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Master of Arts in Religious Studies

One of the first graduate programs in Religious Studies in Canada (established in 1964), McMaster University has been a leading center for the scholarly study of religion for more than four decades. The Department has three graduate fields of study (Asian, Biblical and Western) and research is conducted in a range of topics and traditions, time periods and cultures, employing a wide variety of approaches: textual, ethnographic, historical, philosophical, theological, philological. While the faculty and areas of research expertise have changed somewhat over the years, the Department’s commitment to the open, critical, and multidisciplinary study of religion—past and present, East and West, theoretical and practical—remains passionate and strong.

M.A.Master of Arts in Religious Studies

One of the first graduate programs in Religious Studies in Canada (established in 1964), McMaster University has been a leading center for the scholarly study of religion for more than four decades. The Department has three graduate fields of study (Asian, Biblical and Western) and research is conducted in a range of topics and traditions, time periods and cultures, employing a wide variety of approaches: textual, ethnographic, historical, philosophical, theological, philological. While the faculty and areas of research expertise have changed somewhat over the years, the Department’s commitment to the open, critical, and multidisciplinary study of religion—past and present, East and West, theoretical and practical—remains passionate and strong.

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.

Learn more about the specific fields of study in our Graduate Programs

 

For the M.A. degree students are required to:

Complete the Required Coursework

The normal procedure for students working toward the M.A. degree is to take seven graduate-level half courses:

  • four half courses in the major area of study,
  • two half courses in the minor area of study, and
  • R.S. 701
  • Four of these half courses must be in Religious Studies; two half courses may be taken outside the department in a relevant area of study. To receive the M.A. degree, the student must have at least B- standing in these courses.
  • Demonstrate a reading knowledge of at least one foreign language (language requirements specific to the various fields are described below).

The minimum language requirement for the M.A. is a demonstrated ability in the language other English which is most likely to be of assistance in the student’s research.  Responsibility for the choice of the language(s) to be examined lies with the advisory/supervisory committee which acts in accordance with individual area requirements, where such exist. In some cases, additional languages or more advanced levels of language competence may be required by the advisory/supervisory committee.

The language requirement(s) should be met in one of the following ways:

  • Where a student has already done course work in the relevant language at the university level, a grade of B in a full year (six unit) second level university course (understood as equivalent to the relevant McMaster course) taken within the last five years is generally considered adequate for fulfilling the requirement in the language.
  • Language exams in French and German are set by the department and normally graded by readers in the French and German departments. B- is the minimum passing grade. French and German exams are normally taken at three set times during the year (see Calendar of Dates).
  • When the university offers facilities for examination (e.g., Latin, Spanish), the passing of the relevant examination will fulfill the requirement.
  • Where languages are proposed for which no university offerings are available, the advisory/supervisory committee is responsible for arranging for the examination of the language.
  • Where the language chosen is the student's native language, and his or her knowledge of that language is of university level, the language requirement in that language may be understood as having been fulfilled.
  • Final judgment on fulfillment of the minimum language requirements rests with the student's advisory committee, whose decisions are subject to departmental approval.
  • Summer language courses may be offered from year to year in French or German. These courses are designed for graduate students or students intending to enter graduate programs and are offered with special permission from the Department of Linguistics and Languages. Credit obtained in these courses may be accepted in fulfillment of the second language reading requirement.

Language Requirements: Asian Field

Buddhism and East Asian Religions:

  • For M.A. students whose theses involve thematic or comparative studies, two years' study of Sanskrit or Japanese or Chinese is normally required.
  • Further language competence may be required by the supervisory committee where the thesis topic warrants it.

Language Requirements: Biblical Field

Early Judaism:

  • M.A. students must complete language requirements in Hebrew and a modern language, usually French or German.

Early Christianity:

  • M.A. students must complete language requirements in Greek and a modern language, usually French or German

Language Requirements: Western Field  

  • M.A. students must complete requirements in the language most likely to be of assistance in the student's research.

Do a thesis or a project showing some measure of independent competence in dealing with a limited but significant question.

A thesis deals with a specific topic of research and includes the scholarly presentation of the results. It should show an ability to deal with primary material on a limited problem. Text-critical studies or translation with commentary may also be proposed.

