Religious Studies, MA

The School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies offers an MA program in religious studies that emphasizes the comparative study of religions in order to understand religions' effects on cultures and the different ways people around the world reason, communicate, work, entertain, dress, eat and live. 

Reflecting the different areas of expertise of the acclaimed faculty, the curriculum incorporates a variety of approaches to the subject, including the cultural, historical, literary, sociological and theological aspects.  Although students often focus upon a single religious tradition for thesis work, the program offers a broad comparative understanding of religions around the globe, not simply a specialist's training in a single tradition. Graduates of the program will leave not only with an expansive knowledge of religion's role in today's world but also with research and critical thinking skills that will lead them to positions in sectors such as academia, non-profit, law, journalism and healthcare.

2 years to degree
24 faculty members
68% female students

Degree Overview

The 30-hour program is a comparative study of religion that includes coursework, a foreign language requirement and the completion and final defense of a thesis or non-thesis portfolio. 

Although MA students often concentrate on a single religious tradition on their thesis work, the program seeks a broadly comparative understanding of religion, not simply a specialist’s training in a single tradition. 

Fields of Study

Religions in the Americas
The religious history and experience of Native Americans and immigrant religions from Africa, Asia and Europe, and their interrelationships in Central, South, and North America.

Comparative and Historical Studies of Religion
Historical studies of religious traditions and comparative studies of related phenomena and issues in two or more traditions. Particular emphasis, beyond the Americas, in Buddhism, Christianity, including Eastern Orthodoxy, East and Southeast Asian religions, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Russian religious history.

Critical Studies of Religion
Theoretical and normative studies in religion, including theological and ethical inquiry, critical theory and cultural studies.

Religion and Modernity
The impact of the Enlightenment, science and technology, colonialism, and other developments in the modern period upon individuals and religious communities around the world.

Religion, Society and Power
The study of conflict and power in relation to religious movements and discourses, including issues of identity, gender, class, race, ethnicity, and violence.

Religion and Science
The historical and philosophical study of the relationship between science and religion during different historical periods and in different cultural settings. 

How to apply

The admissions committee in religious studies seeks applicants whose research interests can be well served by the members of SHPRS graduate faculty. Prospective students are encouraged to contact the faculty member(s) they may want to work with during their time at ASU. Applicants must fulfill the requirements of both the Graduate College and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Applicants are eligible to apply to the program if they have earned a bachelor's or master's degree from a regionally accredited institution. 

A full application requires:

Application deadline is January 15. 

For more information on the application process and requirements, please click here

The Master of Arts graduate program in Religious Studies focuses on the manner in which religious practices are shaped by various local and international cultural practices. Our program instills a deep comprehension of the interplay between religion, society and the globalized world.

Miguel Aguilera, Director of Graduate Studies in Religious Studies 


Reflecting the different interests and areas of expertise of the faculty, the curriculum incorporates a variety of approaches to the subject. Primary areas of thematic emphasis include:

  • Asia
  • Buddhism
  • Christianity
  • Hinduism
  • Islam 
  • Judaism
  • Modern Western
  • The Americas (including African American, Latin American, and Indigenous American

Comparative themes and issues are central to the curriculum. Theseinclude: 

  • Material Culture
  • Popular Religion
  • Post-Coloniality and Nationalism
  • Religion and Gender
  • Religion, Secularism, and Modernity
  • Religious Conflict and Peace Studies
  • Ritual Studies 
Requirements and Electives Hours
Required Core Areas6
Culminating Experience3-6
Total Required Hours30

Courses and electives

The Religious Studies MA Program offers a flexible curriculum of required coursework and electives that best support the student’s area of specialization. Students select courses under the advisement of their Committee Chair/Research Advisor. 

REL 501: Research Methods in Religious Studies (3 credits) 
REL 502: Research Methods in Religious Studies (3 credits) 

REL 591: Special Topic (18-21 credits)
REL 598: Special Topic (18-21 credits)

9-12 credits related to area of research may be taken in another discipline with approval.

There are two options for the culminating experience: a thesis or a non-thesis option. The thesis option is recommended for students intending to seek admission to a doctoral program upon completion of the master’s or planning to teach at a community college. The non-thesis option (applied project) is recommended for students intending to augment their primary area of expertise and professional training in fields such as: counseling, journalism, law, social work and K-12 education. An oral defense of the final written work is required for both options. 

REL 593: Applied Project (3 credits) 
REL 599: Thesis (6 credits)