Master of Arts in Religious Studies

The M.A. in Religious Studies attracts a variety of applicants including recent Religious Studies graduates who have not yet decided on their careers, graduates in other fields who have an interest in religion, and local professionals who wish to expand their horizons by pursuing graduate studies in Religion. While some graduates of this program may choose to apply for Ph.D. studies in Religion at Duke, application to the Ph.D. program is a separate process. No guarantees for admission to the Ph.D. program are granted or implied by completion of the M.A. Program in Religious Studies. Writing samples are not required for the M.A. in Religious Studies, but if applicants wish to include one, it should be between 10 and 15 pages long.

Apply to the Master's Program

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Program Requirements

30 Units of Credits Achieved One of Two Ways:

Thesis Option
  • 8 courses (24 units)
  • 2 research components (6 units)
    • The 2 research components are devoted to research carried out under the supervision of a Department of Religious Studies faculty member.
  • Master's thesis
    • A Master's thesis must be defended before an examination committee of 3 members of or more. (A Department faculty member will serve as the chair of this examination committee.)


Research Paper Option
  • 10 courses (30 units)
  • 2 Research Papers
    • 2 of the courses must include writing a research paper, and at least 1 of these supervised by a Department faculty member.
    • Both papers must have been graded B or better.
    • The 2 research papers must be defended before an examination committee of 3 - 4 members. (A Department faculty member will serve as the chair of this examination committee, and the committee must be comprised of at least 2 Religious Studies faculty and a majority of Duke faculty.) See the DGSA for questions about committees.


You must select your preferred option before the beginning of the penultimate semester. At that point, you must complete a form indicating your choice, as well as information regarding your proposed writings and examination committee members.

Course Requirements for Both Options Listed Above:

  • 6 of the courses (18 units) focused on Religious Studies, and 5 of them (15 units) should be taken in the Department (including cross-listed courses).
  • RELIGION 912 (Theorizing Religion) or a graduate-level equivalent that must be approved by the current instructor of RELIGION 912.
  • All courses must be at the 500 level or higher.
  • 2 courses may be taken at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (based on the collaboration agreement between Duke and UNC-CH)

Additional Recommendations & Requirements

Advisor Approvals

At the matriculation, you will be assigned a (primary) advisor who is a faculty member in the Department of Religious Studies. Regular consultation with the advisor is recommended (at least once a semester) and the advisor’s approval is required when decisions are made about the selection of courses etc. The advisor is not necessarily the person with whom a student works most closely. If the student so wishes, a substitute may be designated.

Independent Study

An independent study may serve as the equivalent of a course. An independent study is based on a working agreement for one semester between the student and an individual professor and is entirely dependent on the availability and willingness of the professor to serve in this relationship. 

Language Studies

Although it is not required, it is strongly recommended that you gain proficiency in the primary and secondary languages necessary for your field. Language courses may count toward the fulfillment of the course requirement with the prior approval of the advisor.

Note to Graduating Students

Students who elect to complete their degree in December of the academic year will graduate at that time and receive their diploma from the Graduate School by mail. If they wish to participate in the Department's graduation ceremony in the following May, they need to inform the office of the Director of Graduate Studies during the spring term.