General Graduate Information


Basic information about the program is provided below; if you have further questions or concerns, please contact us:

We encourage you to complete the Preliminary Information Form. The online pre-application provides prospective domestic and international students with an opportunity to state their interest through the submission of contact information, educational history, and academic interests.  While not a complete evaluative tool, the pre-application enables departments and students to gauge compatibility, identify special needs, and communicate important program information. The Preliminary Information goes only to the Religious Studies Department and allows us to consider your interests and qualifications before we receive the official Graduate Division application (which usually takes longer to complete).

Program Introduction

The Department of Religious Studies at UCR offers a small, focused graduate program designed to train advanced students in the critical study of religious traditions. The program engages religion as a political and social dynamic on the international stage, critically appraising the force of religions in contemporary global cultures, contacts, and conflicts.

Students coming to work in our graduate program are therefore expressing an interest in delving into particular ways of studying religions: through the political, cultural, ideological, and interpretive lenses by which people understand themselves and others. This view of religious discourses not only describes the academic approach of our faculty, but also provides critical interfaces with scholarly work conducted through the University, and in diverse areas of humanistic studies.

Our program offers not only the expertise of our faculty, but also rich interdisciplinary connections at UCR and across the University of California system.

Program Description

The program offers two degree tracks:

A terminal M.A. program allows students to explore the academic study of religions more broadly and is geared toward students who wish to expand their study of religions in an academic environment but may not yet wish to pursue a career in academia.

A more specialized Ph.D. program prepares students to enter into academia as researchers and university instructors in a specific field of expertise.

All students are oriented to the methodological and theoretical focus of the program through three core courses taken in their first year:

  • Religion, Politics, and Public Discourse
  • Representations, Interpretations, and Critical Histories
  • Religions in Contact

The specific focus of these classes will vary from year to year depending on the faculty member leading the seminar, but the series will consistently provide students not only with a firm grounding in the “methods and theories” of the study of religions, but practical experience in exploring contemporary issues of religions in the public square.

In addition to these methodological core courses, the Graduate Program offers advanced seminars in diverse areas along two geographic axes :

  1. Religions in the West
  2. Asian Religions

These two broad geographic areas encompass traditional fields of research and teaching in the academic study of religions, maximizing the resources available to our students within the Department, the College, and the University as a whole. Not only will students benefit from the expertise of the faculty of the Department of Religious Studies, they will also capitalize on the rich resources of the College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences: the Asian Studies program, the Native American Studies program, Comparative Literature (including German, French, Chinese, and Japanese literatures and cultures), and the developing program in Southeast Asian Studies, among others.

Students enrolled in the master’s program will take general courses in a variety of religious traditions and themes. Master’s students are also encouraged to focus their advanced coursework in a particular field of study. Master’s students will not normally advance to doctoral status; their degrees will be terminal.

Students enrolled in the doctoral program should enter with significant undergraduate work in religious studies, basic background in their chosen field of study, and some general sense of the direction they would like to pursue at the graduate level and how their interests cohere with the methodological focus of the program.

Admissions Requirements

For general admissions requirements and electronic application to the Graduate Division of the University of California, Riverside, please click here.

The Department does not accept applications for entry in the winter or spring quarters. For those wishing to enroll the following fall, applications for admission are due December 15th, which is the early deadline for primary consideration for funding. Subsequent completed applications will be considered on a “rolling admissions” basis, although nearly all admission decisions take place from January to March, and both funding and space in the program are very limited after March 15th. Graduate admission applications close on June 1st.

All students must take the GRE General Test and submit transcripts from all previous institutions, along with 3 letters of academic reference and a Statement of Goals and Qualifications. Applicants whose first language is not English are also required to take the TOEFL exam.

While an undergraduate major in religious studies is not required for admission into the graduate program, it is highly recommended that applicants demonstrate significant interest in and background in the academic study of religions and the appropriate scholarly approaches to religious studies.

Applicants to the doctoral program will be held to a high standard of undergraduate preparation for their graduate work: both basic and advanced courses in religious studies (in methods and in their chosen field of study), beginning work in foreign languages (particularly if this will be an integral component of their particular course of study), and a demonstrable ability to work across methods, traditions, and disciplines. Their Statement of Goals and Qualifications submitted with their graduate application should show the beginnings of a series of critical engagements with particular aspects of religious studies that they hope to pursue at an advanced level. A master’s degree is not required for admission to the doctoral program.

