The graduate program in American Religions at the University of Virginia focuses on the religious cultures of the United States, domestically and transnationally, in both historical and contemporary contexts. As such, the program is interdisciplinary in its methodology, incorporating historical, theological, literary, and anthropological approaches to the study of religion in America. Students in this subfield are encouraged to work with faculty in various other departments at the University of Virginia, including Anthropology, Art and Architectural History, English, History, Media Studies, Politics, and Sociology. Traditionally our closest partnership has been with the US historians in the History Department. Students may also draw upon the resources of interdisciplinary programs such as the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies, the Program in American Studies, the Jewish Studies Program, and Women, Gender, and Sexuality (WGS) Program.
Overall, the program is designed to allow students the flexibility to shape a course of study and fields of examination that best suit their intellectual interests and career aspirations. Each admitted student will be assigned an advisor from among the American Religions core faculty.
I. Requirements for the PhD
Note: The following reflects the policies of the 2016–2017 Graduate Record. Specific requirements may differ for students who entered in other years.
Students must acquire 72 credits, at least 45 through satisfactorily completed graded course work at the 5000 level or higher (15 courses) and up to 27 other credits (often non-topical research). This coursework is normally completed in five semesters.
Students entering with an appropriate master’s degree may be granted advanced standing, for which they should apply in their first semester at UVA. If granted, this reduces the graded coursework requirement to 30 hours, or ten standard classes, which ideally will be completed in three semesters. Finishing coursework in three semesters requires one semester of four standard graded courses.
Students in American Religions must take the following specific courses while satisfying the total required hours of coursework:
1. Required Courses
RELG 7360, Study of Religion (usually taken in the first semester)
RELG 8400, Historiography Seminar in American Religions (taken in the Fall of the first or second year)
2. Elective Courses (chosen in consultation with advisor)
A minimum of four courses that are primarily historical in approach (in addition to RELG 8400)
A minimum of two courses that are primarily social scientific or literary in approach
A minimum of two courses that are primarily philosophical or theological in approach
The required and elective courses above apply to students who enter with an MA as well as those who enter with a BA.
B. Mid-Program Research Conference
Upon finishing coursework and perhaps (but not necessarily) in conjunction with the annual review, a conference is held with the student, his or her likely dissertation advisor, and two other faculty members in the area (or as appropriate to the student’s research). This conference considers a student’s work so far and formally recommends to the Graduate Committee whether a student should be permitted to proceed to exams. If the conference recommends the student continue, it sets a timetable for exams and discusses likely dissertation directions.
The results of this conference must be communicated to the Graduate Coordinator.
American Religion PhD students must pass an examination in one modern language, determined in consultation with the student’s advisor, as appropriate to the intended research agenda. By the end of the first semester, in consultation with the advisor, each student must develop a Language Plan that specifies which language he or she will use to meet the requirement. This plan must be filed with the Graduate Coordinator.
Students who have elsewhere taken and passed the GRE or an institutionally administered language exam and can present evidence to this effect may be exempted from taking the exam again and considered to have satisfied the language requirement. The language requirement must be met before a student may proceed to comprehensive exams.
D. Comprehensive Examinations
Four total comprehensive examinations are required: three written and one oral. Students will consult with their advisor to develop an Exam Plan during their first year, which must be submitted formally to the Graduate Coordinator by the end of their second semester at UVA .
The three written exams are to be taken during one week’s time, no later than the end of the semester following the completion of all coursework. Typically, students in American Religions take two of these written exams in broad areas of the field, such as American Religious History Since 1865, or African American Religious History (as examples). The third written exam is typically in a more focused topical, thematic, or methodological area appropriate to the student’s intended dissertation research.
The fourth exam is an oral exam to be taken within two weeks of the completion of the written exams. This exam will cover the same content as the written exams and is intended to tie together and extend the conversation begun in the written exams.
E. Dissertation Proposal
A student must submit and defend a dissertation proposal that has been worked out in consultation with his or her field committee and proposed dissertation director within six months of completing the comprehensive exams. PhD students are strongly advised to begin thinking toward a dissertation topic at an early point in their studies, to discuss possibilities with their faculty advisors and instructors, and to exploit opportunities provided by seminar papers to make preliminary explorations of the topic or related areas. Proceeding in this way will allow students to move briskly from comprehensive examinations to the dissertation proposal and colloquium.
The dissertation must satisfy the requirements of the Religious Studies Department and the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences (GSAS).
II. Virginia Colloquium in American Religion
The program sponsors an on-going colloquium of faculty and graduate students that meets several times each semester and provides an informal but informative extra-curricular occasion for discussion, often with the participation of students from History. The format varies from meeting to meeting and may include the presentation of a paper by a faculty member or a student, a presentation by a visiting scholar, discussion of a piece of common reading, or of dissertation work. Though extra-curricular, the colloquium has an important function in the intellectual formation of graduate students, and all graduate students in the program are expected to participate on a regular basis.