2014-2015 Graduate Course Catalog 
    Jul 14, 2024  
2014-2015 Graduate Course Catalog [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Religion, PhD

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James W. Watts
501 Hall of Languages

Director of Graduate Studies:

M. Gail Hamner
501 Hall of Languages


Ahmed E. Abdel-Meguid, Philip P. Arnold, Zachary J. Braiterman, Virginia Burrus, Gareth J. Fisher, Ken Frieden, Ann Grodzins Gold, M. Gail Hamner, Tazim R. Kassam, Vincent W. Lloyd, R. Gustav Niebuhr, William A. Robert, Marcia C. Robinson, Joanne P. Waghorne, Ernest E. Wallwork, James W. Watts

Graduate study in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University is distinctive in its focus on the category “religion” as an intellectually provocative and problematic concept rather than simply as a descriptive, institutional, or phenomenological label. The department embraces the following two premises as fundamental to its educational program: 1) in a postmodern and global age, any study of religion must be interdisciplinary, and 2) credible studies of religion must investigate the material, textual, historical, and cultural dimensions of religions as well as the theories used to produce and analyze them.

The graduate program offers incoming students an opportunity to forge a unique, creative, and rigorous program of study. It emphasizes the comparative and theoretical study of religion in its various traditions and forms, and keeps the hermeneutical task always to the fore. The program fosters interdisciplinary approaches, offering training in traditional and contemporary theories and methods in conjunction with substantive investigations of diverse religious traditions and topics. (See “Areas of Study” below.)

The current faculty in the Department of Religion engage in teaching and research in the following interrelated areas, areas whose interrelation represents the department’s long-standing emphasis on innovative and interdisciplinary inquiry. Like the faculty, graduate students will engage at least two of these areas as they pursue their research.

Theories of Religion

Focus on how the category of religion has been theorized as well as on methodologies in the study of religion; includes continental philosophy and theology of religion; the anthropology, sociology, and psychology of religion; history of religions; ethics; issues of globalization.

Histories of Religion

Focus on historical, cross-cultural, and comparative studies of religion, with an emphasis on interrelations among religion, culture, and society; includes traditions such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and indigenous religions, and their development in geographical areas such as South Asia, Europe, the ancient Near East, the Roman Empire, and the Americas.

Arts and Aesthetics of Religion

Focus on the artistic, literary, performative, and media-related expressions of religion; includes the study of scriptures, literature and literary theory, rhetoric, architecture, sacred space and time, material culture, and various media of popular culture such as music, folklore, film, journalism, and virtual technologies.

Areas of Study

Students are required to gain competence in multiple historical periods, religious cultures, as well as approaches to studying religion. We encourage students to make imaginative use of all available resources in the creation of their own distinctive programs of study. Each student must 1) develop expertise in a particular subject area, and 2) cross or transcend traditional boundaries of a discipline and sub-field in innovative ways. By training scholars to think across traditional academic boundaries, the program at Syracuse prepares students for exciting research and teaching opportunities in religion. Currently the department can support the following areas of study for students.

Historical Periods

Ancient Near Eastern


Modern periods in:

  • China
  • Israel

Modern and Contemporary periods in

  • the Americas
  • Continental Europe
  • South Asia

Religious Cultures

  • African American
  • American
  • Ancient Near Eastern
  • Buddhist
  • Christian
  • European/Continental
  • Greco-Roman
  • Hindu
  • Indigenous (the Americas)
  • Islamic
  • Judaic
  • South Asian

Approaches of Study

  • Comparative Studies
  • Contemporary, Historical, and Critical Theology
  • Continental Philosophy
  • Cultural Anthropology
  • Cultural Studies: Film, Media, Journalism
  • Ethics/Bioethics
  • Feminist, Marxist, Postcolonial Critical Theory
  • Gender Studies
  • Globalization
  • History of Religions
  • Literary Studies
  • Material Culture
  • Philosophy of Religion
  • Religion and Ecology
  • Rhetorical Criticism
  • Ritual and Performance Studies
  • Scriptures Studies
  • Social Scientific

Ph.D. in Religion

The student seeking the Ph.D. in religion must hold the M.A. in religion (or its equivalent) and a minimum of 36 additional credits, 24 of which must be taken in the Department of Religion. 12 additional dissertation credits are required. The student must demonstrate competence in two languages of modern critical discourse, normally German and French, one before matriculation and the other before the beginning of the third semester of study.

The student is required to pass a set of four comprehensive examinations that must fall under the following headings:

  1. a period or movement;
  2. a person;
  3. a text; and
  4. a problem.

The dissertation and its oral defense are required.

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