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Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences

Department of Religious Studies

Other 9

Graduate Degrees

Degree Requirements

The master's degree in religious studies requires a minimum of 45 hours of coursework, including Theory and Methods in the Study of Religion (RLGS 4000).

Students must also take a minimum of 16 hours in one of six areas of specialization, which must be declared after 32 hours of coursework. Depending on the area of specialization, passage of a language competency exam may be required. (Please see below for detailed requirements for each area of our specializations.)

To complete the degree:

  • Write a thesis, complete a translation of a previously untranslated religious text into English or pass a comprehensive examination.
  • Up to 10 quarter hours of previous graduate coursework may be transferred from another institution or another department at the University during the first quarter of the student's admission to the program. The transfer must be approved by the department as well as by the graduate school.
  • Students may also take up to 12 hours of independent study, or independent research, as well as up to five hours of thesis research.
  • The minimum grade for any specific course necessary to fulfill requirements is a B-. The minimum grade for any course taken for the degree is a C.
  • Beginning Fall 2016, regardless of their area of specialization, all MA students are required prior to completing the degree to take at least 4 hours outside the department. The course cannot be independent or directed study. Students admitted prior to Fall 2016 do not need to meet this requirement.

Degree Completion

Please see the Degree Completion page for more information about the program's four completion options.

Required Courses

  • RLGS 4000 (Theory and Methods in the Study of Religion)
  • courses in three of the five traditions for a total of 12 hours (at least one course must be selected from each of the following groups):
    • Group 1—Judaism, Christianity, Islam;
    • Group 2—Buddhism, Hinduism
  • a minimum of 16 hours of coursework in a declared area of specialization (below)
  • Beginning Fall 2016, regardless of their area of specialization, all MA students are required prior to completing the degree to take at least 4 hours outside the department. The course cannot be independent or directed study. Students admitted prior to Fall 2016 do not need to meet this requirement.

Areas of Specialization

Students must declare an area of specialization after 32 hours of coursework. To meet the specialization requirements, they must also complete a minimum of 16 hours of coursework in one of our newly revised areas starting Fall 2016:

  • Critical Theory and Religion
  • Lived Religion
  • Philosophy of Religion
  • Religion and International Affairs
  • Sacred Texts

Students admitted for Fall 2016 may also choose to specialize in our former areas of specialization:

  • Biblical Studies
  • Theory of Religion
  • International and Multicultural Studies
  • Philosophy of Religion
  • Islamic Studies
  • World Religions

Courses taken for any of the core requirements may not be counted toward the area of specialization.

An approved list of courses for each of the areas of specialization is updated by the department annually. Students may also take up to 12 hours outside the Department of Religious Studies to meet area of specialization requirements in courses which

  1. are approved by the department chair or the MA director;
  2. are compatible with the area of specialization; and
  3. meet the student's curricular and long-term professional goals.

Independent study, or independent research, may not be counted, except under very special circumstances, toward the 16-hour minimum unless indicated in the specific area of specialization.

All courses meeting area of specialization requirements must have a minimum of 4 hours' credit.

Certain areas of specialization require competency in a relevant language. Competency will be measured by passing an exam administered by the department or an approved unit of the University of Denver. Students are responsible for learning one of these two languages through self-study, enrolling in a summer language institute, or taking for-credit or non-credit courses outside DU. Up to 5 hours of graduate-level language course work may be transferred from other institutions.

Detailed Requirements for Areas of Specialization

Newly Revised Areas (Beginning Fall 2016):

Sacred Texts

(minimum of 16 hours)
The Department of Religious Studies has faculty strength and research resources to support advanced study of sacred texts. Students who choose this concentration may focus on texts of one religious tradition, (e.g., Hebrew Bible, the Christian testament, the Qur'an, etc.) or may opt for a comparative approach. Students must acquire appropriate competency in the relevant language(s), minimally the equivalent of one full year of study, prior to matriculation or independently during the first year in the Program. The University does not offer introductory, graduate-level instruction in biblical Hebrew, koine Greek, Arabic, Sanskrit, Pāli, classical Chinese or Tibetan. Introductory language courses cannot be approved for credit to fulfill degree requirements.

Critical Theory and Religion

(minimum of 16 hours)

Critical theory and religion brings post-World War II theories of religion from a range of disciplines in the social sciences and humanities into conversation with both the original discourses of "critical theory" as developed by the Frankfurt School and the so-called "new critical theory" in its interdisciplinary scope, which focuses on such topics as race, class, gender, ethnicity, and globalization. Students in this area of specialization may choose each year from a prescribed lists of courses both inside and outside the department, including those specifically listed for the university's own "critical theory" curriculum spanning a wide range of fields and departments. At least two courses taken for this area of specialization must have RLGS numbering. 

Religion and International Studies

(minimum of 16 hours)
The specialization in religion and international studies focuses on the role of religion in the interplay of different religions and cultures within a global context. Particular attention may be given to certain regions such as the Americas, Asia, or the Middle East, depending on the interest or availability of faculty.

