Master's in Religious Studies Programs in California

Oct 17, 2019

Prospective students with an interest in studying different religions may consider earning a master's degree in the field of religious studies. Learn about the degree and entrance requirements for religious studies master's degree programs located in California.

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A master's degree in religious studies usually encompasses the study of several religions, including Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, and others, through a critical lens that takes into account history, religious traditions, literature, and social factors. As an interdisciplinary field of study, religious studies can prepare you for a wide range of careers in education, the legal field, the ministerial field, and even the medical field. This article will cover your options for attending a master's program in religious studies in California, exploring coursework, degree, and entrance requirements.

California Schools with Master's Programs in Religious Studies

University of California - Santa Barbara

The University of California - Santa Barbara offers a 36-unit Master of Arts in Religious Studies degree with several areas of study, such as Buddhist studies, Jewish studies, East Asian studies, Christian traditions, and Native American religions, among others. In this program, you could possibly take courses on the history of Arabic literature, Muslim diasporas, Tibetan and Buddhist traditions, or Asian Islamic traditions. There is no foreign language or thesis requirement for this standalone MA program. However, there is also a MA in Religious Studies degree pathway that leads to a PhD as well, and this MA option requires an article-length thesis project and proficiency in German or French.

University of California - Riverside

At the University of California - Riverside, you can earn a Master of Arts in Religious Studies in two years after completing 36 course units. Core coursework in this program includes classes on religion and politics, religions in contact, theories of religion, and professional development courses on public speaking or pedagogy. You must also complete comprehensive exams and prove reading proficiency in either French or German. If you have a desire to continue your studies by pursuing a PhD, this program offers an MA thesis option, which consists of an article-length research project that prepares you for further graduate work. There is also an MA option that consists of a capstone experience, which could be a training experience in a museum or nonprofit.

University of the West

Located in Rosemead, the University of the West also offers a Master of Arts in Religious Studies, which can be completed in two years if you attend full-time. This is a 36-unit degree program that offers three optional concentrations: Buddhist texts and translation; humanistic Buddhism; and mindfulness, mediation, and mind. You are also able to consult with faculty to design your own course of study. Your coursework includes two core classes on the history and theory of religious studies and research methods, with the rest of your classes dependent on your chosen concentration. It's possible you could take classes on topics like women in Buddhism, Buddhist psychology, and interfaith rituals. This program also offers an optional PhD preparation track, which requires a foreign language component and a thesis.

California State University - Long Beach

The Master of Arts in Religious Studies at California State University - Long Beach is a 36-unit program that offers concentrations in such areas as Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern religions, Indigenous American religions, and Buddhist studies. Your coursework in this program could include classes on women in religion, religion in Southeast Asia, and religion in film and literature. To earn your master's degree, you must also complete a thesis or a comprehensive exam as well as prove proficiency in a research language, such as French or German, or proficiency in an ancient research language.

Stanford University

Stanford University's Master of Arts in Religious Studies program is especially for current Stanford undergraduate students or PhD candidates who want to earn a master's degree in the field. This coterminal degree requires 45 units of coursework with classes that could cover Japanese Buddhism, spiritualism, interfaith dialogue, and classical religious texts. While you don't need to choose a specialization, this program does offer specializations in the areas of East Asia, South Asia, late antiquity, and Europe and North America. A thesis is also optional; however, you must have a reading knowledge of one foreign language in order to earn your MA in Religious Studies.

Entrance Requirements for Graduate Religious Studies Programs

Most Master of Arts in Religious Studies programs have a common set of required application materials that include transcripts, letters of recommendation, a resume or CV, and a statement of purpose. Some programs also require a writing sample. When it comes to the GRE, only the University of California - Riverside requires scores. Also, while the majority of programs discussed above don't have any requirement regarding the type of undergraduate degree needed, California State University - Long Beach does require a bachelor's degree in religious studies or its equivalent.

Master of Arts in Religious Studies degree programs usually require coursework and often, but not always, have a foreign language requirement. Also, while a thesis is sometimes optional in this type of program, choosing this pathway is a good idea if you plan to continue your religious studies education at the PhD level.

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