I need to find a religious studies graduate program!
May 12, 2007 6:25 PM   Subscribe

I'm about a year off from Grad school, and I'm beginning to look around for good places to go. I'm a bit of a dinosaur, however, and am very interested in existential religion and am interested in studying a kind of... ontological foundationalism whereas the focus will be how man establishes and functions through his sense of being/meaning in the world.

I need some good suggestions on what schools I may want to look into. I'm not interested in a comparative or specialist program (Judaism, Christianity, etc) - I'm really looking for a Religion and Culture, or something similar to what I outlined above. I'm also not adverse to a religion and psychology (with a emphasis on the religion aspect) or general social sciences and religion.

I'm a fairly good student, and am considering Rice and Brown - but wouldn't want to try much higher than that. I'm alright with international schools, providing English is the primary language.

posted by Gideon to Education (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I assume you're planning on going into academia, right? If so, you should talk to someone in Religious Studies -- probably at your current college if there's a program there -- about what sort of fields of study are available to you. Sure, there are areas that interest you but if you choose a topic that has no possibilities for academic advancement then you're studying yourself into a hole, right (I am not in academia so I may be wrong here, professional academics feel free to smack me sillly).

If you're not planning on going into academia, don't go to grad school yet. Go out, get a job, figure out what you like to do, and then go back to grad school to do it.


the focus will be how man establishes and functions through his sense of being/meaning in the world

That sounds like philosophy to me. Probably an easier grad program to google for than "ontological foundationalism". If you're already doing philosophy now, you can take a standard philosophy grad program and then do your research on, uh, ontological foundationalism or whatever you want.

I should note, however, that I have a friend who is very, very bright, is nearing completion on his Ph.D. in philosophy, and is finding it very, very difficult to find potential employment.
posted by Deathalicious at 6:46 PM on May 12, 2007

I have to put in a plug for my alma mater. Have you thought about Duke?

When I was there (in the Divinity School, not the Department of Religion), courses were offered that looked at the relationship between psychotherapy and religion, taught by a professor at Duke Medical Center.

It might be a good match for you. You would have a university religion department that self-describes as:

If you're searching for:

* The opportunity to examine the place and role of religious traditions in human culture;
* An understanding of faiths, world views, and ways of life that command the allegiance of millions of people;
* A major with practical applications across a broad range of fields, including ministerial, law, education, and medicine;
* A path to self-awareness;

Then consider the study of Religion at Duke.

but you would be pursuing your degree at a school with a strong reputation in the fields of medicine and law. Plus, the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area is a nice place to live, and Duke can be generous with its financial aid.
posted by 4ster at 6:54 PM on May 12, 2007

Yes, academia... I should specify that I mean a masters program and not a doctorate program just yet.

As for philosophy - yes, to some extent. It's easiest to discuss the issue in philosophical language (largely continental philosophy) but it's more an intersection between religion, philosophy, psychology and sociology. Religious studies programs tend to be interdisciplinary, so it's about as good a fit as one can find.

I am using my school's resources, but unfortunately, no one seems to have a terribly clear idea.

To give you an idea of what kind of thing I'm talking about - people in this sort of field include Paul Tillich, Rollo May, Martin Buber, Viktor Frankl, Erich Fromm, etc.

Duke looks good... but it appears to be a Ph.D. program, which is not really where I'm aiming at right now. Thanks!
posted by Gideon at 7:03 PM on May 12, 2007

Actually, there is an MA program as well, but may still be not what you are looking for.
posted by 4ster at 7:18 PM on May 12, 2007

For existential philosophy in the United States, Northwestern, in Evanston, end of story. I hear that UChicago has a great seminary.
posted by phaedon at 7:26 PM on May 12, 2007

