Fields of Study

American Religious History

The course of study in American religious history is designed to prepare Ph.D. candidates for professional careers in Religious Studies. Students are expected to work in four different fields: religion in the Americas from pre-contact to 1865; religion in the Americas from 1865 to the present; and two additional fields. Those two additional fields could overlap with one of the other Fields of Study in the Department of Religious Studies, or they could be designed in concert with other programs or departments at Yale. The curriculum is designed to serve student intellectual needs through a combination of flexibility and documentary concentration and is worked out with each student individually.


Ancient Christianity

The Ph.D. program in Ancient Christianity prepares students for a career of research and teaching in the history of ancient Christianity, focusing on the first seven centuries. Students are trained in more than one approach—social and cultural history, theology, literature, material culture. Both historical method and theory are studied, as are the appropriate languages and technical skills, including opportunities for archeological fieldwork. Some requirements substantially overlap with those in the field of New Testament. In addition to the history of Christianity in late antiquity, graduating students will also be prepared to teach New Testament and/or late Roman history.


Asian Religions

The goal of the program is to train scholars and teachers of Asian religions with a primary competence in one tradition and geographical focus and a strong secondary competence in another Asian religion and geographical focus.

Students will do their thesis work in one area, while also taking courses in the second area. Thus a student doing thesis work on Chinese or Japanese Buddhism is expected to take courses on Indian and/or Tibetan religions, and a student concentrating on India will do some advanced course work on East Asian Buddhism. The intention is to allow students to have a broad acquaintance with developments in the study of Asian religions in general in addition to the more in-depth work required for research.


Islamic Studies

Students in Islamic Studies are expected to develop both a comprehensive knowledge of Islamic intellectual history and religious thought, as well as mastery of a field of specialization and the requisite tools for critical scholarship on Islam. They are expected to demonstrate competence in Islamic religious history (focusing on the development of Islamic civilization, law, society and institutions in the period from the origins of Islam to 1500 CE); Islamic religious thought (focusing on Islamic philosophy, theology, Sufism and Shi’ism); Islamic scriptures and tradition (focusing on the composition, redaction and interpretation of Qur’an and Hadith); and modern and contemporary Islam (focusing on 16th to 21st century developments in the Arab Middle East, the Turco-Iranian world, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Africa and, most recently, Europe and America). Frank Griffel is responsible for modern and contemporary Islam, Gerhard Bowering for Islamic religious history, and thought as well as Qur’an and Hadith. Arabic language and literature, as well as Persian and Turkish, are taught in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. Modern Iranian history and Islamic political thought are taught respectively in the Department of History and Political Science.


Judaic Studies

The Program in Judaic Studies offers an interdisciplinary approach to the critical study of the religion, history, literature, languages, and material culture of the Jews from ancient to modern times. Jewish society, texts, ideologies, and institutions are studied in comparative historical perspective in relation to the surrounding societies and cultures.

An interdepartmental undergraduate major in Judaic Studies is available within the Judaic Studies Program, either as a single or double major.

Yale College undergraduates interested in the Judaic Studies major should consult with the Director of Undergraduate Studies as soon as possible.

At the graduate level, particular emphasis is placed on sharpening the linguistic, textual, and methodological tools necessary for advanced research and teaching. Students are encouraged to fulfill a part of their graduate training in Israel. The graduate program is divided into the following sub-fields of study: History and Literature of Ancient Judaism/Jewish History (biblical, Second Temple and Rabbinic); Medieval and Early Modern Jewish History; Modern Jewish History (Eastern and Western European and American); Jewish Philosophy/Thought; Hebrew Literature. Other fields may be proposed depending on student qualifications and faculty strengths. Graduate studies in ancient Judaism/ancient Jewish history are generally pursued within the Religious Studies Department; graduate studies in medieval, early modern, and modern Jewish history can be pursued either within the Religious Studies Department or the History Department; graduate studies in Jewish Philosophy/Thought, can be pursued either within the Religious Studies Department or the Philosophy Department; graduate studies in Hebrew Literature can be pursued within the Comparative Literature Department. Other relevant Ph.D. programs are offered at Yale in Hebrew Bible/Old Testament (Religious Studies), and American Religious History (Religious Studies). A Masters of Arts in Religion (MAR) in Hebrew Bible and in Judaism of the Second Temple and Rabbinic periods is offered through the Yale Divinity School. Northwest Semitic Languages, including Hebrew and Aramaic, are taught in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Religious Studies and the Yale Divinity School.


