Part I: The MA Degree

The MA degree serves as the first milestone for PhD students. Generally completed within two semesters, but no later than two years after beginning the program, courses taken as part of the MA degree serve as the foundation for the remainder of the program.

Advanced Standing

Admitted PhD students who already hold an appropriate master's degree, such as a Master of Divinity or Master of Arts in Religion, from an accredited university, or international equivalent, may opt to apply for advanced standing in lieu of the MA. If approved, the student would receive two residence units to count towards the six required of the MPhil degree and become ineligible for a MA in Religion from Columbia. 

Being granted advanced standing does not necessarily exempt students from all requirements demanded of MA candidates; as such, students are required to meet with their faculty advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies before applying for advanced standing.

Students interested in applying for advanced standing should read the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences' transfer credit policy.

Degree Requirements

The program of study is to be arranged individually with a faculty advisor designated by the Director of Graduate Studies. Courses must be selected so as to provide for intellectual growth in the program's three core areas: theories and methods needed for the study of religion, broad familiarity with the world’s major religious traditions, and increasing depth in one’s area of specialization.

Course credit requirements

Two Residence Units and a total of 30 credits, excluding elementary and intermediate language study, of which at least 24 must be completed with a grade of B or better. Only courses taken at the 4000-level or greater may count towards the degree, with the exception of courses taken at Union Theological Seminary. As Union Theological Seminary is a graduate school with an independent course numbering convention, courses taken at any level at Union Theological Seminary may count toward the degree.


1. Written: Students must achieve a grade of B or better in RELI GR6101: Theory and Method and Religion survey courses in at least two different religious traditions (not counting their area of specialization), either by showing evidence of having previously completed at a B or better level, a college survey course in a tradition, or by taking a Columbia undergraduate survey course and writing a graduate level research paper. With approval from the Director of Graduate Studies, you may take courses in related departments to satisfy the survey requirement.

2. Oral: An oral examination by a two member faculty committee based on two research papers written for courses with different instructors.

Degree Application

Once all requirements have been completed, the student must apply for graduation in order to receive the MA degree. Degrees are awarded three times a year—in October, February, and May—and each degree conferral date has a corresponding application deadline.