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Religion, The Study of

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Questions about these requirements? See the contact info at the bottom of the page. 


Full-time study during the first two years, i.e., four semester courses during each term, with a minimum average grade of B, is required. Included in these courses is the required satisfactory completion of two common seminars, Religion 2001 and Religion 2002, normally taken, respectively, in the first and third terms of study. Also required is a minimum of two courses outside the specialization in either: a) a tradition, b) a geographical-historical complex, or c) a methodological approach.


A high standard of proficiency in two languages, relevant to scholarship in the proposed course of study, in addition to English, is required. Proficiency can be demonstrated by a) receiving a “High Pass” score on the language examinations administered by the Harvard Divinity School, b) receiving a B+ grade or higher in both a third- and fourth-term language course at Harvard, or receiving certification of reading competence by means of tests and assignments given by an approved regular member of the faculty. Students are strongly encouraged to pass one language requirement upon entry into the program and the other within one year of entry.

Second-Year Review

An oral second-year review (one-and-a-half hours) will assess the student’s progress in the specialty, ability to pursue self-critically an academic study of religion, and probability of completing the PhD program successfully. The review normally occurs in the third or fourth term of study.

Master of Arts (AM)

Students may only be admitted for the PhD program - no one is admitted as a candidate for the AM in the Study of Religion. However, the requirements for the master’s degree must be satisfied by all students as they move toward the PhD, and are expected to be completed by the end of the fourth term. The AM degree may be granted (upon application) when these requirements are fulfilled.

For the AM degree, a minimum of two full years of coursework (sixteen semester courses with a minimum average grade of B) is required, the language requirements must be met, the general course requirements (as above) fulfilled, and a satisfactory second-year review completed.


In addition to its financial benefits, teaching is considered integral to the program of the PhD studies in religion at Harvard. There are many opportunities for teaching in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, in the religion undergraduate concentration, and at the Harvard Divinity School. PhD students are guaranteed teaching in their third and fourth years, and in some cases may teach beyond that. Students may not teach before the third year.


Upon entry into the program, each student may choose a faculty advise based on the area of specialization. At any point a student may change advisers should another faculty member prove more suitable for their program. Occasionally, students will have two co-advisers. The faculty advisor participates in a student’s second-year review, chairs the examining committee for the general examinations, works with the student in formulating a prospectus, and directs the writing of the dissertation.

During their first two years in the program, students are required to choose two additional faculty members in the CSR, in consultation with their primary adviser, to serve as members of their advising team. At least one of those faculty members should be outside of the student’s primary area of interest. G1 and G2 students are expected to meet at least once during the year with their advising team as a group. 

General Examinations

After the satisfactory completion of two years of full-time study, the secondary language requirements, the general coursework outside the specialization, and the second-year review, a student prepares for the general examinations. PhD students must take their generals no later than the sixth term of study. All PhD students take a general examination on theoretical and methodological issues in the study of religion. Three additional examinations are arranged according to a student’s context of study and specialization.


Within twelve (preferably six) months of passing the general examinations, all candidates must submit a written prospectus of not more than 3,000 words (plus bibliography), formulating a dissertation project. Upon formal approval of the prospectus, the student commences the writing of the dissertation. Post-prospectus, students are required to submit one completed chapter per year to their advisors. The length of the dissertation is normally limited to 300 pages or 75,000 words. Once the dissertation is completed and approved by the advisor, the degree candidate is examined orally by a committee of at least three faculty readers, two of whom must be members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

The entire PhD program should not exceed seven years.* Students who do not complete the degree in seven years must petition the committee for an extension of time in the program. In such a petition, the student and the dissertation advisor must present evidence of reasonable and substantial progress as well as a schedule for completion of the dissertation. Extensions will not be granted beyond the tenth year. Only in unusual cases can the program be completed in less than five academic years.

* Students are permitted a maximum of four terms on leave of absence status prior to completion of the degree program. Except in special circumstances, leaves of absence are counted in calculating departmental time to degree.

Contact Info 

Religion Website

Program Administrator
Committee on the Study of Religion
12 Quincy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138

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