A project normally covers broad areas of learning. It is designed to permit students to move into new areas, to read large and unfamiliar bodies of texts, and to deal comprehensively with large questions.

The basic difference between the two kinds of written documents is that a thesis attempts to arrive at some conclusion and to justify that conclusion with appropriate evidence. A project report, on the other hand, is not argumentative but informative. It recounts the research done by the student. Argument may fill the account, but it is argument merely reported on. Whereas a thesis argues for the certain or probably truth of a conclusion, a project report narrates what the anticipations of the inquiry were and whether they were realized or disappointed; what the strategy of the research was an what changes, if any, it underwent; finally, what the results were, positive and negative.

Areas in which a candidate may conduct thesis and project research are limited by available faculty and library resources. Candidates should not assume that they may write on any subject in the whole field of religious studies.

Where the thesis or the project route is agreed upon, the advisory committee helps the student to settle on a topic. The student writes a formal proposal, one or two pages in length, with a brief bibliography.

The proposal is submitted first to the student's committee for the approval and signature of each member. The committee chair submits the proposal to the Graduate Affairs Committee for approval, together with a recommendation for the supervisory committee. The supervisory committee may or may not be the same as the advisory committee.

The Graduate Affairs Chair will notify the student and the chair of the newly formed supervisory committee of the decision. The approval of the proposal and the composition of the supervisory committee will be reported for information at the next regular Department Meeting.

A completed thesis must be examined by a committee of not fewer than three members (including the supervisor). When the supervisory committee consists of only two members, a third member is appointed by the department chair. The thesis is defended by the candidate in an oral examination before this committee. Both the written thesis and its oral defence must be deemed satisfactory. Copies of the thesis must be filed in the university and departmental libraries.

A completed project must be examined by at least two faculty members appointed by the area. The examination is oral or written or both. On this examination, the student is expected to be able to give a clear account of the project research, and to present evidence of its scope and significance. Project reports are kept in the departmental library.

Breadth Requirements

  • All incoming students should have completed the equivalent of six units (one full year course) of undergraduate work in Asian religions.  Students who do not meet this requirement will be expected to fulfill their breadth requirement by taking six units of undergraduate courses, or by writing two Breadth Requirement examinations, or by taking a three unit undergraduate course and writing one Breadth Requirement examination.
  • All incoming students should have competed the equivalent of six units (one full year course) of undergraduate work in Western religions.  Students who do not meet this requirement will be expected to fulfill their breadth requirement by taking six units of undergraduate courses, or by writing two Breadth Requirement examinations, or by taking a three unit undergraduate course and writing one Breadth Requirement examination.
  • The normal minimum requirement for admission to M.A. study is graduation with B+ standing (in the final two years) in an Honours programme or equivalent in Religious Studies, or in a related discipline with significant emphasis on the study of religion. Related disciplines include Anthropology, Sociology, History, Philosophy, Theology, Political Science, Classics, and Near Eastern, South Asian, and East Asian studies. Graduates with preparation in related fields may be required to take a certain amount of undergraduate work in Religious Studies.
  • Admission is competitive; applicants who meet minimum requirements are not guaranteed admission.
  • All applications for admission must be completed online.  Please visit the School of Graduate Studies website for detailed "HOW TO APPLY" information:

https://graduate.mcmaster.ca/academic-services/how-apply

The following items are required before your online application will be considered complete:

  • Statement of Interest.  Please include in your statement of interest (500-700 words) a description of your background and proficiency in foreign languages, detailing the courses you have taken, the levels, and the grades that you received for them.
  • Two academic references
  • Official Transcripts
  • English Language Proficiency
  • Writing Sample (an essay or thesis chapter)

RS 701 / Issues in the Study of Religion

SGS 101 / Academic Research Integrity and Ethics

SGS 201 / Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)

Graduate Program Fields of Study the School of Graduate Studies Graduate Forms Graduate Student Life Graduate Resources Apply Now
For more information:
Department of Religious Studies
UH 105
905-525-9140 ext. 23399
relstud@mcmaster.ca
Length:
2 years
Required Credential:
Graduation with B+ standing (in the final two years) in an Honours programme or equivalent in Religious Studies, or in a related discipline with significant emphasis on the study of religion
Program Type:
Thesis, Project Based
Program Options:
Full-time, Part-time
Typical Entry:
September
Current Deadline:
December 15