Rice University Department of Religion

Degree Requirements

Religious Studies - Kripal

The general "map" and specific curricular, apprentice, research, and writing requirements of the Ph.D. program are as follows. They are subject to change at the faculty's discretion.

This information is also available in a PDF file at the bottom of the page. Additionally, as they are finalized, PDF's containing the reading lists for the various Comprehensive Exams are also available for download.


Fifty four credits of coursework (18 courses) are required for the Ph.D. The department recognizes and embraces the fact that the study of religion is an interdisciplinary project that requires forms of knowledge and methodologies from different intellectual traditions. We thus encourage each student to take coursework outside the department. However, no more than one-fourth of all credits counted towards the Ph.D. in Religion will be accepted from other departments. This does not preclude a student, of course, from exceeding this credit requirement.

Department Seminar

Two department seminars are required and are usually taken during the first and second spring semesters of the student's career. The seminars will generally draw most of their required readings from the bibliographies, developed by the faculty, for the first and third Qualifying Exams, which all students are required to take (see below).

Language Training

All Ph.D. students are expected to pass reading exams in both French and German. These exams are ideally taken during the first two to three years of the program, that is, during the student's course work and before the Qualifying Exams. Students, however, can individually petition to substitute another language for one of these, provided that the substitute language can be shown to be more appropriate for the student's particular research agenda. All students are also expected to obtain proficiency in the language(s) of their primary sources for their dissertation research and scholarly career, whatever those may be. Normally, the student's dissertation advisor and committee will determine the status of this linguistic proficiency.

Apprentice Experience

Religious Studies Graduates - 4

In return for their annual stipends, all students are expected to perform modest tasks for the department and/or individual faculty. First-year students normally provide assistance to the Department Coordinator in the main office. Second-, Third-, and Fourth-Year students are expected to work no more than ten hours a week for a particular faculty member as a research assistant. In some cases, this might also involve providing teaching assistance for specific introductory courses. Faculty are expected to submit their request(s) for such assistance in the spring for the upcoming fall to the Director of Graduate Studies (Graduate Advisor), who then coordinates the assignments with the Graduate Representative. Students are strongly encouraged to approach these assistantships as real and integral parts of the mentoring process and as essential to their graduate education.

Second-Year Review

As a means to ensure the proper progress and development of each Ph.D. candidate and the overall quality of the program, the Graduate Advisor will solicit a substantive report from each second-year student in the spring semester and hold a thirty-minute oral interview with each student. This process will take place in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies. Members of the faculty with applicable expertise can be invited to participate in the review of the report. The Graduate Advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies will then report back to the faculty on their specific recommendations.

Qualifying Exam Petition

The student will petition to take a set of four Qualifying Exams. Exams 1 and 3 are standard, with fixed bibliographies. However, students must list exams 2 and 4 and explain in brief the logic for taking them, that is, how they fit into the general trajectories of the student's research agenda. This process also includes presentation of bibliographies for exams 2 and 4. These bibliographies must be developed in consultation with appropriate members of the faculty. Any special exam (such as the fourth Thematic Exam) will require the formal approval (that is, a signature) of the faculty member(s) who will be reading and grading it. Once the scheme and bibliographies for exams 2 and 4 are approved, examinations are scheduled and written by the appropriate members of the faculty (the Qualifying Exams Committee). This process usually takes places during the summer of the 3rd year or early fall of the 4th year.

Qualifying Exams

The Qualifying Exams are typically taken during the spring of the 4th year. (Students are not allowed to substitute research papers in place of exams.) The Qualifying Exams will be four in number:

  1. Methods and History of the Discipline, required of all students;
  2. one exam dedicated to a particular religious tradition;
  3. one exam dedicated to a particular methodology or theoretical orientation; and
  4. one thematic concentration exam selected by the student in consultation with her or his advisor.

Normally, the Qualifying exams are taken over a five-day period. Finally, students majoring in the history of religions [and students interested in comparative work] are strongly encouraged to take their second exam in a religious tradition that is not the subject of their dissertation in order to demonstrate a developed comparative perspective. Students may also highlight their comparative interests by addressing two traditions in Exam 2. Exam 1 will be based entirely on a standard bibliography prepared by the entire faculty. For Exam 3, bibliographies corresponding to the various methodological foundations will be prepared by the appropriate members of the faculty. For some students, it may be useful to present two methodological foundations in Exam 3. This should be worked out with the appropriate members of the faculty.

Normally, each bibliography will include a required list of readings roughly equivalent to twenty to twenty-five books. The bibliographies for exams 2 and 4 will be prepared by the student in consultation with appropriate members of the faculty. Together, the Qualifying Exams are designed to give the student a broad and solid reading foundation that he or she can draw on for the rest of his or her career.

Reading lists for exams listed in italics are available for download at the bottom of the page.
The exam structure, then, breaks down as follows:

  • Methods and History of the Discipline

  • Traditions
    African-American religions
    African religions
    Biblical religions
    New Age and New Religious Movements

  • Methodological Foundations
    Comparative Religious Ethics
    Contemplative Studies
    Gender Theory
    History of Religions
    Philosophy of Religion
    Psychology of Religion
    Religion and the Social Sciences
    Scriptural Interpretation

  • Thematic Concentration

The Qualifying Exams committee (composed of the Graduate Advisor and other appropriate members of the faculty) will review the exams within a reasonable period of time. Marked exams are returned and an oral interview (1-2 hours) is scheduled. During this interview the student responds to questions related to the written examinations. If there are deficiencies in the written exams that are not addressed adequately by the student during the oral interview, the Qualifying Exam committee can require the student to write a short essay (15-20 pages) addressing the deficient areas. The exams are given over a common two week period during the spring and fall semesters of each year.  After successfully completing the Qualifying Exams, the graduate student automatically enters Ph.D. candidacy. He or she is also awarded an M.A. at this point.

Dissertation Proposal

The dissertation proposal is typically advanced in late summer of the 4th year or early fall of the fifth year, that is, soon after the completion of the Qualifying Exams. With the consultation and cooperation of a dissertation supervisor and at least two other dissertation committee members (at least one from the department), the dissertation proposal must be submitted to the department in a standard written form (guidelines are available from the Department Coordinator).

After a discussion with the dissertation committee members open to the entire faculty, the committee will render a decision of "approval and proceed," "approval pending revisions," or "disapproval." If the latter decision is reached, the proposal may be rewritten or a new proposal advanced. The final version (with any requisite revisions) will be submitted to the Department Coordinator for filing and departmental access (all approved proposals must remain accessible to other graduate students to use for assistance in composing their own proposals).

Dissertation Defense

Once the dissertation committee (chaired by the dissertation advisor) is comfortable with the product, the student will publicly defend his or her dissertation with the full committee present. One of four assessments may be rendered: "pass,"  "pass with distinction," "fail," and "revise." If revisions are made, and approved by the full committee, the student will be eligible for the degree.