Students must take at least one course in a specific religious tradition beyond the core requirements as well as one course in the theory of religion that pertains to international and multicultural studies. The remaining courses can be chosen from the department's approved list of courses for the area of specialization. Finally, students must take at least 4 hours of course work (including independent study, service learning, or field work) at a location outside the United States and Canada that meet the student's curricular and long-term professional goals.

Depending on the student's program of study, the department may in certain instances require the passing of a competency exam in a language relevant to that program of study (e.g., if the focus is on the Middle East, the language would be Arabic; if on Latin America, Spanish).

Philosophy of Religion

(minimum of 16 hours)
Students must take at least two courses in the theory of religion plus one course in a specific philosopher, or philosophers, from each of the two historical periods: ancient and modern (Plato to Kant), late modern and postmodern (Hegel to the present). The remaining courses can be chosen from the department's approved list of courses for this area of specialization. Because many of the courses concerning specific philosophers are taught in the philosophy department, students choosing this area of specialization may take courses in the philosophy department beyond the 12-hour restriction (up 20 hours), unless those courses taken are otherwise cross-listed with the religious studies department.

Lived Religions

In addition to the core requirements, students must take at least four courses (within or outside the department) in the historical, social, and cultural forms and practices of the world's various religions, which can also include new, indigenous, or African religions. To satisfy requirements for this area of specialization, a student must have taken, transferred in, or waived at least one course during the program in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, or Latino religious traditions, regardless of whether these courses count for core credit or toward the area of specialization.

Former Areas:

Biblical studies

(minimum of 16 hours)
Students must take in addition to the core requirements at least one course in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam plus at least one additional course in either Judaism or Christianity. Students will also be expected to meet minimum competency standards in either the Hebrew or Koiné Greek languages.

Theory of Religion

(minimum of 16 hours)
Students must take approved courses in each of the three theoretical areas of the study of religion: philosophy of religion, psychology of religion, anthropology of religion. The remaining course, or courses, can be chosen from the department's approved list of courses for the area of specialization.

International and Multicultural Studies

(minimum of 16 hours)
The specialization in international and multicultural studies focuses on the role of religion in the interplay of different religions and cultures within the context of the globalization process. Particular attention may be given to certain regions such as the Americas, Europe or Asia, depending on the interest or availability of faculty.

Students must take at least one course in a specific religious tradition beyond the core requirements as well as one course in the theory of religion that pertains to international and multicultural studies. The remaining courses can be chosen from the department's approved list of courses for the area of specialization. Finally, students must take at least 4 hours of course work (including independent study, service learning, or field work) at a location outside the United States and Canada that meet the student's curricular and long-term professional goals.

Previous graduate level study abroad courses may be transferred into the program to meet this requirement. Graduate-level interterm coursework at the University of Denver is also acceptable. Depending on the student's program of study, the department may in certain instances require the passing of a competency exam in a language relevant to that program of study.

Philosophy of religion

(minimum of 16 hours)
Students must take at least two courses in the theory of religion plus one course in a specific philosopher, or philosophers, from each of the two historical periods: ancient and modern (Plato to Kant), late modern and postmodern (Hegel to the present). The remaining courses can be chosen from the department's approved list of courses for this area of specialization. Because many of the courses concerning specific philosophers are taught in the philosophy department, students choosing this area of specialization may take courses in the philosophy department beyond the 12-hour restriction (up 20 hours), unless those courses taken are otherwise cross-listed with the religious studies department.

Islamic Studies

(minimum of 16 hours)
This area of specialization is designed to provide students with an introductory foundation in Islamic Studies, through a combination of core courses and electives, as well as basic language training in Arabic. The coursework required for this area of specialization introduces students to the textual foundations of Islamic theology and legal reasoning, as well as exposing them to major issues in the development of Islamic traditions, majoritarian and minoritarian. Finally, it introduces students to contemporary developments in Islam, and particularly to questions of reform and fundamentalism. Students must take the basic introductory course in Islam (or have it waived, if they have taken a comparable course elsewhere at either the graduate or undergraduate level).

In addition, students must take a minimum of three additional courses at the University of Denver that deal specifically and centrally with Islam as a historical, or current, phenomenon. At least one of these additional courses must have an RLGS designation. Finally, students in this area of specialization must pass no later than the end of the quarter, in which they will complete 32 hours toward the degree, a competency examination in Arabic.

Competency in Arabic is required for the area of specialization in Islamic Studies.

World Religions

In addition to the core requirements, students must take at least four courses in the world's major religious traditions. To satisfy requirements for this area of specialization, a student must have taken, transferred in, or waived at least one course during the program in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism or Buddhism, regardless of whether these courses count for core credit or toward the area of specialization.

Please note: If you have questions about your progress to degree completion, or any of the completion options, including specialization requirements, please contact your adviser.

While we make every effort to keep this Web page up to date, the documents on file with the Graduate Studies Office are the final word on degree requirements. This Web page is for reference only.