Students are required to take twelve courses (in addition to any language courses), and this is typically done during the first two years of study. Student must earn a grade of Honors in two graduate courses, a requirement set by the Graduate School.

The expectation is that students will take at least five of their twelve courses with faculty in Religious Studies. These five may include the required doctoral seminar in the study of religion, RLST 510. In addition, students are encouraged to study with affiliated faculty in Religion and Modernity, as well as to explore other fields within the Department of Religious Studies and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Students in the early years of the program are advised by all of the faculty members relevant to their program of study. The Assistant Director of Graduate Studies (ADGS) serves as nominal advisor for purposes of overseeing schedules and requirements. (For students allied with more than one subfield, either ADGS may serve in this capacity.) Students otherwise bring together the group of faculty that makes sense for their interests. Yearly advising meetings with such groups provide opportunities to brainstorm. It can be useful to look ahead to who might serve as the dissertation advisor, but this determination officially happens after the qualifying examinations.

In preparation for the qualifying examinations, students completing coursework will, before the end of the second year:

I: Constitute their examination committee of three faculty members. One of the three committee members will serve as chair. The exam committee need not anticipate the makeup of the dissertation committee.

II: Attend an advising meeting with the exam committee, the ADGS, and any other faculty who might be relevant at this stage, at which the focus is exams and any questions about program and development.

III: Develop exam bibliographies in three areas, each of which will be supervised by one of the three faculty members on the exam committee. The number of works on each list will typically be thirty to sixty.