I am familiar with the folks you are interested in. I'm a sociologist. This may be way off, but it might work anyway. Reginald Bibby is a very reputable Canadian sociologist at the university of Lethbridge, looking at many of the questions you're into, and from what I hear, an approachable person. U of L has a grad program, which you may or may not be into. This doesn't matter. You might want to read an article or two of Bibby's and then email him (his preferred contact method) to ask your question about a grad program (whether at U of L or not).
posted by kch at 9:09 PM on May 12, 2007

The Philosophical Gourmet Report. Ranking of Graduate Programs in Philosophy.
posted by anticlock at 10:10 PM on May 12, 2007

Philosophy or Comparative Religion are the typical paths here.
posted by rhizome at 10:13 PM on May 12, 2007

If you're serious about grad school, start looking at professors first and schools second.
posted by msittig at 6:44 AM on May 13, 2007

You could also want Sociology, as in how, man functions as a group through religion. These people have a journal called "The Sociology of Religion." I imagine if you are interested in how societies maintain religions, and how religions maintain societies, these might be the people to check out.
posted by bilabial at 7:27 AM on May 13, 2007

Overwhelmingly, philosophy graduate programs in the US will NOT help you with this. I don't know much about religious studies, but you're right to be looking at more interdisciplinary programs. Plain philosophy departments are usually analytic, and usually not very interdisciplinary. Obviously there are exceptions to this; I'm just saying that in the present day US academy, philosophy departments don't view interdisciplinarity as a major mission.

Looking at the Philosophical Gourmet Rankings may help a bit (eg look at the breakdown of programs under Philosophy of Religion and 20th Century Continental). Philosophy of religion here usually means a focus on classical Christian theology (Catholic schools especially tend to be strong in this area, not surprisingly) -- NOT typically a focus on the more recent popular thinkers about religion. Check the pages of individual departments, and see what their faculty list as research interests. You will find it hard to study something that is not listed as the research interest of anyone in a given department. If you find a program that looks good, email the professor you're interested in working with and be specific about the people you would like to study. (don't use any made-up general terms of your own devising) Ask them if you could reasonably expect to pursue that project at their school.

If you are looking at academia, try to get a sense of what kinds of jobs are available in the specialty you're considering. The academic job market is very tight. The Chronicle of Higher Education is one place to look at, to get a sense of jobs available. It will not be possible to get a job in academia with just an MA. (probably you know this, but just in case.)

In general, don't pay money to get an advanced degree in the humanties, unless you are wealthy enough to eat the loss. You won't make back the money you spend. (ie it's not like law school or med school, where you can afford to take out huge loans because you can make $100,000+ a year once you get the degree)

Check out other questions on here about grad school to get other general advice about it.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:46 PM on May 13, 2007

My best suggestion for how to find someone to work with would be to search databases of scholarly journal articles (your university will have these online; go to the library and speak to a librarian about how to use them if you're unfamiliar) for articles about any of the people you name here, preferably written in the last 15 or 20 years. Get a few of these articles and see whose work is cited in them. This should give you a list of people to look for (ie to see what programs they teach in).
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:15 PM on May 13, 2007

You might consider Graduate Theological Union a very well respected institution for advanced theological studies (not denominational). If you visit their site you will notice they have many area of specialization. From their website:

"Located in Berkeley, California, where the diversity of cultures and faith traditions reflects our own, study at the GTU is intellectually challenging and rich in resources. As a union, we have the largest theological faculty in the United States, including renowned experts in Christian spirituality and liturgical studies as well as critical and creative scholars in 14 other areas. Students can pursue the Ph.D., Th.D., and M.A., plus two joint Ph.D. programs with the University of California, Berkeley."
Good Luck
posted by rmhsinc at 4:27 PM on May 13, 2007

I've always had a lot of respect for Michael D. Jackson, who's currently at Harvard Divinity School. Originally an ethnologist, he's written extensively—and beautifully—in pursuit of an existential approach to religion and human relationships, drawing on German critical thought and existential philosophy.
posted by Sonny Jim at 4:28 PM on May 13, 2007

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