Religious Studies, PhD

This is the first version of the 2024–25 General Catalog. Please check back regularly for changes. The final edition and the historical PDF will be published during the fall semester.

The doctoral program in the Department of Religious Studies trains participants to become advanced practitioners of the study of religion as researchers, scholars, teachers, and facilitators of informed public discourse. Some graduates become professors at colleges or universities while others bring a nuanced, critical understanding of religion and its influences to such careers as health care, law, diplomacy, ministry, social advocacy, journalism, counseling, and informatics.

PhD students train to analyze the ways in which diverse religious traditions originate, develop, and interact over time, and learn to identify and use multiple methods for the study of religion, including historical, philosophical, ethical, literary, linguistic, psychological, ethnographic, and digital approaches. Students typically draw on the expertise of several different members of the religious studies faculty and also are encouraged to work with faculty members in other UI departments who specialize in their areas of interest. Many PhD students work, for example, with scholars in the departments of Anthropology; Asian and Slavic Languages; Classics; Communication Studies; English; Gender, Women's, and Sexuality Studies; and History.

The program offers a collegial intellectual community, including a departmental colloquium series, a collaborative reading group in critical theory, and an ethos of mutual support among graduate students.

Graduate study in the Department of Religious Studies is highly flexible and personalized, and is shaped to individual students’ interests concordant with existing faculty expertise.

Areas of Current Faculty Expertise

Religions of Southwest Asia, North Africa, and the Mediterranean

Religion, law, and politics in the Islamic world; the history of interpretation of the texts and traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; Greco-Roman and Egyptian religion and culture; digital humanities.

Religions of East Asia

Religious traditions of China and the political, social, and economic factors that have shaped them; modern religion and culture in Korea, most notably Christianity; religion and gender in transnational perspective; religion and empire.

Religions of the United States and the Atlantic World

History and ethnography of religion in the United States; African American religious traditions (Christianity, Islam, and African diaspora religions); West African religions; religion, media, and the negotiation of technological change; Latina/o/x Christianity.

Religion, Ethics, and Society

Religion and morality; religion, emotion, and affect; human rights; religion's relationship to gender, race, and ethnicity; ethics of medicine and biotechnology; religion and health.


Graduate study also is developed by theme. Popular themes include religions’ relationships to public life, gender, race, media, technology, and human health and well-being.

Learning Outcomes

  • Teaching success: students gain expertise in how to teach religious studies in a liberal arts setting, and if they serve as teaching assistants (TAs) during their graduate program, they show effectiveness in reaching a diverse audience of students.
  • Critical knowledge of the field: students become familiar with foundational texts in their field, as well as influential scholarship that critically engages these texts and seeks to move the field in new directions; students identify ways in which they can contribute to the corpus of texts that compose their field.
  • Academic skills: students develop skills to read carefully and think critically, and they write in clear and compelling ways about topics related to the study of religion; students have hands-on opportunities to develop key skills in public engagement.
  • Religion and social equity: students gain a critical understanding of the historical entanglement of global religions with racism and misogyny; they can articulate religions’ relationships to unjust power structures, as well as religions’ contributions to greater social justice.
  • Professional engagement: students demonstrate successful participation in the life of the department, their subfield, and the broader field of religious studies; they communicate about their learning with students from other fields.

For more detailed information on graduate programs in religious studies, contact the Department of Religious Studies or visit Graduate Programs on the department's website.