest to students in American Religions: Africana StudiesAmerican StudiesDigital HumanitiesEnvironmental Humanities, and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.

Requirements and Examination Structure for the PhD

In addition to the requirements as outlined in the Graduate Record, students in the American Religions PhD program are required to take RELG 8400: Historiography of American Religions. All students must prove competency in one language other than English.

The comprehensive examinations in American Religions are normally taken in the 5th semester of enrollment for students with advanced standing, and in the 6th semester for those without advanced standing, as is typical across the department.

American Religions students take three written examinations over the course of approximately 10 days—each supervised by a separate professor in Religious Studies or, occasionally, another department—followed by an oral examination with the entire examination committee that covers the same content as the written exams.

The general topics of the exams are worked out between the student and their advisor, while the precise reading list for each exam is worked out between the supervising professor and the student. Normally, students take at least one, and often two, examinations in American religious history on periods defined chronology. Common exams in this mode are 19th-century US religious history, 20th-century US religious history, American religion before 1865, and so on. The remaining one or two exams are generally defined thematically or topically. Past examples include secularism and spirituality; religion and race; religion, gender, and sexuality; religion, nation, and empire; religion and environment; religion and law; US political, social, or cultural history—among others.

Exams serve to credential students in particular subfields, to prepare students to teach, and to prepare students to conduct dissertation research. They must therefore be chosen and shaped in careful consultation with advisors.