The Department of Religious Studies at Northwestern offers a small, highly flexible, interdisciplinary Ph.D. program that takes full advantage of faculty strength within our department as well as ancillary fields of the humanities and social sciences. In the spirit of the inherently interdisciplinary character of religious studies, we train scholars both in the history of theory and method in religious studies and in important complementary approaches like ethnography, textual study, philosophy, historiography, and art history. Our exceptional faculty’s wide training and diverse interests provide a rich foundation for future scholarship and teaching in a field that demands deeply trained specialists who are nonetheless avidly engaged in broad methodological and theoretical conversations of interest to the whole discipline.
Graduate students take at least two years of course work, including seminars, tutorials, and independent studies. All students take a two-quarter sequence in theories and methods in the study of religion and at least one course in comparative study of religion. Examples include "The Study of Religion as Vocation," "Classical Theories of Religion," "Sin, Salvation, and Racialization," and "Secularities: Thinking with, through, and against 'Religion'."
In addition, all students expand their circles of mentors and colleagues by taking up to half their course work in other departments. Many students join an entering cohort in an affiliated department by participating in its standard first-year program, e.g. writing a first-year paper in History, taking the Introduction to Graduate Study in English, or taking the introductory seminars in cultural anthropology and anthropological research. But not all external coursework need be done in the same department. Rather, classes are chosen flexibly in consultation with the student's adviser in order to take full advantage of faculty resources in the field. To guarantee appropriate cross training, each examining committee and dissertation committee includes at least one faculty member from outside the department.
The third year is devoted to written and oral qualifying exams, to the preparation of a prospectus, and to additional course work if desired; the fourth and fifth years are dedicated to dissertation research and writing. Most students complete the degree within five years, although dissertations that require extensive fieldwork or archival research might take longer; additional competitive funding is available for longer projects.