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

Religion in Asia

General Information
Major Fields
Preparation for Admission
Program Requirements
Qualifying Exams

General Information

Students within this concentration develop their primary expertise either in religions of South Asia (with an emphasis on the pre-modern period) or in religions of contemporary Japan. Students are also expected to take courses in the other area and to develop a general knowledge about Asian religions. Rather than focusing on particular religious traditions in isolation (Hinduism, Buddhism, Shinto, or the like) students in both areas study various religious expressions in particular cultural and historical contexts, their interactions and conflicts, and their political and economic backgrounds. Students must acquire the language skills needed for reading primary sources or conducting field work in their individual field of expertise. Graduates will be able to relate their own area of interest to the study of religion in general, and will be trained to apply the methods and theories of Religious Studies. They will be well-prepared for academic positions focusing on Asian religions in Religious Studies departments.

Major Fields

  • Religion in South Asia
  • Religion in Contemporary Japan

Preparation for Admission

Applicants should have a B.A. or M.A. degree in Religious Studies or a related area studies program such as South Asian Studies or Japanese Studies. Previous coursework on Asian religions, cultures, literature, and history provides a solid grounding for advanced study. Languages are an essential tool of this concentration, and applicants should not expect to be ready to begin doctoral level of study without significant mastery of their primary research language. Ideally an applicant has already studied the respective language before joining the program. 

Program Requirements 

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

R S 393C. Core Readings on Religion in Asia
This course discusses key scholarly works on and major approaches to religion in Asia.

R S 393F. Foundations of Asian Religions
This course introduces and analyzes primary sources for the study of Asian religions.

R S 394T. Topics in Religion in Asia
This course focuses on particular issues and discusses selected problems in Asian religions. Students must take two with different topics.

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.

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 fields for the Religion in Asia concentration are:

  • Major Field: either Religions of South Asia or Religions of Contemporary Japan.
  • Supporting Field: either a field within the respective other area (Japan or South Asia) or a different field within one's own concentration area (for example, pre-modern South Asian literature or contemporary Japanese politics).
  • Thematic Field: chosen in consulation with faculty advisor; exploration of a selected topic across religious traditions and areas of concentration in the study of religion.
  • Dissertation Field: typically the special area(s) of research within the Major Field related to the development of a dissertation topic.


Students in the Religion in Asia concentration must have or acquire competence in the following languages: 

Primary languages (advanced competence – third-year and above – required upon entering the Ph.D. level):

  • Sanskrit for specialization in South Asia (or a different South Asian language, if appropriate)
  • Japanese for specialization in Japan
  • Other primary languages may be required for certain areas of specialization.

Secondary/scholarly languages:

  • Reading competence in German and French required for specialization in South Asia
  • Reading competence in German or French required for specialization in Japan (may be substituted by another language relevant for this area, such as Chinese or Korean)

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

Area Faculty

Joel P. Brereton, Associate Professor
Ph.D., Yale University
Interests: Religion and literature of early India / Vedic religion / Hinduism / religions of Asia

Oliver Freiberger, Associate Professor
Ph.D., Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Germany
Interests: Indian Buddhism / asceticism / interactions between religions in pre-modern South Asia

John W. Traphagan, Associate Professor
Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh
Interests: Japanese religion and society / religion and ritual / religion and health / biomedical ethics / comparative religious ethics / family and kinship

Affiliated Faculty

S. Akbar Hyder, Associate Professor of Asian Studies
Ph.D., Harvard University
Interests: Islam in South Asia / religious aesthetics in South Asia and the Middle East

Janice Leoshko, Associate Professor of Asian Studies
Ph.D., Ohio State University
Interests: religious art in South and Southeast Asia / Indian Buddhist art / Jain art

Martha A. Selby, Associate Professor of Asian Studies
Ph.D., University of Chicago
Interests: Representations of women in Indian religions / religion and medicine / religious poetry of India

Nancy K. Stalker, Associate Professor of Asian Studies
Ph.D., Stanford University
Interests: New religious movements in Japan / 20th-century cultural history of Japan / religion and gender

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