MA Plan of Study

The curriculum combines three core seminars with a specialization (at least five courses) in an area of focus chosen by the student. Students, working with the MA Program Director and their advisor, may shape an area of focus based on a specific religious tradition, a topic (such as Gender and Sexuality, Race and Indigeneity, Visual Culture and Museums, Media and Emerging Technologies, Human Rights and Politics, Ecology and Climate Change, Medical Humanities, etc.), a region (such as Tibet, Africa, South Asia, East Asia, North America, etc.), or a related discipline (such as Art History, Law, Journalism, Comparative Literature, Philosophy, Political Science, Public Health, History, Anthropology, etc.) according to their individual research interests.  In addition to courses within the Religion Department, electives may be selected from other departments and schools across the university and, if relevant, in coordination with other departments, institutes, or centers. (Please note that course enrollment in other Columbia schools may be restricted or require special approval.)

All students must complete a minimum of 30 points of coursework (eight or nine courses). These 30 points include three required seminars: 

RELI GR6101: Theory and Method, an introduction to the key approaches that have shaped the field of religious studies.

RELI GR6420: Religion and Public Life

RELI GR6112: Thesis Research and Writing Seminar
, in which students write either a thesis or an article-length scholarly paper as their required capstone project. 

In addition to these seminars, the student completes a minimum of 5 electives in their chosen specialization.  Students opting to develop their language skills may begin language study at any level, but only Advanced level language courses earn credit toward the required 30 points and can be included in the 5 electives of the student’s specialization.

Students must also complete two Residence Units, which are the basis for tuition. Students may register for one, one-half, or one-fourth Residence units per term.  After completion of 2 residence units, students may register for Extended Residence with reduced tuition.  International Students must register for one full-time residence unit each semester while in the US and enrolled in courses.


In addition to the core program, students may choose to specialize in several different ways. They may focus on:

1) A specific religious tradition or field of study (including philosophy of religion, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, East Asian religions, South Asian religions, or North American religions); or

2) One of five zones of inquiry (time, transmission, space, the body, or media); or

3) An interdisciplinary focus (such as religion and the law, religion and art, religion and human rights, etc.), taking advantage of related course offerings available across the university.


The MA Program Director appoints an academic advisor for each new student. Students are encouraged to consult closely with their academic advisors throughout the program with regard to course selection and the development of their research agenda. Students should direct questions related to program requirements to their advisor or the MA Program Director.

Students are encouraged to refer to the MA in Religion Checklist for a list of requirements as well as sample plans of study.