Department of Religious Studies

Religions in History

General Information
Major Fields
Preparation for Admission
Program Requirements
Qualifying Exams

General Information

This area of concentration allows students to study religious traditions in specific historical and cultural contexts. The goal is to examine the historical articulation of religious phenomena in a specific geographical area and in relation to other relevant religious traditions. Students will develop the research methods necessary for their projects: these may include historical, philological, comparative, material, and literary analyses. They also will develop the theoretical and thematic approaches needed to articulate research questions and to explore the role of religion in particular societies and cultures. Each student will develop expertise in a second religious tradition: either religions in conversation within a specific geographical and chronological context or ones that inform a comparative project.

Major Fields

The specific areas of research in this concentration depend on the current interests of the faculty. Prospective applicants are encouraged to contact faculty as they develop their applications. Current faculty research includes: Buddhist and Hindu traditions in South Asia; Islam in the Middle East and South Asia, Japanese Buddhism, and Christianity and Judaism in medieval and early modern Europe. Graduates from this concentration will be well prepared for professional opportunities within religious studies that are geographically or chronologically focused or that center on a particular religious tradition.

Preparation for Admission

Applicants should have a B.A. or M.A. degree in Religious Studies or a related field from the Humanities or Liberal Arts. Previous coursework in history, area studies, and textual analysis will provide a solid foundation for graduate study. Students progressing to doctoral work will need significant mastery of their primary research language; we thus strongly recommend that applicants have studied this language before entering the program.

Program Requirements 

In addition to the general program requirements, graduate students in this concentration will take courses that introduce them to the scholarly approaches to their field, and take research seminars that allow them to explore works or problems in the study of religions and emphasize the analysis of primary texts. 

They should take at least two courses on “Core readings”:

R S 388E. Core Readings on Religion in Europe.
This course discusses key scholarly works on and major approaches to religion in Europe. 

R S 388I. Core Readings in Islamic Studies. This course discusses key scholarly works on and major approaches to the study of Islam and Muslim societies.

R S 388J. Core Readings in Jewish Studies.
This course discusses key scholarly works on and major approaches to Jewish Studies.

R S 393C. Core Readings on Religion in Asia
This course discusses key scholarly works on and major approaches to religion in Asia.

In addition, students must take at least two research seminars that focus on the reading and analysis of primary sources.

Students will take additional courses, chosen in consultation with their faculty advisor, in preparation for the qualifying exams listed below.

Qualifying Examinations 

Ph.D. candidates in Religious Studies are required to pass a set of qualifying examinations. The exams will be in four fields and will consist of written essays for each field and an oral defense of the essays. Students will consult closely with area faculty in developing areas of specialization and fulfilling comprehensive examination requirements. The four fields for this concentration are: 

  1. Major Field: History of a religious tradition, focusing on specific geographical and chronological contexts.
  2. Supporting Field: History of a second religious tradition or a field from another area of concentration (i.e., Religions of Latin America or Religions of Late Antiquity).
  3. Thematic Field: chosen in consultation with faculty advisor; exploration of a selected topic across religious traditions and areas of concentration in the study of religion.
  4. Dissertation Field: typically the special area(s) of research within the Major Field related to the development of a dissertation topic


Students in the Religions of Europe and the Middle East concentration must have or acquire competence in the following languages:

Primary languages (advanced competence – third-year and above – required upon entering the Ph.D. level):

The primary language or languages will depend on the student’s area of research. UT offers extensive opportunities to develop advanced competence in Arabic, Sanskrit, Pali, Hindi, Urdu, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Japanese, Hebrew, Syriac, Yiddish, Latin, and Classical Greek, as well as modern European languages.

Secondary/scholarly languages:
Reading competence in two languages most needed to read secondary works in the field. This usually will be French and German, although other relevant languages may be substituted.

Faculty advisors will consult with entering students about language preparation and placement.

List of Religions in History Area Faculty