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

Transregional & Comparative Studies in Religion

General Information
Major Fields
Preparation for Admission
Program Requirements
Comprehensive Examinations

General Information

This specialization allows students to focus on research topics that either compare religious traditions or trace the flow of people, ideas, things, or practices across geographical regions. The Program in Transregional and Comparative Studies of Religion provides a course of study for students who want to frame their work primarily in terms of themes or theories rather than traditions or regions. There will be a strong emphasis on mastery of the requisite languages and on acquiring appropriate research methodologies. Graduates of this concentration will normally have fulfilled the requirements of one of the other (geographical) areas of concentration as well. They will have knowledge of the relevant theories and methodological approaches as well as an understanding of the historical and cultural contexts in which their studies are embedded. They will be prepared for positions defined both by geographical region and thematic focus (e.g., religion in South Asia or religion and healing).

Major Fields

Major Field to be determined according to student's academic interests in consulation with area faculty.

Preparation for Admission

Applicants should have a strong academic record in one of the standard disciplines of the Humanities or Social Sciences. Specialized coursework in the study of contemporary religions, research methods, ritual, ethics, religion and politics, and/or comparative studies are strongly encouraged. The command of modern languages is essential, and applicants should not expect to be ready to begin doctoral level of study without significant mastery of languages appropriate to their research plans. Students should have advanced level of preparation in at least one of their primary research languages and, at minimum, beginning levels of in other languages necessary to complete their research. In addition, applicants should ideally have reading competency in one modern scholarly language (such as German, French, Japanese, Chinese, depending upon the topic of research) upon entering the program. Prospective students will often find that prior post-graduate studies in one or more of these specialized areas is beneficial for successful application and progress toward doctoral candidacy.

Program Requirements 

The program in Transregional and Comparative Studies (TCSR) of Religion is designed to allow considerable flexibility to meet the needs of specific student research interests. Upon entrance into the program, students will work closely with a faculty advisor to determine an appropriate course of study. In general, the following requirements are expected of all students: 

Core readings course(s): All students will be required to take an appropriate core readings course for the region or regions in which they intend to complete their studies. Thus, for example, a student comparing Buddhism and Shinto would be expected to take R S 393C Core Readings on Religion in Asia. Comparative and transregional studies may require taking more than one core readings course. Selection of appropriate courses will be made in consultation with faculty advisor.

R S 383C. Topics in Comparative Religion. Advanced treatment of selected problems, topics, or themes concerning comparative approaches to the study of religion.

R S 383T. Topics in Theoretical Approaches to the Study of Religion. Advanced treatment of selected problems, topics, or themes concerning theoretical approaches to the study of religion. 

Students will take additional courses, including primary language and research seminars, chosen in consultation with their faculty advisor, in preparation for the qualifying exams listed below. Depending upon their research approach, students will also be required to take an appropriate research methodology course, such as a course in ethnographic methods. 

Qualifying Examinations 

Ph.D. candidates in Religious Studies are required to pass a set of qualifying examinations. The exams will consist of four written essays 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 fields for TCSR are:

  • Major Field: two essays will be written in selected areas of specialization determined in consultation with faculty
  • Supporting Field: a secondary area of specialization chosen from among the items determined in consultation with faculty
  • Dissertation Field: typically the special area(s) of research within the concentration field related to the development of a dissertation topic


TCSR students must demonstrate competence in the following languages:

Primary languages necessary to conduct research—this is flexible. For example, if the student is conducting a comparison between Japanese and Chinese religious practices, command of both Japanese and Chinese will be necessary. However, if a student is only focused on comparing Japanese religions, only Japanese will be required. 

Secondary/scholarly languages: (two required)
German, French, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, etc. 
This requirement is defined broadly and may include overlap between the primary language and secondary language.  Thus, if a student is doing a comparison of French and Chinese Islam, command of French can count for both primary and secondary languages.  Students must petition the GSC to have a language count for both primary and secondary language status.

Faculty advisors will consult with entering students about language preparation and placement.

Core Faculty

Oliver Freiberger, Associate Professor
Ph.D., Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Germany (Indology)
Interests: Indian Buddhism / asceticism / interactions between religions in pre-modern South Asia / comparison in the study of religion

John W. Traphagan, Associate Professor
Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh
Interests: Japanese religions / ritual, religion and health/illness / comparative religious ethics / biomedical ethics / ethnographic methods in study of religion / globalization

Affiliated Faculty

Many faculty throughout the university have interests that intersect with the transregional and comparative area of study. Specific faculty will be identified in relation to the research interests of the student.  

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