College of Liberal Arts USC
Religious Studies


 Graduate Index

Carl D. Evans, Chair of the Department


    James S. Cutsinger, Ph.D., Harvard University, 1980
    Undergraduate Director
    Donald L. Jones, Ph.D., Duke University, 1966
    Associate Chair of the Department
    Jon Michael Spencer, Ph.D., Washington University, 1982

Associate Professors

    Carl D. Evans, Ph.D., University of Chicago, 1974
    Alonzo Johnson, Ph.D., Union Theological Seminary, 1990
    Kevin Lewis, Ph.D., University of Chicago, 1980
    Janice Love, Ph.D., Ohio State University, 1983

Assistant Professor

    Anne M. Blackburn, Ph.D., University of Chicago, 1996
    Graduate Director

Professors Emeriti

    Lauren E. Brubaker Jr., Th.D., Union Theological Seminary, 1944
    Harold W. French, Ph.D., McMaster University, 1972


The Master of Arts program offers the substantial preparation required for admission to internationally recognized doctoral programs in religious studies. Students become acquainted with the intellectual history of religious studies and its closely related disciplines and learn to think critically about the academic study of religion with reference to new and innovative theoretical perspectives. Each student develops a competence in one or two religious traditions, including the linguistic skills necessary for original research. Applications are welcome from students who do not intend to pursue advanced graduate training in religious studies. Our graduates have found the Master of Arts in Religious Studies valuable to professional careers in law, public policy, social work, journalism, counseling, and ministry.


Applicants must have a baccalaureate degree from an accredited college or university, and their record must indicate the ability to undertake graduate work. Distinguished work in any discipline is acceptable. Candidates for admission must supply a transcript, a record of scores on the general section of the Graduate Record Examination, two letters of recommendation, a carefully prepared statement of purpose, and a sample of their academic work. Students normally enter the program in the fall semester and complete the program within two years.

For further information about application procedures, see the departmental Web site at

Financial Assistance

Departmental graduate student assistantships are available on a competitive basis. These provide a substantial tuition reduction and stipend and are normally offered for two years. See the departmental Web site for further details.


The M.A. degree requires a minimum of 30 graduate credits, specifically:

1. RELG 700 (3 hours)*

2. RELG 701 (3 hours)*

3. 12 hours in one of the following three areas of specialization**:

Texts and Traditions: The study of texts (including oral and visual texts) in the life of specific religious communities. Such study may include attention to the literary and rhetorical features of such texts, to the relationship between such features and the function of texts within communities of practice, and to the use of texts as evidence in historical analysis.

Theology and Religious Thought: The study of the doctrines, cosmologies, spiritual practices, visions, and ethics of religious traditions. This includes attention to the historical development and philosophical and cultural contexts of theological reflection within specific religions, as well as the examination of their foundational principles. Work undertaken within this area may be comparative in nature.

Religion and Society: The study of religious institutions, practices, and experiences in relation to other cultural forms within contemporary or historical societies. A variety of social and psychological perspectives, including those attentive to gender, race, class, modernization, and globalization, are used to illuminate such relationships. Study may include the analysis and criticism of literary and other arts as forms of religious expression and the analysis of the role played by religious institutions, practices, and experiences in social transformation and political resistance.

4. six hours of course work in one or both of the other areas of specialization

5. comprehensive examination

6. reading knowledge of one foreign language, typically in a language of primary importance to research in the student’s area of specialization

7. 6 hours of thesis preparation (RELG 799)

* Required during the first year of study unless a postponement is approved by the director of graduate studies.

**Up to 6 hours of pre-approved research language study at the graduate level directly related to the student’s program of study may be counted toward this 12-hour requirement.

Course Descriptions (RELG)

  • 510–World of the Hebrew Bible. (3) An examination of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) in the context of the history, literature, and religion of the ancient Near Eastern world.
  • 514–The Quest of the Historical Jesus. (3) Examination of studies on the historical Jesus from 1778 to the present. Attention given to the relationship between "the Jesus of history" and "the Christ of faith."
  • 521–Readings in Religion. (3) A program of reading and consultation will be arranged to provide for independent research and concentrated study in an area of particular interest to the student.
  • 532–Dialogue of Reason and Faith. (3) Criticism and defense of religious belief in historical perspective.
  • 551–Tradition and Transformations in Islamic Cultures. {=ANTH 515} (3) Islam as a dynamic cultural tradition: emphasis on the tension between Islamization and the larger Islamic tradition.
  • 552–Buddhist Studies Seminar. (3) The examination of a theme or problem central to the study of Buddhism in a seminar emphasizing intensive reading and creative discussion. Course may be repeated since topics change.
  • 553–Reading Pali Buddhist Texts. (3) An introduction to Pali Buddhist texts, focusing on the acquisition of basic Pali reading skills and the analysis of texts. Completion of this course does not satisfy language proficiency requirements.
  • 572–Religious Classics. (3) Selected "classic" works of the Western religious tradition, from Song of Songs to The Seventh Seal. Emphasis on theologies communicated and on evolving cultural context.
  • 573–Religion in the South. (3) Regional faith traditions in Southern cultural context; the African-American church, influence of evangelical piety, Lost Cause idealism, fundamentalism, civil religion.
  • 700–Problems in the Comparative Study of Religion. (3) Introduction to formative thinkers in the discipline of religious studies, with attention to the methodological problems of comparison.
  • 701–Foundational Readings. (3) Foundational texts appropriate to the student’s area of specialization and required for advanced course work and thesis preparation.
  • 710–The Christology of the New Testament. (3) Examination of the four major New Testament titles: Son of Man, Christ, Lord, and Son of God. Attention also given to some lesser-known titles and to Christology in context.
  • 740–Israelite Religion. (3) Beliefs and practices in ancient Israelite religion, with particular attention to the emergence of monotheism. Comparison with other ancient Near Eastern religions.
  • 760–Religion and Literature. (3) Introduction to historical and contemporary approaches to the cross-disciplinary study of the inter-relations of the religious and the literary imaginations.
  • 770–Black Christianity in America. (3) Elements in the religion of the black slave in early America, the development of black churches and theological movements.
  • 771–Black and Liberation Theology. (3) Tenets, themes, and representative figures in black and liberation theology in the United States and in Central and South America.
  • 772–Nineteenth-Century American Evangelical Thought. (3) The diverse heritage of American evangelism, with special emphasis on its socio-political and theological origins in the late 18th and 19th centuries.
  • 773–Twentieth-Century Christology. (3) Various 20th-century christological perspectives, with special emphasis on the person and work of Jesus as bases for addressing life/death and hope/despair issues.
  • 780–World Spirituality. (3) An examination of the perennialist approach to the mystical and contemplative teachings of the major religious traditions.
  • 789–Seminar in Philosophical Theology. (3) Examination of contemporary problems in the philosophical foundations of religion.
  • 792–Special Topics in Texts and Traditions. (3) Topics related to the study of texts in the life of specific religious communities. Course content varies; individual topics will be announced.
  • 793–Special Topics in Theology and Religious Thought. (3) Topics related to the study of religious doctrines, cosmologies, spiritual practices, and ethics. Course content varies; individual topics will be announced.
  • 794–Special Topics in Religion and Society. (3) Topics examining religious institutions, practices, and experiences in relation to other cultural forms. Course content varies; individual topics will be announced.
  • 797–Independent Study. (3)
  • 799–Thesis Preparation. (1—9)

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