General Graduate Information


Welcome to the Graduate Program in Religious Studies at UCR. Our department is made up of internationally known faculty and talented graduate students (and some pretty amazing undergrads too) who are engaged in cutting-edge research. Our selective graduate program offers students the opportunity for close study with faculty members and a great deal of flexibility in planning and pursuing the focus of their advanced training. Our prime location in the heart of U.S. religious diversity and on the rim of the Pacific Ocean offers rich resources for archival, ethnographic, linguistic, and textual research, among others, and the impressive density of academic institutions in Southern California offers immense opportunities for students to enrich their studies through connections to scholars at other institutions as well as to those in other departments at UCR. If you’re a prospective graduate student, please take the time to check out our department pages (though be aware that, like L.A. freeways, there are always a few under construction at any given time). If you can’t find the information you need, please drop us an email or make a phone call! We’re looking forward to hearing from you.

Basic information about the program is provided below; if you have further questions or concerns about the program or the application process, please contact the current Director of Graduate Studies, Professor Melissa M. Wilcox, at

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 Form 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 admits only a small number of graduate students each year in order to offer a focused graduate program that is designed to train advanced students in the critical study of religious traditions through close study with our faculty. The program engages religion as a political and social force on the international stage, critically appraising the impact of religions in contemporary global cultures, contacts, and conflicts.

Students applying to study 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 many other areas of humanistic studies.

Because of the diversity of interests among our faculty and the rich interdisciplinary connections available both at UCR and across the University of California system, students in our program are able to pursue a wide variety of interests. Our strengths include, but are not limited to:

  • Pan-Pacific religions
  • Transnational religions in the U.S.
  • Religions in South, East, and Southeast Asia
  • Religion, sexuality, and gender, including queer and transgender studies in religion
  • Religion, race, colonialism, and decolonization
  • U.S. religions, historical and contemporary
  • Religion and culture

As you explore our program, please take the time to get to know our faculty through their bios and other information available on their web pages. For a directory of our full-time faculty, click here. We encourage you to visit and meet in person with the faculty members whose research most closely matches your own interests.

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, or not yet, wish to pursue a career in academia.

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

All students are oriented to the methodological and theoretical focus of the program through the 200 series, taken in either their first or second year:

  • RLST 200A Religion, Politics, and Public Discourse
  • RLST 200B Representations, Interpretations, and Critical Histories
  • RLST 200C Religions in Contact

The specific focus of these classes will vary from year to year, depending on the faculty member teaching each course. Regardless of focus, though, this series provides students not only with a firm grounding in the academic study of religions, but also with experience in the practice of religious studies.

In addition to the 200 series, M.A. students must take one and Ph.D. students must take both of the core theory and methods courses that are offered in alternating years with the 200 series:

  • RLST 201 Thinking about Religion: Classic Theories in the Study of Religion
  • RLST 202 Contemporary Theories and Theorists in the Study of Religion.

In addition to these five core courses, the graduate program offers advanced seminars on a wide range of other topics; for specific course titles, please see the page on graduate courses. Graduate students may also take a limited number of upper-division undergraduate courses, adjusted appropriately for graduate-level work and concurrently enrolled with RLST 292 for graduate credit; they may also take courses in other departments and at other U.C. campuses.

Students enrolled in the master’s program will take general courses in a variety of religious traditions and themes, but are also encouraged to focus their advanced coursework in a particular field of study. Although master’s degrees are terminal – that is, they do not feed directly into the doctoral program – both current master’s students and alumni of the M.A. program may apply for admission into the Ph.D. program. For continuing master’s students, this is best done by the fall of the second year in order to disrupt the course of study as little as possible.

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. While they have access to a broad range of possible courses in addition to the five core courses, Ph.D. students are encouraged to plan their studies in such a way as to obtain the training they need for the research, teaching, and/or other work they intend to do in the future. Faculty are ready and willing to advise students in developing such a plan.

For detailed information on the requirements for each program, please consult the current course catalog (a searchable PDF is available for download) here.

Admissions Requirements

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

The deadline for priority funding consideration is December 1, 2018 for applicants wishing to begin their studies in Fall 2019. Applications received later than December 1 will be considered on a “rolling admissions” basis. However, nearly all admission decisions take place between December and January; both funding and space in the program are very limited after early January. Graduate admission applications close on June 1st.The Department does not accept applications for entry in the winter or spring quarters.

All applicants 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. All applicants must submit a Statement of Purpose describing the focus of their interests in religious studies, a Personal Statement, and a writing sample of 10-15 pages.

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 Purpose 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.

Applicants should be aware that UCR policy does not allow for additional funding to be issued if a student switches from the M.A. program to the Ph.D. program. Regardless of preparation, therefore, students who intend to complete a Ph.D. at UCR should apply to the Ph.D. program in order to obtain adequate funding if they are admitted.

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; the core courses comprise 16 of these units (see above); at least 18 of the 36 units total must be 200-level courses.

Master’s students are expected to develop significant 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 all five of the 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 between six and 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 (minor field)
  • 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 dissertation.

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 fully considered for fellowship support, applications must be received by the Department of Religious Studies by December 1.

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
Department of Religious Studies
University of California, Riverside
900 University Avenue
Riverside, CA 92521

Director of Graduate Studies: Melissa M. Wilcox,

The department’s Graduate Student Handbook offers a thorough overview of both the M.A. and the Ph.D. program, and answers many of the practical questions that prospective and current students may have. For the 2018-2019 edition of the handbook, click here. Back editions are available via the following links: [2017-18] [2016-17] [2015-16] [2014-15] [2013-14]

UCR Graduate Division:

UCR Graduate Application Information:

Preliminary Information form: