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Martha G. Newman, Chair BUR 529, Mailcode A3700, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-232-7737

Religion in the Americas

General Information
Major Fields
Preparation for Admission
Program Requirements
Qualifying Exams

General Information

This concentration trains students in the religious histories of the Americas in order to prepare them for professional careers in Religious Studies. The curriculum is designed to serve a variety of student intellectual interests and research methodologies. Students are expected to pursue an interdisciplinary research program within one of the geographical fields of Latin America and the Caribbean or North America, develop teaching competency in the other geographical field, and work within two additional historical and/or theoretical fields, one of which may be outside of Religious Studies. 

Major Fields

  • Religion in Latin America and the Caribbean
  • Religion in North America

Preparation for Admission

Applicants should have a strong academic record in one of the disciplines of the Humanities, Arts, or Social Sciences, and some prior study at the undergraduate or graduate level in one of the specializations listed above is preferred. Also preferred is some prior training in at least one of the major research languages, and all students in the concentration will gain competency in Spanish or Portuguese, as well as skill in other languages necessary for research and teaching in the student’s area of specialization. 

Program Requirements 

In addition to the general program requirements, students in Religion in the Americas will complete the following courses:

R S 391L. Approaches to the Study of Latin American Religion

An introduction to the history of scholarship about religion in Latin America and the Caribbean.

R S 391N. Approaches to the Study of U.S. Religion

An introduction to the history of scholarship about religion in the U.S., including recent research.

Students will take additional courses, including research seminars, chosen in consultation with their faculty advisor, in preparation for the qualifying exams listed below.

Qualifying Examinations 

Ph.D. candidates in Religious Studies are required to pass a set of qualifying examinations. The exams will be in four fields and will consist of written essays for each field and an oral defense of the essays. Students will consult closely with area faculty in developing areas of specialization and fulfilling comprehensive examination requirements. The four exam fields for Religion in the Americas are:

1. Major field: An exam on the study of religion in the student’s primary geographical concentration, either North America or Latin America and the Caribbean.

2. Supporting field: An exam on the study of religion in the student’s secondary focus in the Americas, either North America or Latin America and the Caribbean.

3. Thematic Field: An exam that considers one theme in the study of religion. That theme will be relevant to the student’s primary research and teaching interests and will be selected in consultation with the advisor. Many themes are possible, including material culture, ritual, gender, violence, or missions, and both narrower case studies and broader theoretical or comparative studies might be included on the reading list for this exam.

4. Dissertation Field: An exam that focuses on what the student needs to know to write the proposed dissertation. This might include both readings about what is being studied (e.g., Guatemalan Protestantism, Brazilian new religions, or U.S. Catholicism) and how it is being studied (e.g., participant observation, archeology, or archival research).


Students must demonstrate competence in two languages: either Spanish or Portuguese, as well as one other modern research language. This expectation can be adjusted with faculty approval if students’ dissertation research or subfield specialization requires any other indigenous language of the Americas or another modern language of Europe, Africa, or Asia. Faculty advisors will consult with entering students about language preparation.

Area Faculty

Virginia Garrard-Burnett, Professor and Assocaite Chair of History
Ph.D., Tulane University

Areas: Religion in Latin America / religion and human rights/ Protestantism and missionaries / religion and politics in Latin America

Jennifer Graber, Associate Professor of Religious Studies

Ph.D., Duke University
Areas: Religion in North America/religion in the nineteenth-century U.S./religion and violence/ Native American religions/missionaries/prisons

Chad Seales, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies

Ph.D., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Areas: Religion in North America / evangelicalism / secularism / corporatism / industrialization / theory and method in the study of religion

Affiliated Faculty

Robert H. Abzug, Oliver H. Radkey Regents Professor of History
; Professor of American Studies
Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley

Areas: Religion in the U.S. / social reform and religious life in antebellum America / America and the Holocaust / the interpenetration of religion and psychology in modern American culture

Matthew J. Butler, Associate Professor of History

Ph.D., University of Bristol

Areas: Religion in Latin America / Post-revolutionary Mexico / Cristero Rebellion / Church and State / Latin American Catholicism

Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, Alice Drysdale Sheffield Professor of History
Ph.D., University of Wisconsin

Areas: Religion in the Atlantic World / Early Modern Atlantic history / Colonial Spanish and British America

David Stuart, Linda and David Schele Professor of Mesoamerican Art and Writing (Department of Art and Art History)

Ph.D., Vanderbilt University
Areas: Religion in Mesoamerica / Ancient Maya religion and culture

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