Comparative religious studies, or sometimes simply religious studies, is an academic examination of religion and its influence in multiple contexts. Programs are diverse and flexible; some students may study the transnational influence of religion, for example, while others may study how religion intersects with topics such as sexuality and gender.
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Programs in Comparative Religious Studies
Comparative religious studies approaches religion in a way that emphasizes how it influences and is influenced by society. Programs generally feature courses that focus on specific religions, examine various religious theories, and guide students to completing a thesis or dissertation. Students in these programs often have significant flexibility and choose a concentration that can involve one or more specific religions and issues.
Students participating in a religious studies program usually learn about contemporary scholarly theories in religion. Students thus learn to analyze religion from a critical perspective and inform their own research with the work of well-known theorists. However, as with many graduate programs, the selection of theories and theorists may change based on the research interests of professors.
As part of any contemporary religious coursework, you may go in-depth in studying a particular religion. Specific concentrations as a part of your degree can include Buddhism, areas of Jewish spirituality, Islam, and other religions. Courses such as these can better acquaint you with these religious faiths, their history, and contribute to the concentration that you're working toward. Faculty specialization may inform advanced topics in specific religions.
Comparative Religious Ethics
One area of comparative studies that might interest students is a review of ethics among different religions. Each religion brings with it its own set of ethical principles and makes a different impression on the ethics of the world. A study in this area takes ethical issues, for example bioethics, and deconstructs them from different religious, theological, and philosophical perspectives to come to a better understanding of global ethics throughout history and today.
For students hoping to one day teach in this area, there is often a teaching practicum or course that focuses on how to instruct in the area of religion. These courses may involve entirely in-class work focused around theory or help students find teaching assistant positions. Students should come to have a better grasp of teaching methods and best practices in instruction by the time they are done.
Master's Thesis & Doctoral Dissertation
During the course of a graduate program, students will need to typically complete either a master's thesis or doctoral dissertation, depending on the graduation track that they're on. As such, it's not unusual for students to complete coursework hours dedicated to the completion of one of these two projects. During the completion of a master's thesis, students may be asked to also take an oral examination with their professor. Doctoral dissertations, meanwhile, must be defended before a student's doctoral committee.
Program Admissions Requirements
Typically, students will need to demonstrate that they maintained a GPA between a 3.0 and 4.0 during their bachelor's program. In some cases, a 3.0 must have been maintained during the last 60 coursework hours of the program. Students will also be asked to submit their GRE scores in most cases, though most schools do not list a minimum GRE score requirement. A student's bachelor's degree will typically need to have been completed with a significant amount of religious coursework involved. Students are generally required to possess proficiency in a foreign language related to their research interest and field to gain admission into doctoral programs. Relevant foreign language proficiency or prior coursework may improve admission prospects at the master's level.
Graduate programs in comparative religious studies are very diverse since institutions offer different areas of study and students specialize their studies based on individual research goals. Students can expect to study several major world religions in depth and connect their findings to scholarly theories and societal issues.