University of Pittsburgh
three small photographs depicting various religious icons

Department of Religious Studies


Doctoral Program

The PhD program requires 48 credits beyond the MA degree (72 credits beyond the BA). Students are expected to complete the PhD within eight years of entering the graduate program.

Buddhist guardian deity of the North, China

Students entering the PhD program with a master’s degree in religious studies, a cognate discipline, or theology from another institution may have up to 24 credits at the master’s level applied toward the PhD. Transfer credits require a grade of B or better (or the equivalent) and must be for work germane to the MA in religious studies. Students entering the PhD program from another institution meet department course work distribution requirements for the MA (save for the thesis) in the course of earning a PhD.

Our director of graduate studies is Dr. Adam Shear (2603 CL, 412.624.2280).

Course Work
  • All students entering the PhD program from another institution take the core theories and methods course, Perspectives on Religion (3 credits).
  • Two courses are required on theories or methods related to the student’s primary or complementary methodological focus (6 credits). One of these courses (3 credits) is earned at the MA level.
  • Ten courses are taken within the student’s areas of specialization (30 credits). Four of these courses (12 credits) are earned at the MA level.
  • Two courses are required in each of two religious traditions or contexts other than the student’s area of specialization (12 credits). Two of these courses (6 credits) are earned at the MA level.
  • Twenty-one elective credits include course work devoted to the preparation of qualifying examinations, advanced language training, the preparation of the dissertation prospectus, and the research and writing of the dissertation.
Preliminary Examination

The preliminary examination is required of students who enter the PhD program with a master’s degree from another institution. See MA Comprehensive Examination.

Language Examinations

This section discusses the modern language examinations required of all students. When applicable, an intermediate or advanced level of competency in modern and/or classical foreign languages judged necessary for research and standard in a student’s area of specialization is required for admission into the program. Additional modern and/or classical language study, as appropriate, may be required as part of the student’s professional training.

Verification of reading knowledge of two modern foreign languages of research is required. Determination of those languages is based on research needs and professional expectations in the student’s area of specialization.

Students whose research primarily involves English-language sources or one language of research still satisfy the two modern language requirement. In those instances, French and/or German are typically required. Students pass one of the language requirements by the end of the third semester of residency and must complete both language requirements prior to sitting for the comprehensive examination. Learn More

Comprehensive Examination

Students take the comprehensive examination upon completing all required course work (save for a maximum of six credits devoted to preparation of the dissertation prospectus and research and writing of the dissertation) and passing the preliminary and language examinations.

The examination serves as a line of demarcation between general professional training and independent scholarly research. It tests for breadth and depth in the student’s area of specialization and intended area of research by evaluating the student’s critical abilities in three fields that impact the dissertation. Its objective is a demonstration of the ability to reflect awareness of existing methodologies and scholarship in particular fields, conceptualize and organize a received body of scholarship, and think and write clearly and coherently. Learn More

Dissertation Prospectus and Overview

Students begin formulating a doctoral dissertation topic with their advisor early in the program. Defense of the dissertation prospectus at a two-hour overview meeting is the final stage before application for admission to PhD candidacy (ABD status). Learn More


The doctoral dissertation is an independent, original, and significant contribution to knowledge, grounded in an appropriate body of primary and secondary sources. Successful completion of the dissertation signifies the preparation of the author to assume a position within the profession. Learn More

More on Procedural Issues

Religious Studies Graduate Student Handbook (PDF)

Revised 07/27/12 | Copyright 2007 | Site by UMC WebTeam