Graduate Studies


Welcome to the Graduate Program in the Study of Religion 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, with exciting new concentrations in Transnational Religions, Hermeneutics and History, and Analytics of Power. 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 Michael Alexander, at michael.alexander@ucr.edu or the Graduate Student Affairs Officer for the department, Odie Jasso, at uriel.jasso2@ucr.edu.

Program Introduction

The Department for the Study of Religion 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 graduate degrees:

The terminal M.A. 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. Students completing a terminal M.A. may choose the M.A.-I, which requires an article-length Master’s thesis suitable for publication and prepares students especially to continue on to a Ph.D. program, or the M.A.-II, which offers a flexible capstone experience suitable for those seeking training in the field for work in other areas such as museums, K-12 education, nonprofits, journalism, or public policy. NOTE: Per University of California regulations, students who already hold a master’s degree in the study of religion may not enroll in this program. This rule does not pertain to those holding advanced applied degrees in religion, such as degrees in theology (e.g., MTS) or ministry (e.g., M.Div., D.Min.).

The more specialized Ph.D. prepares students to enter academia as researchers and/or university instructors in a specific field of expertise. In combination with additional resources offered by the Graduate Division, it can also prepare students for other careers that would benefit from advanced, specialized training in the study of religion. All applicants seeking to complete a Ph.D. at UCR should apply to this program, regardless of whether they already have, or are already in the process of completing, an M.A. in the study of religion. Ph.D. students who enter the program without an M.A. are expected to complete the requirements for the M.A.-I in the process of obtaining their Ph.D. Note: Per University of California regulations, students who already hold a doctoral degree in the study of religion may not enroll in this program. This rule does not pertain to those who hold an applied doctoral degree in religion, such as a D.Min.

Students gain a broad perspective on the methodological and theoretical aspects of the study in religion through two courses that are required in all of the department’s graduate programs and that are offered in alternating years:

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

Ph.D. students are also required to select a concentration and to complete the core course for that concentration. The options are:

  • RLST 203: Hermeneutics and History
  • RLST 204: Analytics of Power
  • RLST 205: Transnational Religions

M.A. students are welcome to take any or all of these courses, and Ph.D. students may take core courses for concentrations other than their own. Other coursework requirements at both the M.A. and Ph.D. levels include professionalization courses and languages; Ph.D. students must also complete a course in their chosen research method, either within or outside the department.

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, and they may take courses in other departments and on other U.C. campuses.

Students enrolled in the master’s program will take general courses in a variety of religious traditions and themes, but they 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 the study of religion, 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, 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 for applicants wishing to begin their studies in Fall 2020 will be January 3, 2020. Applications received later than the deadline will be considered on a “rolling admissions” basis. However, nearly all admission decisions take place within a few weeks of the deadline; both funding and space in the program are very limited after this point. All graduate admissions close on June 1st, and the Department does not accept applications for entry in the winter or spring quarters.

All applicants must submit scores from the GRE General Test and transcripts from all previous institutions of higher education, along with 3 letters of academic reference, a Statement of Purpose describing the focus of their interests in the study of religion, a Personal Statement, and a writing sample of 10-15 pages. International applicants from countries where English is not the primary language are also required to take the TOEFL exam unless they hold a bachelor’s degree or an equivalent or higher degree from an institution where English is the primary instructional language.

While an undergraduate major in the study of religion is not required for admission into the graduate program, it is highly recommended that applicants demonstrate significant interest and background in the academic study of religion.

Applicants to the doctoral program are held to a high standard of undergraduate preparation for their graduate work: both basic and advanced courses in the study of religion (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 demonstrated 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 the study of religion 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 are also expected to demonstrate scholarly acuity, as well as interest in the critical questions of the discipline of the study of religion. Given the broader scope of the master’s program, however, applicants to this degree program are not expected to demonstrate the more intense engagement with a particular field of study that is desired in Ph.D. applicants.

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, not the M.A. program, in order to obtain adequate funding if they are admitted.

Financial Aid and Teaching Experience

UCR offers several competitive campus-wide fellowships to the strongest graduate students. To be fully considered for fellowship support, applications must be received by the Department for the Study of Religion by the departmental deadline.

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 for the Study of Religion. 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

Study of Religion Graduate Program
Department for the Study of Religion
University of California, Riverside
900 University Avenue
Riverside, CA 92521