The Department

Chairperson: Michel Desjardins
Graduate Officer: Faydra Shapiro
Director, Laurier-Waterloo PhD: Ron Grimes

The Programs

MA Program
The MA in religion and culture concentrates on the interdisciplinary study of religion in its cultural and historical contexts. The department emphasizes both textual and fieldwork methods, as well as writing and speaking skills that further the public understanding of religion. In addition to core faculty from Religion and Culture, the program draws upon cognate faculty from the university.

PhD Program
Drawing on the combined resources of the Department of Religion and Culture at Wilfrid Laurier University and the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Waterloo, the Laurier-Waterloo PhD in religious studies offers a concentration in the religious diversity of North America.


Wilfrid Laurier University

Adjunct Faculty University of Waterloo Adjunct Faculty MA Admission Requirements
Applicants to the MA program must have completed, or be in the process of completing, an honours (four-year) BA or its equivalent. They must not only meet the minimum university standard of a B average in the fourth year, but also have an overall B average, as well as a B+ in the major. Students who do not meet these criteria may apply for admission as qualifying students.

The department welcomes applications from students in religious studies, and also from students in other departments in the humanities and social sciences whose training and proposed program involves significant interdisciplinary research pertinent to religious studies.

Applicants must submit a writing sample, such as a term paper, as well as an application essay, guidelines for which are available from the department and in the application package.

Advanced Standing
Advanced standing or exemption is occasionally granted on the basis of work completed previously. Such standing will be considered upon written application by the student at the beginning of the program.

Program Requirements
All students follow one of two streams in the MA in religion and culture: the course stream or the thesis stream. Students are initially admitted into the course stream. Admission to the thesis stream is granted upon the successful completion of an accepted thesis proposal.

Students in both streams are required to complete RE693 (Comprehensive Examination). This course is based on a reading list provided by the department, and emphasizes understanding of the worldís religions and the academic study of religion. In case of a failing grade, the course can be repeated once.

In addition to RE693, course-stream students are required to complete RE698 (Research Project) and six other half-credit electives, including a minimum of one and a maximum of three courses taught by cognate and other faculty members outside the department. For the research project,  students focus on an area of study chosen in consultation with the course supervisor, then present that work, or a distillation of it, to a public audience, e.g., a lecture at a university colloquium, a conference or other off-campus venues. The assessment of the project includes both the written work and the public presentation.

Thesis-stream students, in addition to completing RE693, are required to complete four half-credit electives, at least two of which are taught by members of the department, and to prepare an acceptable thesis proposal, a thesis, and an oral defence. A student cannot register in RE699 until the proposal is formally accepted. Proposals must follow the departmentally approved guidelines. A proposal may be submitted any time after admission to the program. Acceptance is dependent upon the quality of the proposal and the departmentís assessment of a studentís overall ability.

Students whose thesis work necessitates the use of a second language will be required to demonstrate competence in that language before the thesis proposal is accepted. Decisions about language requirements and how they shall be satisfied are made by the studentís thesis committee, in consultation with the graduate officer.

Course-stream students enrolled full-time normally take three terms (12 months) to complete their degree, while thesis-stream students normally take four terms (16 months).

A studentís specific program, including course selections, must be approved by the graduate officer.

MA Graduate Courses
Note: RE693 and RE698 are taught each year; others are not, and their specific content may also vary from year to year. The departmentís Gold Book, revised annually and published in the winter term, lists the specific courses offered in a given year.

RE600    0.5
Issues in the Academic Study of Religion
An introduction to the emergence of the field of religious studies, and to current issues, theories and scholars that enliven it.
Exclusion: RE476

RE601    0.5
Fieldwork in Religious Studies
Fieldwork-based methods for studying religion as practised in contemporary communities.
Exclusion: RE477

RE602    0.5
Interdisciplinary Seminar
Current issues, debates and case studies in the interdisciplinary study of religion and culture, taught by a member of a cognate department.
RE611    1.0

Advanced Fieldwork in Religious Studies
An advanced methods course structured around an extended field research project on contemporary religious practice.

RE620    0.5
Eras of Religious History I
A study of continuity and change in the cultural and religious dynamics of an era selected from an early historical period.

RE621    0.5
Eras of Religious History II
A study of continuity and change in the cultural and religious dynamics of an era selected from a late historical period.

RE622    0.5
Textual Studies I
A consideration of a particular text or body of texts, in translation or in the original language, from an early historical period.

RE623    0.5
Textual Studies II
A consideration of a particular text or body of texts, in translation or in the original language, from a late historical period.

RE624    0.5
Religious Figures I
An investigation of the lives or thought of early figures important for the study or practice of religion.

