Graduate Studies Program Guide

As a component of a large state-related university, the Graduate Program in Religion at Temple University treats religion in a scholarly manner without bias or favoritism for one religious or philosophical tradition over another, and without preference for any particular form of spirituality or secularism or any single methodological or theoretical approach. While part of the Graduate Program’s purpose is to offer broad yet penetrating coverage of the phenomena of religion in the world in general, the Program also possesses certain thematic areas of greater strength rooted in the specializations and knowledge of its faculty, namely Critical Investigation of Religion and Human DifferencesHistorical Texts and Traditions; and Religion and Society:

Religion and Human Differences

This area builds upon and extends the Department’s rich and engaged tradition of investigating the complexities and contours of religious pluralism and cultural diversity in our ever-globalizing world. It acknowledges and parlays our legacy of inter-religious and cross-religious dialogue and critical engagement—a legacy that began nearly 50 years ago with the inception our program as a department of world religions in a large, urban, secular American research university. From that time forward we have continued to do work among and between religious traditions, while increasingly grafting onto this legacy a strong commitment to critical considerations of the intersections of religion, race, ethnicity, gender, sexualities, and disabilities, exploring in relation fault lines within, as well as points of contact among and between, various religious traditions. As such, Temple scholars engaged in the Religion and Human Differences emphasis area also work to challenge the east/west and mind/body divides through work across a full range of human differences as they impact, inform, and also challenge various religious traditions, just as they complicate our analyses of them.

Historical Texts and Traditions

Careful study of texts provides an important point of access into religious belief systems, traditions, rituals, and practices in their historical contexts, thereby also shedding light on their contemporary manifestations. This area aims to produces scholars who are sensitive yet critical readers of religious texts grounded in scholarly methodologies of interpretation. A sustained focus on a range of texts in primary languages concerning various traditions, areas, practices, and religions in historical contexts represents both the cornerstone and the taproot of Texts, Histories, and Traditions. Among the scriptural texts studied by scholars in this area are the Hebrew Bible, New Testament and Early Christian texts, Rabbinic texts, Muslim religious and jurisprudential texts, and Chinese (Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian) religious and philosophical texts. Students engaged in this area of study develop critical analytical skills through training in scholarly reading strategies and approaches, such as historical and literary analysis, hermeneutics, and the history of reception and interpretation.

Religion and Society

What is religion’s influence on society? How do social forces influence religion? These questions have gripped intellectuals for centuries, and they remain central to the study of religion today. Their primary foci notwithstanding, all scholars of religion are on some level forced to consider certain fundamental social questions, recognizing now more than ever that, for example, religious rituals, whatever their spiritual motivations, are parts of larger social realities; that religious symbols signify social structures in addition to unseen divine entities or theological notions; and that religious scriptures, however divinely inspired, are physically written and subsequently interpreted by socially positioned human beings. Religion and Society incorporates a range of methodological and theoretical approaches, from sociology and anthropology, to social ethics and feminist theology, and offers a scholarly platform for the analysis of an even broader range of substantive issues, like, for example, Marian devotion in sixth century Byzantium or twentieth century Haiti; Islamic identity in medieval Iberia or contemporary New York; or the ethical and political dimensions of religion in the United States.

These areas are further complimented by the expertise of faculty members in a variety of religious traditions, such as African and African diasporic religions, Buddhism, Christianity, Daoism, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism, and in various methodological and theoretical approaches to the study of religion, such as the anthropological, comparative, historical, philosophical, psychological, sociological, textual, and theological.

Students in the Program are offered two broad categories of graduate courses. First are general introductory courses, called Foundations courses, for specialists and non-specialists alike, which are further divided into two types. Foundations courses of the first type cover respectively the beliefs, practices, and histories of the following: African Religions, Chinese religions, Christianity, Hinduism, Indian Buddhism, Islam, Japanese Buddhism, or Judaism. Foundations courses of the second type, meanwhile, cover various theoretical and methodological approaches to the study of religion, including historical-textual, philosophical, and social scientific. Foundations courses are designed to provide a broad background both in discrete religious traditions and in theory and methodology for students in the M.A. program or in the first two years of the Ph.D. program. The second category of courses consists of Advanced or Specialized seminars in the areas of expertise of the religion faculty. These include, among other examples, courses dealing with the intersections of religion with race, class, ethnicity, gender, and/or sexualities, or with comparative or dialogical religious thought, in various traditions, time periods, and areas of the world. Occasionally, some specialized seminars may be counted on a case-by-case basis as Foundations courses at the discretion of the Director of Graduate Studies.

All applicants to the Graduate Program in Religion at Temple must apply for admission either to the M.A. or to the Ph.D. program, and a student’s admission will be to one or the other of these. Students admitted to the Ph.D. program directly may pick up the M.A. degree on the way to their doctorates when they have fulfilled the M.A. requirements. Students admitted only to the M.A. program may apply for the Ph.D. program separately upon attainment of their Master’s degrees; such applications are considered on the same basis as all other new applications to the doctoral program. Because applications for the M.A. and the Ph.D. programs are handled separately and according to different criteria, as will be explained below, much of the rest of this program guide deals with these two programs separately.

Early in their graduate careers, students should gain familiarity with the information contained in this Graduate Studies Program Guide and with the Temple University Graduate Policies and Procedures, a Graduate School document that is available online. In addition, students should watch for notices, electronic or other, from the Graduate School, and for occasional email notices and postings on the Graduate Religion Studies bulletin board. Students are ultimately responsible for fulfillment of the requirements of the program. Finally, before commencing their graduate studies, and at intervals during a program as their interests develop, students should determine whether or not their intended areas of specialization resonate effectively with the resources and strengths of the department.

This Program Guide, which may be altered from time to time, outlines the structure of the current curriculum and the procedures for advancement in the graduate program. The provisions of this Program Guide do not constitute the offer of a contract that students may accept through admission and enrollment in the university. The university and the department reserve the right to change the provisions, offerings, or requirements at any time within the student’s period of study at the university. We do not award a degree for the completion of a definite number of courses alone, but upon determination of the competence of the candidate in the chosen subjects of study. Students will find a spirit of healthy concern on the part of the faculty here to help them obtain the degree they are pursuing and employment in the field beyond, as desired. If necessary, however, that same faculty will be frank to recommend to them that they discontinue.