Doctor of Philosophy in Religious Studies

Drawing on the combined resources of the Department of Religion and Culture at Wilfrid Laurier University and the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Waterloo, the Laurier-Waterloo PhD in religious studies offers a concentration in the religious diversity of North America.

Admission Requirements

Only graduates of accredited universities and colleges are eligible for admission. Students apply to the joint program, designating one of the two universities as the preferred home institution. A student may be offered admission to the partner institution if the joint committee deems this choice more appropriate because of the student's interests or the availability of suitable supervisors. Applications are considered by the joint committee, and recommendations for admission or rejection are made by the director to the dean of graduate studies at the proposed home university. Students are governed by the rules of the university in which they are registered, and their degree is granted by that same university; however, students may use faculty and library resources at both universities.

To be admitted to the program a student must have an MA (or its equivalent) in religious studies or a closely allied field. If the MA is in an allied field, the candidate must have a minimum of 10 one-term (half-credit) courses, or their equivalent, in the academic study of religion. An applicant must have achieved an A- or better average in the MA. Students lacking the necessary qualifications may be required to complete additional qualifying work to establish academic eligibility to apply for the PhD program. Students allowed to transfer from other doctoral programs must meet all of the degree requirements (or their equivalent, as determined by the joint committee); normally, credit for doctoral level work done elsewhere is not transferable.

Students' supervisory committees normally consist of three members, one of whom is the supervisor. Such committees are appointed as soon as possible after admission to the program and consultation with the student. Requests for changes in supervisory committee membership must be addressed to the director and decided upon by the joint PhD committee.

Applicants must submit an entrance brief. Briefs become part of a student's file. The brief is used along with other application data such as transcripts as the basis of the student's official assessment. The assessment, written by the faculty, determines the details (courses, languages, etc.) of each student's degree requirements.

Program Requirements

The minimum degree requirements for the Laurier-Waterloo PhD in religious studies are as follows:

Course Requirements

The degree requires a minimum of four courses beyond the MA. Students are required to take RE700 - Religious Diversity in North America and RE710 - Approaches to the Study of Religion in North America, both doctoral-level research seminars, as well as two electives. Depending on a student's goals and admission assessment, additional course work may be required. Doctoral students must achieve at least a B in each course.

Language Requirement

Students must demonstrate knowledge of a second language relevant to the field and/or the dissertation. Whether this knowledge is reading or speaking knowledge (or both) depends on the nature of the proposed research. If the topic of the dissertation makes knowledge of a third language essential, the candidate must demonstrate competence in this language as well. Students must demonstrate language competency by the end of their third full year in the program.


The proposal is a written document outlining the dissertation project. The proposal must be formally accepted by both the student's supervisory committee and the joint PhD committee before proceeding to the comprehensive examinations and dissertation project. Subsequent, substantive changes in the proposal must be approved by the supervisory committee and the program director.

Comprehensive Examinations

There are two examinations, each based on a bibliography constructed by faculty in consultation with the student. The purpose of the general exam is to ensure breadth and to assess competence in the religious diversity of North America and in religious studies. The purpose of the field exam is to focus an area of specialization containing the dissertation project. The general exam is conducted by the joint committee; whereas the field exam is conducted by the student's supervisory committee. A candidate has only two opportunities to complete each of the examinations successfully. These examinations should take place by the end of the candidate's second year in the doctoral program. To be permitted to take the examinations at a later time, a candidate must petition the director for an extension. Extensions are normally granted only once and then, only for one term.

Dissertation Project

The dissertation project consists of three required, closely related parts: the dissertation, the public presentation, and the dissertation defense. Students must pass all three. Evaluations, carried out by the supervisory committee, take into consideration the mastery of both style and content.

  1. The doctoral dissertation is an piece of research (approximately 50,000-90,000 words in length) aimed at making an original contribution to the study of religion. The dissertation must be crafted for publication as a book, although actual publication is not a degree requirement. This way of fulfilling the dissertation requirement is a distinctive feature of the program, and guidelines are available from the director.
  2. The public presentation is a second distinctive feature of the Laurier-Waterloo PhD in religious studies. The presentation must be accessible to the public, open to questioning and debate, and subject to faculty evaluation. This presentation may take various formats and must demonstrate the candidate's ability to make the results of research publicly intelligible and engaging for a diverse, educated but non-specialist audience. The public presentation is held in a venue and at a time different from that of the dissertation defense. Holding it in an off-campus location is preferable. Evaluation is on a pass/fail basis, and a pass is required to complete the degree. Evaluation of such presentations is by the supervisory committee on the basis of a set of criteria available from the program director. A candidate who fails may attempt the presentation only one additional time.
  3. The dissertation defense, which is distinct from the public presentation, is an oral review and evaluation of the dissertation. Prior to the defense, an examining committee is established. The regulations and procedures at the university in which the student is registered will govern both the dissertation and the examination formats.

Residence Requirements

The PhD is designed to take four years for completion. Students must enroll in the program full-time, be available for classes and regular on-campus consultation for at least the first two calendar years, and complete a minimum of six terms beyond the MA.

Students are expected to proceed through the program in a timely fashion. Normally, students must complete the course work and finish their proposal in the first year; comprehensive exams in the second year; and the dissertation project in the third and fourth years. The responsibilities of the supervisor and the supervisory committee notwithstanding, the candidate is responsible for ensuring that program requirements and deadlines are met in a timely fashion.