RE625    0.5
Religious Figures II
An investigation of the lives or thought of late figures important for the study or practice of religion.

RE626    0.5
Archaeology, Architecture, Art
An investigation of the physical culture of one or more religious traditions in an early period.

RE630    0.5
Ritual Studies
The analysis of one or more types of ritual or ritual systems along with methods for studying these systems.

RE631    0.5
An exploration of one or more ethical issues along with methods for studying these issues.

RE632    0.5
Religion and Society
An analysis of religion, social sciences, social structures and social dynamics.

RE633    0.5
Religion and the Individual
An analysis of religion, psychology and personality formation.

RE634    0.5
Cosmologies and Mythologies
An examination of conceptual and imaginative frameworks people use to interpret their environments and construct their worldviews.

RE680    0.5
Advanced Field Studies in Religion
In consultation with an advisor, a student or team of students locates and defines a field-study situation. In addition to reading and writing, a study normally involves work outside the classroom such as participant observation, interviewing.
Prerequisite: Permission of the instructor. 

RE681    0.5
Selected Problems in Religion and Culture
Prerequisite: Permission of the instructor.

RE683    0.5
Themes in Religion and Culture
An exploration of one or more religious themes appearing in one or more religious traditions or culture.

RE684    0.5
Laboratory Research
The use of selected laboratory techniques (e.g., those developed in the ritual studies laboratories) for examining religiously significant data.

RE685    0.5
Methodological Research
Research on one or more academic methods useful for studying religious phenomena.

RE693    0.5
Comprehensive Examination
Readings in preparation for a comprehensive examination covering the essentials for advanced research in religious studies.

RE698    0.5
Research Project
A supervised study leading to a public presentation.

Normally cannot be taken without an accepted proposal.

PhD Admission Requirements
Only graduates of accredited universities and colleges are eligible for admission. Students apply to the joint program, designating one of the two universities as the preferred home institution. A student may be offered admission to the partner institution if the joint committee deems this choice more appropriate because of the studentís interests or the availability of suitable supervisors. Applications are considered by the joint committee, and recommendations for admission or rejection are made by the director to the dean of graduate studies at the proposed home university. Students are governed by the rules of the university in which they are registered, and their degree is granted by that same university; however, students may use faculty and library resources at both universities.

To be admitted to the program a student must have an MA (or its equivalent) in religious studies or a closely allied field. If the MA is in an allied field, the candidate must have a minimum of 10 one-term (half-credit) courses, or their equivalent, in the academic study of religion. An applicant must have achieved an A- or better average in the MA. Students lacking the necessary qualifications may be required to complete additional qualifying work to establish academic eligibility to apply for the PhD program. Students allowed to transfer from other doctoral programs must meet all of the degree requirements (or their equivalent, as determined by the joint committee); normally, credit for doctoral level work done elsewhere is not transferable.

Studentsí supervisory committees normally consist of three members, one of whom is the supervisor. Such committees are appointed as soon as possible after admission to the program and consultation with the student. Requests for changes in supervisory committee membership must be addressed to the director and decided upon by the joint PhD committee.

Applicants must submit an entrance brief. Briefs become part of a studentís file. The brief is used along with other application data such as transcripts as the basis of the studentís official assessment. The assessment, written by the faculty, determines the details (courses, languages, etc.) of each studentís degree requirements.

PhD Program Requirements
The minimum degree requirements for the Laurier-Waterloo PhD in religious studies are as follows:

Residence Requirements
The PhD is designed to take four years for completion. Students must enroll in the program full-time, be available for classes and regular on-campus consultation for at least the first two calendar years, and complete a minimum of six terms beyond the MA.

Students are expected to proceed through the program in a timely fashion. Normally, students must complete the course work and finish their proposal in the first year; comprehensive exams in the second year; and the dissertation project in the third and fourth years. The responsibilities of the supervisor and the supervisory committee notwithstanding, the candidate is responsible for ensuring that program requirements and deadlines are met in a timely fashion.

Course Requirements
The degree requires a minimum of four one-term courses beyond the MA. Students are required to take RE700 and RE701, both doctoral-level research seminars, as well as two electives. Depending on a studentís goals and admission assessment, additional course work may be required.

Language Requirement
Students must demonstrate knowledge of a second language relevant to the field and/or the dissertation. Whether this knowledge is reading or speaking knowledge (or both) depends on the nature of the proposed research. If the topic of the dissertation makes knowledge of a third language essential, the candidate must demonstrate competence in this language as well. Students are not permitted to begin their dissertation until all language requirements are met.

