Part II: The M.A. Degree

Prerequisites Degree requirements for the free-standing M.A. program

The MA in Religion offers students exposure to cutting edge theoretical approaches to the study of religion while deepening their knowledge of a specific religious tradition or pursuing in-depth the engagement of religion with another related discipline. Students also have the option of pursuing extensive study in languages taught at few other universities, including Sanskrit, Classical Chinese, Hebrew, Arabic, etc., as an important step toward developing scholarly expertise in their chosen field.  This is a flexible program designed to give students training in the basic theories and methods of religious studies and exposure to current research interests within the Department, with special attention paid to the place of religion in public life across various religious traditions. In addition to the core program of three required seminars, 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.

At the start of each academic year, the Director of Master’s Studies will appoint an academic advisor for each student. Students are encouraged to consult closely with their academic advisors throughout their time in the program with regards to course selection and the development of their research agenda. All questions related to program requirements may be taken up either with the advisor or with the Director of Master’s Studies.

All students must takea minimum of 30 points of coursework (which does not include elementary or intermediate language study).  The required 30 points includes four required seminars, 1) “Theory and Method,” 2) a research methods course in Religion (e.g. Religion Lab”) or discipline related to their research interests3) “Religion and Public Life;” a minimum of 4 electives in the student’s chosen specialization (which  include one independent study); and the capstone paper/thesis course (RELI GR6112), in which students may write either a thesis or an article-length scholarly paper.  Students opting to develop their language skills, including those intending eventually to pursue a PhD in Religion, take additional language coursework and usually choose to complete the MA in 3 to 4 semesters.  Students may begin language study at any level.  Completion of the M.A. does not automatically lead to admission to the Ph.D. program.

Program of Study

To be arranged individually with a faculty advisor who is designated by the departmental director of graduate studies.

Sample program without language study (2 semesters):

Fall semester:
Theory and Method                                     1 course            (4 points)
Religion methods                                         1 course            (4 points)
Electives                                                       2 courses          (7 points)

Spring semester:
Religion and Public Life                           1 course            (4 points)
Electives                                                    2 courses          (7 points)
Capstone paper/thesis course:                   1 course            (4 points)

Sample program with beginning language study (4 semesters):

Year 1 fall semester:
Theory and Method                                 1 course           (4 points)
Elementary language I                            1 course           (5 points)
Elective                                                   1 course           (4 points)

Year 1 spring semester:
Religion and Public Life                        1 course           (4 points)
Elementary language II                          1 course           (5 points)
Elective                                                   1 course           (3 points)

Year 2 fall semester:
Religion methods                                   1 course           (4 points)
Intermediate language I                          1 course           (5 points)
Elective                                                   1 course           (4 points)

Year 2 spring semester:
Intermediate language II                     1 course           (5 points)
Elective                                                1 course           (3 points)
Capstone thesis course:                       1 course           (4 points)

Sample program with intermediate language study (3 semesters):

Year 1 fall semester:
Theory and Method                              1 course           (4 points)
Intermediate language I                        1 course           (5 points)
Religion methods                                  1 course           (4 points)
Elective                                                 1 course           (4 points)

Year 1 spring semester:
Religion and Public Life                   1 course           (4 points)
Intermediate language II                   1 course           (5 points)
Electives                                            2 courses          (7 points)

Year 2 fall semester:
Advanced language I                       1 course           (3 points)
Electives                                           1-2 courses     (3-7 points)
Thesis/paper course (ind. study)      1 course           (4 points)

Course and Residence Unit requirements

Students must complete two Residence Units and a minimum of 30 points at the 4000 level or higher. Students must maintain a GPA of at least 3.0 (B) to remain in good standing in the program.  At least 30 points must be taken for a letter grade of B or better.  "Courses" taken pass/fall or for R credit cannot be counted toward the degree.

Students must successfully complete the following required courses:

Theory and Method in the Study of Religion (RELI GR6101,4 points)

Research Methods (Religion Lab) (RELI GU4105, 4 points

Religion and Public Life (RELI 6420, 4 points)

Capstone Writing course (RELI GR6112, 4 points)


Students must arrange an individual oral examination based on either a thesis or an article-length scholarly paper.  The exam is to be administered by a two-member faculty committee selected by the student and approved by the DMS.


