Religion and Society

Image San Juan Pilgrimage



The program in Religion and Society prepares students to study religion in its cultural, social, and political contexts. In addition to preparation in a religious tradition or geographical/historical complex students are expected to gain competence in at least one cognate field of study, e.g political theory, anthropology, critical race theory, sociology, literary theory.


It is to be expected that doctoral work at Harvard will normally take at least four years, of which the first two will be devoted to preparation for the General Examinations.

Two common doctoral seminars are required: Religion 2001, The History of the Study of Religion (offered in the first semester of study) and Religion 2002, Contemporary Conversations in the Study of Religion (offered in the fourth semester of study). In addition, a minimum of two other courses in the study of religion as such are required during the first two years of study.

Preparation for the General Examinations includes participation in the Religion and Society Colloquium for all pre-generals students. The Colloquium is restricted to doctoral students, and Masters level students who are prepared to work at an advanced level (by approval of the faculty member directing the colloquium).

Program Language Requirements are namely French and German and whatever languages are necessary for the study of the candidate's primary sources in original languages.

General Examinations

There are four General Examinations for the Ph.D. program and three for the Th.D. Program; General Examinations are given twice during the academic year, in April, and in October. Students must submit to the Standing Committee on the Study of Religion bibliographies for each of the examinations. Bibliographies will consist of primary works on which the student is prepared to be examined, and secondary works which have been useful for the student's preparation, though not of primary focus. Bibliographies must be approved by the student's faculty committee, chaired by the student's advisor, which superintends the student's doctoral program in the term before the student anticipates writing the General Examinations. The deadline for approval of bibliographies for exams to be taken is 6 months prior to the exam period. This means that first submissions of the bibliographies must occur well before the deadline in case revisions are necessary.

There are three examinations for the Th.D.: political, social and cultural theory; a field of theological studies; and a special problem area or research focus in Religion and Society. For the Ph.D., there are four examinations: theories and methods in the study of religion; an examination in one religious tradition or geographical/historical complex or in the modern west; political, social and cultural theory; and a special problem area or research focus in Religion and Society.

Recent and current dissertation topics include:


  • After Peace: How Does the Israeli Peace Camp Think about Religion, Nationalism and Justice?
  • No Closure: Catholic Practice and Boston’s Parish Shutdowns
  • Between Barth and Wittgenstein: Pragmatist Themes in Hans Frei’s ‘Postliberal’ Theology
  • The Limits of Self-Sufficiency: Anthropology and Theology in Kant
  • Religion and Public Life: John Rawls, John Courtney Murray and Domination-Reduction in Liberal Democracy
  • The Haunting Quest for What is Lost: Aesthetics and Desire in Memoirs of Religious Disenchantment
  • Limitations on the Right to Manifestation of Religion Under the European Convention on Human Right The Boundaries of Pluralism
  • Beyond the Religious Pursuit of Race: A Genealogy of Secularization within Scientific Theories of Human Difference
  • “The Politics of Pilgrimage”: Religion, Nationalism, and Ethnic Identity in the Csíksomlyó Pilgrimage, Transylvania, Romania
  • ‘Big Boston’: the impact of Community Organizing on Christian and Jewish Congregations in Boston
  • Limitations on the Right to Manifestation of Religion Under the European Convention on Human Rights: Constructions of the Public Sphere
  • “Recasting the Old Questions”: Theological Reliance and Renunciation in the Political Thought of Hannah Arendt

Barker Center, Cambridge, MA 02138
Telephone: (617) 495-5781 | Fax: (617) 496-5798 | Email: csrel@fas.harvard