Graduate Program

221 Arts & Science Building, Columbia, MO 65211-7090 / 573-882-4769
  • Introduction

    The master’s program in religious studies at the University of Missouri is a two-year stand-alone graduate program in the academic study of religion. Many of the program’s alumni have gone on to outstanding PhD programs in religious studies or related disciplines, while others have completed the master’s degree in order to enrich their educational lives or to prepare for work in journalism, education, law, or other fields that demand critical thinking and analytical skills.

    The master’s program offers rigorous training in the academic study of religion, with particular emphasis on theory and methods in religious studies. Students will work closely with their advisors and mentors in order to develop and grow as scholars of our discipline. The department offers challenging courses in the areas of Biblical Studies, History of Christianity, Religion in America, Islam, Judaism, Indigenous Religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Religions of China and Japan, Women and Religion, and Religion and Neuroscience.

    Students must complete a total of 30 credit hours at the graduate level, pass comprehensive exams in theory and methods in the academic study of religion, and complete a Master’s thesis or portfolio.

    The department’s main sources of funding for its students are teaching assistantships, which come with a full tuition waiver. Teaching assistantships are awarded to incoming and continuing students on a competitive basis.

  • Core Curriculum

    The MA degree requires at least 30 credit hours of graduate study, of which 24 must be taken in residence. Course work at the 7000 level or above may be counted toward the degree, and at least 12 of these credit hours must be at the 8000 level.

    The department’s core curriculum explores subjects fundamental to the study of religion and is required of all graduate students. The program requires that graduate students take a course in the methodologies of Religious Studies. Each fall, the department offers a course on Theory and Method in the Study of Religion that satisfies this requirement. In addition, the degree requires 15 additional graduate credit hours in Religious Studies.

    12 of these credit hours in Religious Studies must be either 8000-level courses or REL 7990: Independent Readings, while 3 of the Religious Studies credit hours may be taken either at the 7000- or 8000-level. No more that two independent reading courses may be counted toward the required hours in Religious Studies unless a dispensation is given by the Director of Graduate Studies. Thesis hours do not count toward the 15 credit hours in Religious Studies, although they do count toward the total of 30 credit hours required for the degree.

  • Area of Emphasis

    When they apply to the program, master's students will designate an area of emphasis and, when they enter it, much of their course work will reflect the area they choose. The areas in which the department offers work are the following:

    • American Religious History
    • Biblical Studies
    • History of Christianity
    • Judaism
    • Islam
    • Religion and Society
    • Religions of East Asia (Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, Shinto)
    • Religions of Indigenous Peoples (Native American religions, African religions)
    • Religions of South Asia (Hinduism, Buddhism)
    • Women and Religion
    • Religion and Neuroscience

    Although the department is committed to providing faculty resources in each of these areas, prospective students should contact the department concerning their specific interests. Once an area of emphasis has been determined, the student will work with the faculty advisor to determine what other courses both within and outside the department might be required. By the end of the student's second semester s/he will complete and submit a Program of Study (M-1 Form) (pdf) and will assemble a thesis or portfolio committee (M-2 Form) (pdf), which is normally composed of two faculty members from the department and one member from outside.

  • Comprehensive Exams

    Full-time students should normally take the comprehensive exams at the end of their second semester in the program. Part-time students should take the exams when they have completed 18 credit hours in the program. Extra time can be granted under extraordinary circumstances at the discretion of the faculty. An application for extension must be filed with the department by March 15th in the year when the student was scheduled to take the exams.

    Only grades of Pass/Fail are given. Passing the exams is a requirement for continuing in the program. A student who fails the exams may try again, usually at the end of the summer after the first failed attempt. A student may attempt the exams a total of three times. A student who fails the exams three times will normally be discontinued from the program.

    The exam will consist of essay questions which will be based on a reading list distributed to the students in the early fall. The exam questions will be written and graded by a rotating committee of three faculty members. Past exam questions will are kept on file in the department and are accessible to the students.

    Students who are eligible to take the comprehensive exams should notify the director of graduate studies by March 15, so that a date can be scheduled. There will normally only be one exam given each year. Part-time students should therefore schedule their exams in the spring after they have completed 18 credit hours. Make-up exams may be scheduled under extraordinary circumstances.

    The comprehensive exams are given electronically. Students receive three essay questions via email on the day of the exam and must submit their essays within 24 hours.

    The most recent reading list can be accessed through the following link:

    [Reading list pdf]

    Incoming students are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the books on the reading list before arriving , if possible.

  • Language Requirement

    The department requires students to acquire a working knowledge of one language in addition to English during the master's program. The language should help the student work with primary sources or with scholarship in a field of special interest. For example, students electing the religions of South Asia as an emphasis area may take Sanskrit. Those electing New Testament studies may take Greek. Students working in the area where most texts are in English should nevertheless learn another language in order to broaden their horizons. Intensive reading courses in French or German can be used to fulfill the language requirement in this case. Working knowledge may be demonstrated in three ways:

    • 3 credits of intensive language study
    • 6 credits of undergraduate language study (Please note that language classes below 7000 at MU will not count toward the 30 units required for the Master's degree)
    • a reading exam administered by the department faculty. Students who are considering going on to doctoral studies are encouraged to work on a second language as well.

    If an exception to the language requirement is appropriate due to the background of a student, the student may request that the requirement be waived. The request must be submitted to the Director of Graduate Studies by the end of the second semester of graduate study. The Director of Graduate Studies will present the request to the department faculty for a decision.

  • Master’s Thesis or Portfolio

    The culminating requirement in the master's program is a Master's thesis or Master’s portfolio. Each student will write a substantial thesis (60-120 pages) on a single topic or compose a portfolio of three to four shorter academic papers that demonstrates the ability to do independent research, the capacity to advance the bounds of knowledge in religious studies, proficiency in the appropriate linguistic and analytic skills necessary to the student's area of emphasis, and specialized knowledge of the area of emphasis. Should the student choose to submit a portfolio, the papers should reflect a common theme or common area of study. Students may take up to six credit hours of guided research in their preparation of a master's thesis or portfolio.

  • Application and Admission

    All application materials are available online, and applications should be submitted electronically at []

    Although recommenders may submit their letters electronically, they may if they prefer mail their recommendations to the Religious Studies Department at the following address:

    • The Director of Graduate Studies
    • The Department of Religious Studies
    • 221 A&S
    • The University of Missouri
    • Columbia, MO 65211
  • Application checklist

    Applicants must submit the following:

    • Letter of Intent
    • completed Graduate School application form
    • completed department application form
    • transcripts from undergraduate institution
    • GRE scores
    • three letters of recommendation (may be submitted electronically by recommenders, or by mail to the address above)
    • a writing sample, which will normally consist of a paper written for an undergraduate course on a topic related to the study of religion.

    The match between the interests of applicants and the areas of emphasis offered in the program will be an important consideration in the evaluation of applications.

    International students should contact the Office for International Admissions. Students whose native language is not English should achieve a score of 550 or more on the paper-based TOEFL exam, 213 or more on the computer-based TOEFL exam, or 79 or more on the internet-based TOEFL exam for admission to the program. International students must, like domestic students, also take the GRE test.

    The application deadline for Fall admission is February 1st. Notification of admission and awards will be made no later than April 1. Applicants who wish to enter the program in January of an academic year must submit materials no later than October 15. Students applying for January admission should be advised that teaching assistantships are not usually available mid-year.

    Late applications may be considered for admission, but not for funding. All applications must be completed at least six weeks before the start of graduate studies.

    For more information, please contact Dennis Kelley, Director of Graduate Studies, phone: 573-882-8831, email: