Skip to main content
McMaster University Menu Search

Profiles of Recent Graduates

There are currently about 50 graduate students enrolled in the department, and 14 professors active in graduate supervision. The department has had enviable success in placing its Ph.D. graduates. Of the more than 40 students who have received the Ph.D. since 1996, approximately 60% have moved on to hold full-time academic positions, and another 20% to part-time teaching.

Asian Field

Stephanie Balkwill

Where has your graduate education taken you?

I am just beginning a two-year position as a Provost’s Postdoctoral Scholar in the Humanities at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Housed in the department of Religion, my position will allow me to teach three courses at USC over the next two years while doing my own research. The new research project that I will undertake at USC is a book-length study of the rise of medieval Chinese texts and cultic practices around the ideal of female-to-male sex change on the path to Buddhahood, and I will be under the supervision of Dr. Lori Meeks. This is a topic that came to me during my dissertation research and I am very excited to get started.

In pursuit of Graduate Studies

What drew you to pursue graduate work in Religious Studies at McMaster in particular?

I chose to complete my PhD at McMaster because I was drawn to both the expertise of the faculty as well as the supportive community vibe that the department generates. I spent more than half of my time at McMaster off campus in China, Taiwan, Japan, India, Thailand, and a bunch of other places – the support that I received from my mentors, committee members, the department administrators, and my fellow students made this possible, and for that I am very grateful. Also, as our department is well-known both at home and abroad, many of the people that I met during my studies were supportive of my research due to my McMaster affiliation. The department has a very good track record in attracting outside funding for its students, and I benefitted from this funding throughout all my travels and research during the entire six years of my PhD.

Is there one aspect of the program or of graduate student life in general that stands out for you?

The choice to do a PhD is more of a life choice than it is a simple career choice, and I could not be happier with having chosen the Department of Religious Studies at McMaster. It is no stretch to say that many of my closest friends began as my colleagues in the Religious Studies department at McMaster and that my time spent in the department was rich in intellectual and personal growth. As I move forward in my professional life, many of these McMaster colleagues have now become colleagues in academia and we remain close despite the distances between our current institutions.

Any advice to incoming or prospective students?

My advice to incoming students is to dream big! Apply for everything, go everywhere, think a lot, and be proud of what you create! Make your studies your own and enjoy the lifestyle that graduate education can provide.

Read more about Stephanie  in the article "Rediscovering the Women of Northern Wei with Stephanie Balkwill" on Buddhist Door Global

Biblical Field

Andrew Perrin

Where has your graduate education taken you?

After completing a two year SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellowship I was recently appointed to Assistant Professor of Religious Studies and Co-Director of the Dead Sea Scrolls Institute at Trinity Western University. I am writing a volume on the Qumran Aramaic texts for the Eerdmans Commentaries on the Dead Sea Scrolls series. I teach biblical Hebrew, Old Testament, and Dead Sea Scrolls.

In Pursuit of Graduate Studies

What drew you to pursue graduate work in Religious Studies at McMaster in particular?

The reputation of individual faculty members as research leaders in their field made the choice to study at McMaster easy. When considering prospects for graduate or doctoral work, studying under scholars whose work is not only well-established but moving in fresh directions is essential. Added to this, the Department of Religious Studies at McMaster is known for its collegiality and community among students and faculty. At a more practical level, the impressive funding available through the department and other agencies meant that I could focus on research without the burden of loans or distraction of part-time work.

How did your experience in our program prepare you for the work you are doing now?

The emphases in biblical studies and program structure of the PhD in Religious Studies are perfect. The blend of specialized coursework, relevant comprehensive exams, and two-years of dissertation work enabled me to obtain a position that values intensive research but also demands teaching a host of courses in biblical languages and literature. In terms of professional development, the tandem focus on research excellence and pedagogical preparedness also indicates the Department’s commitment to producing well-rounded scholar-teachers.

Is there one aspect of the program or of graduate student life in general that stands out for you?

Working closely with faculty as a TA or RA was hugely impactful for my own personal and professional growth. I found faculty to be genuinely interested in developing meaningful relationships with their students that extended beyond the classroom and now into my years as an alum. Of course, hosting the odd Aramaic language seminar at the Phoenix Pub is also a huge benefit!

Any advice to incoming or prospective students?

Work on campus, be present for events, and seek out opportunities to connect with your fellow students and professors. Ideally, these are relationships that will last for years to come.

Western Field

Joseph Wiebe

Where has your graduate education taken you?

I am currently an Assistant Professor of Religion and Ecology at the University of Alberta Augustana. After writing my dissertation on the religious moral imagination of Wendell Berry, my ongoing research is on the ways Mennonite and Métis relationships to the land in Manitoba shaped their religious identities within decidedly different legal contexts.

In Pursuit of Graduate Studies

What drew you to pursue graduate work in Religious Studies at McMaster in particular?

The reason I came to McMaster for my PhD was to study with Travis Kroeker. I wanted to work with someone who was both exacting and committed to his students’ success as well as had a high profile and reputation in religious ethics.

How did your experience in our program prepare you for the work you are doing now?

The Dean at Augustana told me that the two things that stood out about my application were the teaching experience I had at McMaster as well as the fact that my education had been broadened—rather than focused narrowly—by the interdisciplinarity of the Religious Studies program. 

Is there one aspect of the program or of graduate student life in general that stands out for you?

The camaraderie of the department, both with faculty and other grad students, stand out in my memory of McMaster. Both the social experience and intellectual dialogue in a variety of settings will always remain the formative moments of those years.

Any advice to incoming or prospective students?

My advice to any prospective or incoming student would be to visit the campus and meet with as many people—faculty, staff, and students—as possible. The conviviality of the academic community will be immediately apparent.