Full-time students are expected to complete the program in two to four semesters.  Part-time students must complete the program within eight semesters. The requirements for the part-time M.A. are the same as for the full-time M.A.

Financial Aid

The department may provide partial tuition awards to select students based on academic achievement and potential. M.A. students are eligible to apply for both academic year and summer foreign language and area studies (FLAS) Fellowships, which provide tuition and stipend support.  Applicants must plan to study a relevant foreign language during both terms of their fellowship, and must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.  Students applying to the M.A. program may also be eligible for both federal work-study and loan programs. Please visit the Graduate Financial Aid page on the Student Financial Services page for detailed information about eligibility, direct loans, work-study, etc.

The Journalism-Religion M.S.-M.A. Program

The degree requirements for the Religion portion of the M.S.-M.A. program are identical to those of the M.A. program. Click here for details about admissions.

Early Admission for Undergraduates (BA-MA Program)

Students enrolled at Columbia College, SEAS, Barnard, and the School of General Studies may apply for early admission to the MA program in Religion and begin their MA coursework in their senior year while completing their undergraduate degree. The department encourages applications from students in a variety of majors who have excellent academic records. 

Early Admissions Process: Students seeking early admission into the MA program should contact the Religion Department’s MA advisor during the second semester of the junior year or at the beginning of the first semester of the senior year before submitting an application. Applications for early admission should be submitted no later than March 15th of the student's junior year for admission in the following fall semester or November 1st of the student's senior year for admission in the following spring semester. Decisions will be announced no later than one month after the application deadline. 


Successful applicants for early admission will have an overall GPA of at least 3.5 by the end of their sixth semester.

The department encourages applications not only from qualified majors in Religion but also from students in any other major or concentration who have completed appropriate coursework and have excellent academic records. 

The application for Columbia and Barnard undergraduates seeking early admission is otherwise the same as the regular admissions requirements for non-Columbia applicants to the M.A. program, with the exception that a GRE test is not required. 

Admission in the MA program may be revoked if after admission the student fails to make adequate progress toward either the undergraduate or graduate degree. Examples of failure to make adequate academic progress would include a severe decline in GPA, or evidence of academic dishonesty. 

Transition from the BA program to the MA program: The curriculum and requirements for students who are admitted early are the same as those for all other students in the MA program. 

Coursework taken to satisfy any requirement of the undergraduate degree -- i.e., courses taken to complete a major, a concentration, the science requirement, or the 124-point requirement-cannot be applied towards the requirements of the MA program. 

After the senior year, an undergraduate dean will certify what specific courses did not count for the BA degree and therefore can be applied to the MA. A maximum of fifteen points at the 4000 level or above taken as an undergraduate may count toward the MA. Students should consult with respective undergraduate and graduate deans and advisors before the senior year when designing a course of study for completion of the BA and then the MA degree. 

When students are enrolled in the MA program and have finished their fourth year, they officially become students of GSAS. As such, they will lose their rights to undergraduate housing and undergraduate financial aid once they are enrolled in the MA program and have finished their fourth year. However, at that point they will be eligible for MA housing.

M.A. Degree Requirements for Students Admitted to the Ph.D. Program without an M.A.
Program of Study:

To be arranged individually with a faculty advisor who is designated by the departmental 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.

Language requirements:

A reading knowledge of one foreign language appropriate for research, other than English and one's mother tongue, if other than English. Proficiency is measured by examination or one year's course work beyond the elementary level in a language relevant to the student's field of research to be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies.

Course credit requirements:

Two Residence Units for a total of 30 credits of which at least 24 must be taken for E credit with a grade of B or better.


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 DMS, 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.


The Department of Religion expects full-time students to complete the M.A. program within two or three semesters. GSAS requires that all work for the MA degree be completed within two years. Students who do not achieve this will be viewed as not making satisfactory academic progress.