• Daniel Bannoura, MA’13 at Convocation in Bond Chapel

Master of Arts (MA)

The MA program is a two-year foundational program in the academic study of religion for students who wish to acquire the requisite skills to develop a research agenda for doctoral study, or to establish a basis for a career in such fields as education, publishing, government service, law, non-profit work, etc.


Students in the program may apply by course of study petition for PhD admission in the winter quarter of their second year or in the winter quarter of the first or second year following receipt of the MA. Students are required to complete fifteen courses during the six quarters of residence to receive the degree. This number of courses is considered optimal for achieving the program’s dual goal of genuine breadth of acquaintance with the methods of religious inquiry and some depth of knowledge in a specific area of concentration.


1. Two years of Scholastic Residence.
2. Proof of competence in French or German.  MA students may meet this requirement in one of the following ways:

  • Complete one of the University’s Chicago Language Center’s (CLC)“Research Purposes” courses offered in German and French with a grade of A, where completion of these courses involves taking the same kind of comprehension-based exam the CLC now administers University-wide.  
  • Receive a “High Pass” on the comprehension-based exam now offered in German and soon in French.
  • Receive a “High Pass” on the traditional translation-based exam offered in German and French.

3. Fifteen courses, including the following:

a) Satisfactory completion during the first year of study of the course “Introduction to the Study of Religion."

b) Satisfactory completion of one additional course from each of the three committees of the faculty. Selected courses in each area of study have been designated by the faculty as appropriate in meeting this requirement. These courses have been so noted in the web-based listing of Divinity School courses for each academic quarter.

Unless otherwise indicated, satisfactory completion signifies work completed at the level of B- or higher.

With the exception of the introductory course, “Introduction to the Study of Religion,” MA students elect their course work for the degree. A total of fifteen courses are required over the two years of the program. They consult with faculty about the courses that would be most useful in helping them to determine the focus and direction of their work. The following guidelines outline the types of work these students should pursue over the two years of the program:

1. Further courses emphasizing breadth in the study of religion—MA students must complete three additional courses beyond the introductory course, one from each of the three committees of the faculty.

2. Courses in the area of study in which the student wishes to concentrate PhD study—the MA student who applies to the PhD program must have completed three courses in the proposed area of concentration.

3. Language study, further elective course work in the Divinity School, or course work elsewhere in the University.

The Divinity School's MA program is its primary source of PhD students. While admission to the MA does not guarantee admission to the PhD, the Divinity School does offer its MA students the opportunity to apply to the PhD program by in-house petition, and a student's performance in the MA program constitutes the central criterion for admission to the PhD program.

MA students apply to the PhD program in the winter quarter of the second year or the winter quarter following receipt of the MA. (The MA residence requirement makes it impossible for the student to complete all MA degree requirements before applying to the PhD program; PhD admission is contingent upon successful completion of all MA requirements prior to registration as a PhD student.)

To apply to the PhD program, an MA student must accomplish the following:

1. Satisfactory completion of three courses, with grades recorded on the transcript, in the area in which the student proposes to concentrate PhD study. These must be completed by the conclusion of the autumn quarter of the year prior to that in which the student makes application to the PhD program.

2. Submission of an appropriate research paper written for a course offered by the area to which the student is applying. It must be submitted with the grade and original faculty comments.

3. Submission of a course of study petition requesting a faculty adviser, proposing written examinations—listing at least four Divinity School faculty members—and outlining a program of study at the PhD level.

In today's global society, the understanding of religions as human phenomena is a core cultural competency.  Private and public sector organizations alike benefit from such competency in conducting their business and fulfilling their missions in society.  Companies and agencies who operate around the world seek out such well-rounded employees at all levels of their organizations.  From business to journalism, from foreign service to leadership in non-profit organizations, our MA alumni often choose non-academic career paths.  Learning to think critically is foundational for any professional pursuit, and the MA program offers students the opportunity to engage intellectually with students preparing for academic careers, public religious leadership, and other professions.  The resources of our MA alumni, as well as the University's Office of Graduate Affairs, are engaged to provide MA students with a wide range of professional options.

Please also visit our Career Services pages.

Introduction to the Study of Religion

All students in master’s programs at the Divinity School are required to take this course.

The academic study of religion(s) is complex not simply by virtue of its diverse subject matter, but because of the many different perspectives from which scholars investigate and define the subject. Scholars of religion throughout the academy engage in research that emphasizes historical, comparative, literary critical, philosophical, social scientific, or ethical methods and questions. The Divinity School faculty believes that the capacity to engage in this interdisciplinary conversation will enrich the student’s scholarly agenda. For that reason, the MA program requires enrollment during the first year of the program in the “Introduction to the Study of Religion” course. Using a selected text, faculty from a variety of disciplines engage the text in dialogue with the lead instructor and students. This course accomplishes three purposes. First, it illustrates the types of questions that are pursued within the areas of study of the faculty. Second, it situates these methods and questions in the wider sweep of Western inquiries into the nature of religion. Third, it assists the MA student in defining the distinctive character of his or her PhD project, and the group of written examinations that would best enable the student to pursue that project.

Because students in all master's programs at the Divinity School are required to take this course, the conversation is enriched by the diverse perspectives of scholars who plan careers across a variety of fields, from the academy to religious organizations and beyond. Requirements for each course will be determined by the instructor.  This course may not be taken pass/fail. Successful completion requires receipt of a letter grade of B- or higher.

Why Chicago?

MA alumnus and current Theology PHD student Daniel Owings talks about the culture of rigorous and collegial inquiry at the Divinity School.

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