Applicants to the master’s program will also be expected to demonstrate scholarly acuity, as well as interest in the critical questions of the discipline of religious studies. Given the broader scope of the master’s program, however, applicants to this degree program will not be expected to demonstrate the more intense engagement with a particular field of study that is desired in doctoral candidates.

Master’s Degree Requirements

Normative time to degree: two years

Master’s students are required to complete a minimum of 36 units in order to qualify for their degree; 12 of these units comprise the year-long series of core courses (see above); at least 18 of the 36 units total must be 200-level courses.

Master’s students are expected to develop sufficient familiarity with the major religious traditions and the prominent methods for examining them critically. Entering students with weaknesses in the basics of some religious traditions may be encouraged to take graduate-level survey courses. The overall curriculum for master’s students is flexible, allowing them to pursue specific fields of study and themes of interest while achieving a balance in the comparative study of religions. Additional coursework in related departments (such as history, anthropology, or comparative literature) is permitted to master’s students as time and workload permit.

In the final quarter of their program, master’s students complete a series of comprehensive written examinations which are designed by the department and administered by a master’s examination committee. These comprehensive examinations will test the student’s knowledge of specific fields of study as well as the areas of critical inquiry that serve as the methodological focus of the program.

Doctoral Degree Requirements

Normative time to degree: six years

Doctoral students must complete the year-long series of core courses. Doctoral students are also expected to pursue a more precise field of study (e.g., Buddhism, Islam) in their coursework, as well as to develop a secondary or minor field of study that will permit them to explore the methodologies involved in comparative religious studies work. Doctoral coursework (typically lasting nine quarters) is viewed as a period of specialization and professionalization, during which students hone their scholarly abilities. Time should also be allowed for doctoral students to pursue advanced courses in the languages of research related to their fields of study. It is also expected, and encouraged, that doctoral students take closely related courses in other Departments (such as history, anthropology, comparative literature, and so forth) in order to enrich their specializations.

After the completion of coursework, doctoral students complete a round of qualifying written examinations followed by an oral defense. Students will complete three written examinations:

  • Major field studies
  • Comparative studies
  • Critical studies (method and theory)

The three examinations, written in concert with an advisor and committee, give students the opportunity to demonstrate an overall mastery of subjects and approaches, and to prepare them for the more focused, rigorous research work they will pursue in their dissertations. Upon successful oral defense of the examinations, the doctoral student will advance to candidacy and propose and write a doctoral thesis.

Foreign Languages

Both master’s and doctoral students must meet language requirements in order to receive their degrees. Students may petition to substitute more relevant languages of research if they feel they are appropriate.

Master’s students must demonstrate reading proficiency in at least one language of scholarship (typically French or German, although students may petition to substitute another, more relevant language).

Doctoral students must demonstrate reading proficiency in two languages of scholarship (typically French and German, although students may petition to substitute one other, more relevant language).

In addition, doctoral students must demonstrate proficiency in any language or languages deemed critical for examination of primary texts in their declared field of study (e.g., Japanese, Arabic, Greek, Indonesian). It is strongly suggested that doctoral students begin studying any languages of research before beginning their coursework at UCR. Adequate language training is becoming increasingly vital in the scholarly and professional training of academics in the fields of religious studies. Many research languages are offered at UCR; if necessary, the faculty will work with students to help place them in needed language courses at other, nearby institutions.

Financial Aid and Teaching Experience

The University of California, Riverside, offers several competitive fellowships to the strongest graduate students. To be considered for fellowship support, applications must be submitted to the Department of Religious Studies by early January in the year of admission (this is not a postmark date; all materials must be received by that date).

In addition to competitive fellowships, most doctoral students and some master’s students will have the opportunity to serve as Teaching Assistants for undergraduate classes offered by the Department of Religious Studies. Fellowship students and teaching assistants are also eligible for health benefits from the University.

For more information about financial support from the Graduate Division, see their website.

Contact Information

Religious Studies Graduate Program
INTN Building, 3033
Department of Religious Studies
University of California, Riverside
900 University Avenue
Riverside, CA 92521

Phone (951) 827-3612
Fax (951) 827-3324

Graduate Student Handbook, click here. [2016-17] [2015-16] [2014-15 | 2013-14]

UCR Graduate Division:

UCR Graduate Application Information:

Preliminary Information form: