Religion

Academic Year 2023 – 2024

General Information

Address
1879 Hall
Phone

Program Offerings:

  • Ph.D.

Director of Graduate Studies:

Graduate Program Administrator:

Overview

Princeton University was a pioneer in developing the academic study of religion outside the context of theological seminaries and without formal ties to particular religious traditions. In 1946, Princeton founded the Department of Religion in the division of the humanities, and nine years later began a graduate program in religion.

Graduate students in the department are expected to work full time toward their degrees, normally in residence, and to complete the program within five years. All students work toward the Ph.D.; there is no separate master's program. An M.A. degree may be awarded after students pass the general examination, normally completed by the middle of the third year of graduate work.

The Department of Religion offers broad coverage of materials and issues traditionally treated under such rubrics as history of religion, philosophy of religion, church history, Judaic studies, Buddhist studies, Western religious thought, and religious ethics. It also devotes much attention to subjects that do not fall neatly into any of the standard categories. It offers extensive resources, for example, in the comparative study of popular religions, and most members of the faculty are engaged in serious reflection on methodological and conceptual issues that are not unique to a special field. While the department encourages its graduate students to work out innovative programs of study and to make use of the full range of available resources, it also requires each student to demonstrate mastery within one of the fields of concentration:

(1) Asian religions (religious traditions of China, Japan, India, and Tibet)

(2) Religions of Mediterranean antiquity (Christianity, Judaism, and other religious traditions of the Greco-Roman world)

(3) Religion in America (religious thought, institutions,  movements, and cultures in the Americas, including African American religions)

(4) Philosophy and Religion (religious uses of philosophical ideas, philosophical criticisms of religion, philosophical issues in the study of religion)

(5) Religion, ethics, and politics (relations among religious, ethical, and political dimensions of culture)

(6) Islam: this field is devoted to the study of Islamic beliefs, practices, and institutions within the cultural and historical context of Muslim societies.

Apply

Application deadline
January 3, 11:59 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (This deadline is for applications for enrollment beginning in fall 2024)
Program length
5 years
Fee
$75
GRE
General Test - not accepted

Additional departmental requirements

Sample of written work (9000 words maximum) that is relevant to the proposed academic subfield. Applicants are required to select an academic subfield when applying. See website for language requirement.

Program Offerings

Program Offering: Ph.D.

Courses

Graduate study is intended to prepare a degree candidate for teaching in departments of religious studies or related programs and provide the training necessary for scholarly research in a specialized field. Students normally take four different types of courses in preparing for the general examination: (1) two departmental seminars, REL 501 and 502 (offered in alternate years); (2) appropriate specialized seminars; (3) reading courses (700 level) within a student’s special field; and (4) other courses offered by the University, including undergraduate courses in Religion and courses in other departments (such as African American Studies, Anthropology, Classics, East Asian Studies, English, History, Near Eastern Studies, Philosophy, and Sociology). Students are also encouraged to take courses at the Princeton Theological Seminary, Columbia University, Rutgers University, and the University of Pennsylvania through the various reciprocal and cooperative arrangements of the Graduate School.

Increasingly, candidates for the degree work closely with interdepartmental programs, such as those in East Asian Studies, Hellenic Studies, Late Antiquity, Near Eastern Studies, and Political Philosophy, as well as interdisciplinary centers such as the Center for the Study of Religion and the University Center for Human Values.

Language(s)

All degree candidates are expected to have a reading knowledge of the two modern foreign languages most appropriate to their fields of concentration – French, German, Japanese, Arabic and so forth. Students should consult with their advisers and subfield faculty to determine which languages would be most appropriate in their case. 

The language requirement may be fulfilled by successfully completing language courses offered by the University (during the academic year or in the summer); by passing tests given by the language departments; or by some other means approved by the Department, for which the Director of Graduate Studies should be consulted. All entering students are strongly urged to achieve competence in at least one of the required languages before matriculation. Students must show evidence of competence in the two required modern languages before being admitted to a fifth term.

Beyond these requirements, students are expected to demonstrate competence in whatever additional languages they need to pursue advanced work in their own areas of specialization. 

General exam

Each student's knowledge and competence in the special field is tested in the general examination, normally completed by the middle of the third year of graduate work. By the end of the first year, a student and his or her adviser agree on the proposed parts of the general examination. The examination typically consists of four parts and may entail preparing scholarly essays (as if for publication) as well as sitting for traditional written examinations. See departmental website for format of subfield general examinations.

Qualifying for the M.A.

Students normally qualify for the Master of Arts (M.A.) degree on the way to the Ph.D. by completing the general examination. Students who leave the Ph.D. program for various reasons may also be awarded the M.A. by satisfactorily completing all required course work, the course distribution requirement, and the language requirement.

Teaching

Normally, all graduate students serve at some point in their careers as assistants in instruction. An assistant leads preceptorials in undergraduate courses and is responsible for grading students as well. This opportunity depends, at any given time, upon undergraduate instructional needs, but the department views such experience as integral to the professional education it offers. It also encourages graduate students to give lectures in appropriate undergraduate courses taught by members of the faculty.

Dissertation and FPO

After completing the general examination, candidates write a dissertation proposal. Once the proposal is deemed ready by the relevant faculty, candidates present it to the department orally; following the discussion of the proposal the faculty present decide whether the candidate can go ahead with the dissertation. Work on the dissertation itself is conducted with the candidate's adviser as well as other faculty as appropriate, according to the department advising protocols. Once completed, the candidate, in consultation with the faculty, designates two readers who write reports on the dissertation. Following the approval of the dissertation, the candidate undergoes a final public oral examination. The examination begins with opening remarks by the candidate, for about 15 minutes, which touch on the dissertation's contribution but also the process of writing and the motivation for the work. The candidate then answers questions from the faculty concerning the dissertation – its contribution, its methodology, its treatment of evidence, its context in the field, as well as what future work to which the dissertation might lead. The faculty then votes on whether to approve the dissertation and recommend the candidate be awarded the degree. 

Faculty

  • Chair

    • Judith Weisenfeld
  • Director of Graduate Studies

    • Eric S. Gregory
  • Director of Undergraduate Studies

    • Seth A. Perry
  • Professor

    • Leora F. Batnitzky
    • Wallace D. Best
    • Andrew Chignell
    • Jonathan C. Gold
    • Eric S. Gregory
    • AnneMarie Luijendijk
    • Elaine H. Pagels
    • Stephen F. Teiser
    • Judith Weisenfeld
    • Muhammad Q. Zaman
  • Associate Professor

    • Shaun E. Marmon
    • Seth A. Perry
    • Garry Sparks
    • Moulie Vidas
  • Assistant Professor

    • Gabriel M. Citron
    • Liane M. Feldman
    • Yedidah Koren
    • Bryan D. Lowe
    • Tehseen Thaver
    • Nicole M. Turner
  • Lecturer

    • Eric T. Anderson
    • Patrick B. Haley
    • Lauren Kerby
    • Jenny Wiley Legath
    • Leslie G. Virnelson
    • Suzanne C. van Geuns

For a full list of faculty members and fellows please visit the department or program website.

Permanent Courses

Courses listed below are graduate-level courses that have been approved by the program’s faculty as well as the Curriculum Subcommittee of the Faculty Committee on the Graduate School as permanent course offerings. Permanent courses may be offered by the department or program on an ongoing basis, depending on curricular needs, scheduling requirements, and student interest. Not listed below are undergraduate courses and one-time-only graduate courses, which may be found for a specific term through the Registrar’s website. Also not listed are graduate-level independent reading and research courses, which may be approved by the Graduate School for individual students.

AAS 510 - Race, Religion, and the Harlem Renaissance (also REL 515)

The Harlem Renaissance (HR) of the 1920s is most often depicted as "the flowering of African American arts and literature." It can also be characterized as a period when diverse forms of African American religious expressions, ideologies, and institutions emerged. This course will explore the literature of the Harlem Renaissance, particularly the writings of Langston Hughes, to understand the pivotal intersection of race and religion during this time of black "cultural production."

NES 545 - Problems in Near Eastern Jewish History: Jewish and Islamic Law (also JDS 545/MED 545/REL 548)

A study of a number of central problems, historiographical issues, and primary sources relevant to the history of the Jewish minority under Islam in the Middle Ages.

REL 501 - Religion and the Tradition of Social Theory

A critical introduction to developments in social theory that have influenced the academic study of religion, including the classic contributions of Marx, Durkheim, and Weber as well as more recent debates in anthropology and cultural history. Required of, and designed for, first- and second-year graduate students in religion; others must receive the instructor's permission to enroll. The course is offered in alternate years.

REL 502 - Philosophy and the Study of Religion

A critical introduction to developments in philosophy that have influenced the academic study of religion, including naturalism, phenomenology, hermeneutics, literary theory, genealogy, pragmatism, and feminist theory. Required of, and designed for, first- and second-year graduate students in religion; others must receive the instructor's permission to enroll. Offered in alternate years.

REL 504 - Studies in Greco-Roman Religions (also CLA 519/HLS 504)

Themes, figures, and movements in the religions of antiquity are examined.

REL 505 - Studies in Religion in America (also AAS 505)

Themes, figures, and movements in American religions are examined.

REL 506 - Studies in Theology

Themes, figures, and movements in theology are examined.

REL 507 - Studies in Religion and Philosophy

Modern philosophy and the study of religion.

REL 508 - Studies in Religion and Morality

The relation between religion and morality, the historical, philosophical, and theological issues, are examined.

REL 509 - Studies in the History of Islam (also GSS 509/NES 510)

Themes in Islamic religion are examined.

REL 510 - Special Topics in the Study of Religion

Topics of special interest are normally offered each term, 510 for Fall Term, 511 for Spring Term.

REL 511 - Special Topics in the Study of Religion

Topics of special interest are normally offered each term, 510 for Fall Term, 511 for Spring Term.

REL 513 - Studies in Ancient Judaism

The seminar will center on three Biblical texts, read carefully in the original: The Priestly narrative in Genesis; the ritual texts of Leviticus; and the prophecy of the priest-prophet Ezekiel. We will proceed from analysis of the language of the Biblical Hebrew to a discussion of broader questions of authorship, dating, and the relation between Israelite religion and the textual world created by the authors of these texts.

REL 516 - Readings in Religion in the Americas

This course provides an introduction for graduate students to significant literature on key themes, approaches, shifts, and concerns in the study of religion in the Americas focused on a particular topic across historical periods and locales. Readings may consist of critical reappraisal of primary sources, secondary scholarship that contributed to shaping the field and debates, and recent scholarship that exemplifies current and future trajectories. Examples of such topics may be religions of Indigenous peoples, religion and post-colonialism, migration of religions, religion and fiction literature, etc.

REL 518 - Religion and Critical Thought Workshop

A weekly seminar focused on current student and faculty research in religion and critical thought, designed primarily for graduate students working on dissertations and general examination essays on the philosophy of religion, religious ethics, and the role of religion in politics.

REL 519 - Religion and Critical Thought Workshop

A weekly seminar focused on current student and faculty research in religion and critical thought, designed primarily for graduate students working on dissertations and general examination essays on the philosophy of religion, religious ethics, and the role of religion in politics.

REL 523 - Religion in America Workshop

A weekly, year-long workshop focused on the current research of visiting presenters, current students, and faculty in American religious history. The workshop is designed primarily for Ph.D. students in the field, but is open as well to undergraduate concentrators with a strong background in the study of American religion and culture.

REL 524 - Religion in the Americas Workshop

A weekly, year-long workshop focused on the current research of visiting presenters, current students, and faculty in American religious history. The workshop is designed primarily for Ph.D. students in the field, but is open as well to undergraduate concentators with a strong background in the study of American religion and culture. In order to receive a grade, students must take the course both semesters.

REL 525 - Religions of Late Antiquity Workshop

A weekly workshop providing students in the Religions of Late Antiquity with the opportunity to present their current research for discussion.

REL 526 - Religions of Late Antiquity Workshop

A weekly workshop providing students in the Religions of Late Antiquity with the opportunity to present their current research for discussion.

REL 527 - Asian Religions Workshop

A weekly, year-long workshop focused on current student and faculty research in Asian religions. The course is designed primarily for graduate students working on dissertations and general examination essays in Asian Religions subfield of the Religion Department. Note: REL 527 (fall) and REL 528 (spring) constitute this year-long workshop. In order to receive credit, students must take the course both semesters. Open to other students with permission of instructor.

REL 528 - Asian Religions Workshop

A weekly, year-long workshop focused on current student and faculty research in Asian religions. The course is designed primarily for graduate students working on dissertations and general examination essays in Asian Religions subfield of the Religion Department. Note: REL 527 (fall) and REL 528 (spring) constitute this year-long workshop. In order to receive credit, students must take the course both semesters. Open to other students with permission of instructor.

REL 529 - Workshop in Islamic Studies

A weekly year-long Religion workshop focusing on the research and writing of graduate students, faculty, and visitors in Islamic Studies. This workshop provides a forum for presentation of works in progress: drafts of dissertation chapters, dissertation proposals, seminar papers, conference papers, articles and book chapters. All Islamic Studies graduate students are encouraged to participate as presenters and as commentators. The workshop fosters collegiality and professional development. Note: REL 529 (fall) and REL 530 (spring) constitute this year-long workshop. Students must take the course both semesters to receive credit/grade.

REL 530 - Workshop in Islamic Studies

A weekly year-long Religion workshop focusing on the research and writing of graduate students, faculty, and visitors in Islamic Studies. This workshop provides a forum for presentation of works in progress: drafts of dissertation chapters, dissertation proposals, seminar papers, conference papers, articles and book chapters. All Islamic Studies graduate students are encouraged to participate as presenters and as commentators. The workshop fosters collegiality and professional development. Note: REL 529 (fall) and REL 530 (spring) constitute this year-long workshop. Students must take the course both semesters to receive credit/grade.

REL 531 - Readings in Chinese Religions

An introduction to the study of Chinese manuscripts from the medieval period unearthed in western China early in this century. Selected texts in classical Chinese drawn from religious texts (Buddhist sutras and ritual texts), literature, and documents related to social history, are read. Course introduces research tools and methods in Dunhuang studies plus some secondary studies. Reading knowledge of classical Chinese is required. Students from all departments welcome.

REL 532 - Studies in Chinese Religions

Critical examination of enduring and recent scholarship on popular Chinese religion, modernity, and ethnography. Designed for graduate students preparing general examinations or other work in Chinese religion.

REL 533 - Readings in Japanese Religions (also EAS 535)

This seminar will introduce representative primary texts in classical Japanese and kanbun from the medieval Japanese Buddhist tradition. It will focus on introducing students to a range of genres, such as doctrinal writings, ritual manuals, temple and shrine origin legends, vernacular sermons, didactic tales, and personal letters. Some readings may be selected to accommodate the research interests of seminar participants. Attention will be given to grammar, vocabulary, genre, literary and philosophical issues, and research methods.

REL 534 - Studies in Japanese Religions

An intensive introduction to Japanese Religions past and present and an examination of key issues in recent scholarship. Designed for students planning to take general exams, teach, or simply acquire a background in this field. Topics may include interactions of Buddhism with local religious culture; the emergence of Shinto; lay and monastic Buddhism; new religious movements; millenarianism; death ritual; and religion-state relations. Readings are primarily in English, supplemented by Japanese for those with sufficient language skills. To some extent, topics may be chosen to accommodate participants' research interests.

REL 536 - Studies in Indian Religions

This course is a survey of major text traditions in Indian religions, with an emphasis on the historical/cultural framework against which to read the development of Buddhist traditions. Major topics addressed are: "Orientalism" & "Hinduism"; Vedas & Upanisads; Early Buddhism; Dharmasastras & Mahabharata; Mahayana Buddhism; and Tantra & Vajrayana.

REL 538 - Studies in Tibetan Religions

This course introduces Tibetan Buddhist traditions based on sources in translation, emphasizing the historical development of the major lineages and their distinctive practice traditions. Course topics will include Tibetan tantric systems and rituals; Tibetan innovations in and approaches to Buddhist philosophy; Tibet's distinctive approach to religion and politics; Tibetan views of space and locality; Tibetan scholasticism; and the challenges posed by modernity and Chinese rule.

REL 583 - Late Medieval-Early Modern Islam (also NES 551)

This seminar focuses on Islamic thought and society during the 17th and the 18th centuries. Our key concerns are two: to understand what Islam, and Islamic thought, looked like in the late medieval and the early modern world; and to think about how we should try to approach the study of Islam in that world. A good deal of our focus is on South Asia, though we also read about other regions, including Iran and the Arab Middle East. The required readings are in English. For those interested, some weeks might have supplementary readings in Arabic as well.