StudyQA — PhD: Religious Studies — Brown University


Religious Studies

Study mode:On campus Study type:Full-time Languages: English
Foreign:$ 54.7 k / Year(s) Deadline: Jan 5, 2023
61 place StudyQA ranking:1314 Duration:5 years

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ART offers training in the study of Asian religions in their historical and
cultural contexts.  Students are expected to choose their tradition or region of specialization from among the fields of expertise of the Brown faculty, currently in the following areas:


  • Chinese thought and religion of the classical period
  • Early Daoist contemplative traditions
  • Chinese Buddhism
  • Confucian Traditions
  • Japanese religious and intellectual history


  • Ancient South Asian religions



Successful applicants to the doctoral program in East Asian Religions ordinarily possess an M.A. or the equivalent in a related field of study.  At least two years of either Chinese or Japanese is required; three or more years is highly recommended.  Excellent command of English, both spoken and written is essential.


Courses are selected in consultation ith the student's primary advisor, usually in a meeting at the beginning of each semester.  EAR students are expected to complete at least six graduate seminars or the equivalent; at least four of the seminars will be in the main area of concentration (China or Japan), and at least two in the secondary area.  With the approval of the area faculty, a Brown University undergraduate course numbered above 1000 may count toward the seminar requirement if the student submits a successful graduate-level paper for the course.

Students should draw on resources at Brown University not only in Religious Studies, but also in East Asian Studies, History, History of Art and Architecture, Comparative Literature, and/or the social sciences, as appropriate. Students may also cross-register for specialized courses at Harvard University, as time permits, and subject to the approval of the ART advisor and the Harvard instructor. 

Before their first preliminary examination EAR students should also complete the following specific courses: 

  • RELS 2000 Theory of Religion
  • RELS 1190 Japanese Religious Traditions, or the equivalent
  • A survey course in Chinese religions.
  • RELS 2300C Chinese Bibliography and Reference Resources or a course in Japanese bibliography (in accordance with the area of speciaization).
  • A course in the history of China, Japan, or Korea (number above 1000).
  • A course in the literature or art history of China, Japan, or Korea (numbered above 1000).


EAR students must attain reading competence in at least one modern European language other than English (ordinarily French): in consultation with their advisory committee, they may count one East Asian language for the departmental second modern language requirement.  Native speakers of an East Asian language will be asked to demonstrate mastery of a second modern East Asian language and a modern European language other than English.

Students of Chinese religions must demonstrate competence in modern Chinese, proficiency in classical Chinese, and reading competence in modern Japanese.  Students of Japanese religions must attain proficiency in modern Japanese and competence in classical Japanese; depending on their period of specialization, they should also learn how to read Sino-Japanese (kanbun). 

Entering students are advised take diagnosticc examinations in modern East Asian languages, which are administered at the beginning of each academic year by the Department of East Asian Studies.  Successful completion of the language requirements will be certified by one or more of the following methods, subject to the discretion of area faculty.

Modern East Asian languages:

(i) Completion of the following courses, or the equivalent, with a grade of B or better:

  • China concentrators: CHIN 0800 and JAPN 0600
  • Japan concentrators: JAPN 0800 or JAPN 0910

(ii) Successful performance in a diagnostic exam administered by Brown University faculty.

Classical Chinese and kanbun: 

Successful performance in an examination administered by the area faculty.
These exams will ordinarily consist of a two - three-hour translation
examination in which lexical aids may be used.  In some cases, advanced
(graduate level) coursework, with a grade of B or better, may satisfy
this requirement, subject to faculty approval. 

Graduate students are urged to take intensive language courses at accredited language programs, whether in North America or East Asia, during the summer whenever possible, so as to complete their requirements in a timely fashion.  Applications to these programs and associated fellowships, as well as enquiries about Brown financial assistance for language study, should be made well in advance of the projected study period.


The first two doctoral examinations are based on bibliographies negotiated by the student and the advisory committee.  The final bibliography should be submitted to the committee for approval at the latest by the end of the semester preceding the one in which the exams are taken.

The first exam covers the history of Chinese and Japanese religions as a whole; the second focuses on the student's special field.  These two exams will be scheduled on a separate day within a one-week period and should be completed before the beginning of the second semester aftr the completion of coursework (ordinarily by the end of the third year in residence).  These exams are written and are followed by an oral defense that takes place one week after they are completed.

The third and final examination is a research paper written under the guidance of the members of the examination committee.  The topic of the paper is chosen in consultation with the student's main faculty advisor, who in most cases will chair the examination committee and become the dissertation supervisor.  The purpose of the paper is to certify that the student is qualified to carry out research in her or his special field.  The topic should accordingly be related to the student's projected thesis area and demonstrate substantial use of primary sources in the student's main research language as well as critical engagement with secondary sources.  Ordinarily the paper will take the form of an analysis or argument based on the student's research into a primary text ot texts, and/or other relevant study materials.  Optionally, an annotated translation of the main research text may be included in an appendix.


