This is the first version of the 2021-22 General Catalog. The final edition and the historical PDF will be published during the fall semester.

The doctoral program in the Department of Religious Studies trains students to become advanced practitioners of the study of religion—researchers, scholars, teachers, and facilitators of informed public discourse. It can prepare a person to become a college professor or to bring a nuanced, critical understanding of religion and its influences to such careers as medicine, nursing, law, diplomacy, ministry, social advocacy, journalism, counseling, and informatics.

Doctoral students analyze the ways in which diverse religious traditions originate, develop, and interact over time. Students learn to identify and use multiple methods for the study of religion, including historical, philosophical, ethical, literary, linguistic, psychological, ethnographic, and digital approaches. Students can draw on the expertise 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 Ph.D. students work, for example, with scholars in the Departments of Anthropology, English, History, and Asian and Slavic Languages and Literatures, as well as in Classics and Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies.

Graduate study in religious studies is flexible; it can accommodate individual students’ interests within the limits of existing faculty expertise.

Graduate Study Concentration

Graduate study is often developed in relation to one of the following traditional areas of concentration.

Religions in the Middle East, Ancient Near East, and 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 in Asia

Religions of India, China, and Korea in the context of political, social, and economic factors; religion and gender in transnational perspective; religion and empire.

Religions of Europe and the Americas

The Reformation; the Reformed tradition; history and ethnography of religion in the United States; African American Christianity and Islam; religion, media, and the negotiation of technological change.

Religion, Ethics, and Society

Religion and morality; human rights; religion’s relationships to gender, race, and ethnicity; ethics of medicine and biotechnology.

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

It is the expectation that Ph.D. students complete their studies in six years; five for those who are accepted into the program with an M.A. and transfer credit.

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

The Doctor of Philosophy program in religious studies requires a minimum of 72 s.h. of graduate credit. Students may transfer up to 24 s.h. of credit from another accredited graduate school. They must maintain a cumulative g.p.a. of at least 3.40 in University of Iowa coursework.

Course requirements for the Ph.D. vary according to concentration area. However, all students must complete the following eight required courses.

RELS:5100Teaching and Public Engagement1
RELS:5200Varieties of Religion in the Contemporary World3
RELS:5300Genealogies of Religion3
RELS:5400Methods and Theories in the Study of Religion3
GRAD:6217Seminar in College Teaching3
Three graduate seminars, including at least two in religious studies (prefix RELS)9
Total Hours22

During their fourth semester in residence, students must submit a departmental program of study, which must be approved by the religious studies faculty. To gain approval to continue in the Ph.D. program, students must complete three of the required courses listed above and two of the graduate seminars; show satisfactory progress toward the language and course requirements of their individual programs; demonstrate the ability to write scholarly papers at a level satisfactory for the Ph.D., as assessed by their advisor and core committee members (at least two papers must be submitted to the committee); and have a cumulative University of Iowa g.p.a. of at least 3.40 (language courses that do not count toward the Ph.D. are excluded).

Students must pass a comprehensive examination based on a bibliography that covers their main focus area within religious studies (the history, influential figures, perennial debates, and/or theoretical approaches); a secondary chosen area of focus, distinct from the dissertation topic; and an area of specialization or dissertation topic. The comprehensive exam includes an oral defense. Students also must write a dissertation prospectus and a dissertation based on original research, both of which are defended orally. They may count a maximum of 12 s.h. of dissertation credit toward the degree.

Students working toward a Ph.D. may receive an M.A. upon completing at least 30 s.h. of coursework and successfully passing the comprehensive examination.

Applicants must meet the admission requirements of the Graduate College; see the Manual of Rules and Regulations on the Graduate College website.

Applicants to the Ph.D. program are required to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) General Test. GRE scores are a few of the many factors taken into consideration in assessing promise for the successful completion of the Ph.D.