New Testament

The program prepares students to become scholars and teachers in the exegesis and interpretation of the New Testament. The fundamental skills required are historical and linguistic, for the aim of New Testament studies is to understand the forms and functions of the earliest Christian writings in their historical contexts including both the culture of the Roman Empire and the varieties of Judaism within that culture and through them to understand the character, practices, and beliefs of the earliest Christian communities. At the same time, students explore various interpretive strategies, including theological, social-historical, literary, and rhetorical inquiries.


Old Testament/Hebrew Bible

The program is designed for students who wish to prepare for teaching and research in the literature, history and religion, of ancient Israel from its origins through the Second Temple Period. Students normally do work in all of these areas before specializing in one of them and are also expected to do a significant amount of advanced work in Biblical Hebrew and cognate languages. While students are encouraged to take advantage of Yale’s resources in other relevant fields, such as Judaic Studies, New Testament, Comparative Literature, and Anthropology, the study of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible remains the focus of the program. Students wishing to concentrate solely on the study of the Hebrew language should investigate doctoral programs in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.


Philosophy of Religion

The PhD program in the Philosophy of Religion is designed to prepare students for a career of research and teaching in both the Philosophy of Religion as narrowly conceived, and more broadly in Philosophical Theology. The emphasis is upon the deployment of philosophical disciplines, and it is essential that candidates for the degree have a basic training in philosophy, that is, the equivalent of a major in the subject. Students will be required to work in both the ‘analytic’ and the continental European styles of philosophy, and will be expected to acquire a knowledge of the history of the subject from its classical Greek origins to the present day. In addition, reflection upon conceptual and methodological issues in the study of religion will form an important part of this program.


Religion and Modernity

Religion and Modernity is a multidisciplinary program of study whose aim is to combine conceptual and historical work in the study of its principal terms. Religion and modernity are each concepts, histories, classifying terms, and social systems. They refer to elements of the world while also serving as mobile constructs for revision and critique. Students in this program may undertake a wide range of projects on materials from around the globe, focusing for example on literary or philosophical corpora, social institutions, collectives, or networks of objects. Such projects will: 1) investigate some aspect of religion and modernity taken individually as well as together and 2) draw on both conceptual and historical modes of inquiry.  Coursework and examinations will traverse areas such as philosophy, theology, and their histories, modern history and literature, political, cultural, and social theory, the history of art, and the anthropology and history of religions. The doctoral curriculum in Religion and Modernity is designed to prepare students for academic careers in the study of religion and related fields. A student’s own interests and expertise will determine how to position her or his research in light of existing units of study in the humanities and social sciences. The aim of this field, however, is also to bring to light new divisions, connections, and possibilities, and thereby to equip students to become scholars who remake as well as respond to existing intellectual and social worlds.


Religious Ethics

Ph.D. students in Ethics are expected to demonstrate competence with a range of literature, thinkers, and problems in three major areas: theological ethics (in the Christian tradition, in another religious tradition whenever feasible, and in comparative religious ethics); philosophical ethics (the history of western moral philosophy and either Franco-German existentialism and phenomenology or Anglo-American moral philosophy); and social ethics (religious social teachings, topics in relevant political, legal, and economic thought, and an area of contemporary concern, such as selected problems in medical ethics). (Students in Ethics often take courses in the Department of Philosophy, in the Law SchoolDivinity School and the Bio Ethics Center and in other departments and schools according to their interests.)



Students in Theology are expected to exhibit control of a range of literature, thinkers, and problems in three different areas, systematic theology, history of Christian doctrine, and one of the following: philosophy of religion/philosophical theology, history of philosophy in the West, or the history of religious thought in a tradition other than Christianity.