Students of Japanese or Chinese religions are generally expected to conduct on-site research using original sources, whether primary texts in archives and libraries, works of art in museums, interviews with subjects, or other materials.  In many cases, primary texts must be located, read, and understood under the guidance of a Japanese or Chinese specialist in the field.  EAR graduate students should therefore plan to conduct research for an extended period, usually one year, in China or Japan after their dissertation prospectus has been approved.  Ordinarily they will apply for fellowships to conduct research abroad in the fall of the year preceding the academic year in which they plan to live in China or Japan. 



The study of South Asian Religions at Brown currently focuses on traditions of the ancient period.  Students should work closely with the area advisor, Professor James Fitzgerald (Department of Classics), to develop a program that will best suit their interests and prepare them for a career as a teacher and scholar of South Asian religions.


Applicants should have significant preparation in the academic study of South Asia and South Asian languages, ordinarily including two years of Sanskrit.


Students normally take six semesters of course work and then spend two years in the research and writing of the Ph.D. dissertation.  Depending upon the needs of their particular program, students are encouraged to take courses in other Brown departments that bring them into contact with modern and contemporary contexts of South Asian religions and to seek out opportunities for periods of study and research in India in the course of their graduate careers.  


The study of ancient South Asian religions requires passing a General Sanskrit reading exam and a Special Sanskrit reading exam, and attaining reading proficiency in both German and French.  Students in this area are also encouraged to study Hindi.


The preliminary examination has two parts. The first covers the general history, sources, and themes of the Hindu Religions of South Asia.  The second covers the broad area and themes within which the student's dissertation research will take place.

Segement I

This segement is a Breadth Examination on the general history, sources, and themes of the Hindu Religions of South Asia.  It will consist of two three-hour written exams, one on Ancient India (from Vedic times to roughly 500CE) and one on the medieval period (500 CE to 1500).  This exam must be passed no later than the end of the sixth semester of residence.  The reading lists for these exams will be set by area faculty.

Segement II

This segmenet is a Special Area Examination over the broad area and themes within which the student's dissertation research will take place.  The focus, limits, and reading list for this examination will be designed through consultation between the student and his or her advisor.  This exam will be a single four hour written exam taken no later than the end of the sixth semester of residence.


Applications are welcomed from students with a baccalaureate or post-baccalaureate degree. Though most candidates admitted to the program have some M.A. level experience, exceptionally promising candidates may be admitted directly from the B.A.

Prior to applying, students are encouraged to contact faculty with whom they are interested in working, and if possible, to visit during the academic year. Such prior contact allows students to gain a better sense of our programs than any materials can convey. For logistical help in arranging such a visit, please contact Nicole Vadnais ( We regret that we cannot provide any financial assistance for such visits. All applications are given the same consideration regardless of whether the applicant has contacted us in advance and/or visited Brown.

Asian Religious Traditions (ART) and Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean (RAM) programs expect some proper preparation in relevant languages.  Applicants to ART: East Asian Studies (EAS) must have at least two years of Chinese or Japanese; three or more years is highly recommended. Applicants to ART: South Asian Traditions (SAT) should have at least two years of either Sanskrit or Hindi-Urdu. Students intending to specialize in some aspect of Ancient Judaism must have a minimum of two years of college level biblical Hebrew or its equivalent; a working knowledge of modern and rabbinic Hebrew and introductory ancient Greek are also highly desirable. Students intending to specialize in some aspect of early Christianity, or Greek or Roman religion should have college level training in at least one of the principal ancient languages for the program, Greek or Latin. Preference will be given to RAM applicants who have appropriate prior study of Greek (and other appropriate languages) and a reading knowledge of French or German, as well as prior work in the history, literature, and religions of the ancient Mediterranean.

Excellent command of English, both spoken and written, is also required of all successful applicants. Please note that there is no minimum GRE score or GPA. While applicants are expected to have demonstrated excellent preparation, aptitude, and potential to be successful scholars and teachers, we carefully consider the complete application. We pay particularly close attention to the personal statement, so applicants should take care in articulating why they think that our department is an appropriate place for them to study.

A writing sample is not required as part of the application. Applicants who wish to submit one should limit the sample to approximately 6000 words (about 25 ordinary typed pages).

The application deadline for the next academic year is January 5. Applicants should apply online through the university Graduate School. Read these pages (particularly the "General Information" section) carefully before applying.

Brown University admits students without regard to national or ethnic origin, race, color, sex, sexual orientation, and creed of handicap. 


  • Graduate Research Travel Grants: Joukowsky Summer Research Award; StudentResearch Grants in Judaic Studies; International Travel Fund; etc.
  • Cogut Center for the Humanities Graduate Fellowship
  • Dean's Faculty Fellowship (DFF)
  • Brown/Wheaton Faculty Fellowship
  • Brown/Tougaloo Faculty Fellowship
  • Global Mobility Porgram Graduate Research Fellowship
  • Interdisciplinary Opportunities in the Humanities and Social Sciences
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