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Religion, Literature, and Culture


The graduate program in Religion, Literature, and Culture explores the interrelationships between religious traditions, practices, texts, and thought and the cultural creations of different times, traditions, languages, and places, with particular emphasis on narrative, poetry, drama, and the arts, as well as aesthetics, poetics, forms of interpretation, and criticism. Given the breadth of the scope of this research area, many Religious Studies faculty are available to serve as advisors, offer relevant courses and tutorials, and facilitate research that is both rigorous and innovative in conception.


Students in this research area typically take RELG 5070: Interpretation Theory and RELG 5630: Issues in the Study of Religion and Literature, as well as RELG 7360: Theories and Methods in the Study of Religion, which is required for all first-year PhD students. To pursue their particular research interests, students are encouraged to take courses across the wide range of offerings in Religious Studies, as well as outside of the department across the University of Virginia. Courses should be selected in consultation with students’ academic advisors.


PhD students in Religion, Literature, and Culture are required to show reading proficiency in at least two languages relevant to their research interests.

Comprehensive Exams

Religion, Literature, and Culture PhD students take five comprehensive exams; the topics and relevant reading lists are settled in consultation with their academic advisor(s). The exam topics typically are drawn from, but not constrained by, the following general list:

  1. theories and methods in religious studies
  2. issues in the study of religion, literature, and culture
  3. hermeneutics, aesthetics, and/or literary theory
  4. philosophical, theological, and/or ethical interpretations of culture
  5. religion and material culture
  6. a particular genre, theme, or major figure relevant to the student’s dissertation project

Students should meet with their advisor(s) to set up a comprehensive exam plan in the spring of their first year in the PhD program. Exams are usually taken one at time, over a period of three-to-six months, and each exam has two readers. Because the readers set the format of the exam (closed book/closed notes/open book/open notes, the length of time the student is permitted to spend writing the exam, etc.), students should consult with their readers well ahead of each scheduled exam to discuss the exam format.