The proposal is a written document outlining the dissertation project. The proposal must be formally accepted by both the studentís supervisory committee and the joint PhD committee before proceeding to the comprehensive examinations and dissertation project. Subsequent, substantive changes in the proposal must be approved by the supervisory committee and the program director.

Comprehensive Examinations
There are three examinations: (a) the general exam is to ensure breadth and to assess competence in the study of religion; (b) the field exam is to focus an area of specialization. Each of these two examinations is based on a bibliography constructed by the faculty in consultation with the student; (c) the oral exam is to determine readiness for the dissertation project and can be taken only after successful completion of the general and field exams.

A candidate has only two opportunities to complete each of these examinations successfully. These examinations should take place before beginning the candidate's third year in the doctoral program. To be permitted to take the examinations at a later time, a candidate must petition the director for an extension. Extensions are normally granted only once and then, only for one term.

Dissertation project
The dissertation project consists of three required, closely related parts: the dissertation, the public presentation, and the dissertation defense. Students must pass all three. Evaluations, carried out by the supervisory committee, take into consideration the mastery of both style and content.

  1. The doctoral dissertation is an piece of research (approximately 50,000-90,000 words in length) aimed at making an original contribution to the study of religion. The dissertation must be crafted for publication as a book, although actual publication is not a degree requirement. This way of fulfilling the dissertation requirement is a distinctive feature of the program, and guidelines are available from the director. The dissertation is prepared in consultation with the supervisory committee, which includes the candidate's supervisor acting as chair, along with two other faculty members, one of whom may be a member of a non-religious studies department.
  2. The public presentation is a second distinctive feature of the Laurier-Waterloo PhD in religious studies. The presentation must be accessible to the public, open to questioning and debate, and subject to faculty evaluation. This presentation may take various formats and must demonstrate the candidateís ability to make the results of research publicly intelligible and engaging for a diverse, educated but non-specialist audience. The public presentation is held in a venue and at a time different from that of the dissertation defense. Holding it in an off-campus location is preferable. Evaluation is on a pass/fail basis, and a pass is required to complete the degree. Evaluation of such presentations is by the supervisory committee on the basis of a set of criteria available from the program director. A candidate who fails may attempt the presentation only one additional time.
  3. The dissertation defense, which is distinct from the public presentation, is an oral review and evaluation of the dissertation. Prior to the defense, an examining committee is established. It includes the supervisory committee plus an internal examiner from another department at either university. A chair (from the university in which the student is registered) and an external examiner (from another university) are appointed by the appropriate dean of graduate studies. The supervisory committee recommends external examiners to the dean of graduate studies. The decision of the examining committee is based on the dissertation and the candidate's ability to defend it orally.
Four decisions are open to the examining committee: If the examining committee is unable to reach a decision at the time of the thesis defense, it is the responsibility of the chair to determine what additional information is required by the committee to reach a decision, to obtain this information for the committee, and to call another meeting of the committee as soon as the required information is available.

PhD Graduate Courses
RE 700 and RE 701 are the core, doctoral-level, research courses required of all PhD candidates. Each course may be taught either within a single term or across two terms. Courses are coded RE at Laurier and RS at Waterloo.

In addition to the two required, core courses, doctoral candidates must complete at least two electives from an approved list of other graduate offerings at two universities. One of these electives must be in religious studies. The list of approved courses may change from year to year. Other units, such as 702, 800, 801, 898, and 899 are not credit courses; they designate components of the program in which students register at the appropriate time.

RE 700    0.5
Religious Diversity in North America
The religious diversity of North America, as well as perspectives, theories, and methods necessary for conducting research on this diversity.

RE 701    0.5
Case Studies in Religion
Case studies focused on lived religions in their cultural settings.

RE 702
Research Languages in Religious Studies
A demonstration of the studentís competence in a language (other than English) for the purpose of conducting advanced research in religious studies.

RE 703    0.5
Directed Study
Individual study of a topic under the guidance of a member of the program. Directed Study topics must be approved by the director.

RE 704    0.5
Special Topics
Group study of a topic under the guidance of a member of the program. Special Topics courses must be approved by the director.

RE 800
General Examination
The general examination, which is the first part of the comprehensive examination, is to ensure breadth and to assess competence in the study of religion.

RE 801
Field Examination
The field examination, which is the second part of the comprehensive examination, is to focus an area of specialization and to determine readiness for the dissertation project.

RE 898
Public Presentation
A public presentation based on the candidateís doctoral dissertation research.

RE 899
Doctoral Dissertation
A piece of research crafted as a book, aimed at making an original contribution to the study of religion, and followed by a defense.