Application materials must include an application form; a transcript of all undergraduate and graduate work (one copy must be sent to the University's Office of Admissions, and a second copy must be sent to the Department of Religious Studies); an application or waiver of consideration form for graduate assistantships; three confidential letters of recommendation; and a writing sample that demonstrates the applicant's ability to engage in critical analysis. Applicants also must submit a statement of purpose that explains their objectives for graduate study and states which area of graduate study in religion suits their objectives best. Students may indicate one of the department’s traditional areas of concentration or an area that is defined more by theme; see Overview in this section of the Catalog. Students are advised to view the Department of Religious Studies website, most notably the faculty pages, to ensure their area of interest is well-supported by faculty expertise. For details, see Graduate Admission, Financial Aid, and Additional Funding on the department's website.

Areas of concentration include:

  • religions in the Middle East, Ancient Near East, and Mediterranean;
  • religions in Asia;
  • religions in Europe and the Americas; or
  • religion, ethics, and society.

All application materials must be received by January 15 to receive full consideration for fall admission.

All Ph.D. students in religious studies receive funding for at least four years. The department offers financial support for graduate students primarily in the form of teaching assistantships. 

The department awards the Gilmore Scholarship for doctoral students who study the intersection of religion, the visual arts, and humanistic values every few years.

The Department of Religious Studies also has a number of smaller scholarships awarded to gradate students for excellence annually. In addition, Ph.D. students can apply for funds from the department for research and conference travel expenses.

The department also assists Ph.D. students in applying for funding that gives them time off from teaching to focus on exams and dissertation writing. 

Graduate students in religious studies acquire a wide range of competencies that are useful for almost any career they pursue. Students gain research skills; they master the craft of writing; they learn to plan, manage, and complete large projects; they gain teaching skills that are useful both inside and outside the academy; they learn to argue persuasively; they gain the ability to communicate with others about controversial issues; they learn how to understand and mediate differences in religious perspectives and values; they acquire rare language skills; and they gain expertise in the use of digital technologies for research and teaching.

Students who earn a Ph.D. in religious studies often go on to become scholars and teachers in university or college settings. Other degree recipients have become professional ethicists, leaders of nongovernmental organizations, school or church administrators, nonacademic educators, digital media specialists, and government employees in the area of international affairs. 

Sample Plan of Study

Sample plans represent one way to complete a program of study. Actual course selection and sequence will vary and should be discussed with an academic advisor. For additional sample plans, see MyUI.

Religious Studies, Ph.D.

Plan of Study Grid (Manual)
Academic Career
Any SemesterHours
72 s.h. must be graduate level coursework; up to 24 s.h. of graduate transfer credit allowed upon approval. More information is included in the General Catalog and on department website. a, b  
Students often develop PhD plans of study either in relation to traditional areas of concentration or by theme. c  
 Hours0
First Year
Fall
RELS:5400 Methods and Theories in the Study of Religion 3
RELS Graduate Seminar course d 3
Elective course e 3
 Hours9
Spring
RELS:5200 Varieties of Religion in the Contemporary World 3
GRAD:6217 Seminar in College Teaching 3
Elective course e 3
 Hours9
Second Year
Fall
RELS:5300 Genealogies of Religion 3
RELS Graduate Seminar course d 3
Elective course e 3
 Hours9
Spring
Submit PhD Plan of Study f  
RELS:5100 Teaching and Public Engagement 1
Elective course e 3
Elective course e 3
Elective course e 3
 Hours10
Third Year
Fall
Graduate Seminar course d 3
Elective course e 3
 Hours6
Spring
Elective course e 3
Elective course e 3
 Hours6
Fourth Year
Fall
Elective course e 3
Elective course e 3
 Hours6
Spring
Comprehensive Exam g  
Elective course e 3
Elective course e 3
 Hours6
Fifth Year
Fall
Dissertation Prospectus and Defense h  
RELS:7950 Thesis i 3
 Hours3
Spring
RELS:7950 Thesis i 3
 Hours3
Sixth Year
Fall
RELS:7950 Thesis i 3
 Hours3
Spring
RELS:7950 Thesis i 2
Final Exam j  
 Hours2
 Total Hours72