Graduate Theological Union

Cultural and Historical Studies of Religions







Student Work


Emily S. Wu, The Utilization of
Spiritual Capital by the
Practitioners of Traditional
Chinese Medicine in the San
Francisco Bay Area



Som Pourfarzaneh

Som Pourfarzaneh,
Martial Arts, Spirituality, Interfaith
Vision: All of a Piece for New Student




Rabbi Yoel Kahn (Ph.D. '99),
Congregation Beth-El, Berkeley

Jennifer Peace (Ph.D. '05),
Managing Director, Center for
Interreligious Leadership Education
(CIRCLE), Andover Newton
Theological Seminary

Jeffrey Richey (Ph.D. '00), Associate
Professor of Religion and Director of
Asian Studies, Berea College

John Thompson (Ph.D. '02),
Associate Professor, Asian Religions,
Christopher Newport University



This Area of Concentration is available to students affiliated with the following schools: ABSW, CDSP, DSPT, FST, JST, PSR, SFTS, SKSM


This Area embraces both cross-cultural and historical themes, building upon scholarly methodologies which advance critical understandings of interreligious, multicultural and contextual religious experience. Traditions for study include Buddhism, Chinese/Japanese Religions, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.

M.A. Requirements



Most students in Cultural and Historical Studies of Religions are preparing for academic careers in research and teaching. Graduates are also preparing to participate in interreligious issues in a church or other agency in a specific cultural context.


  1. Students will learn to recognize the contours of scholarship in the field of religious studies and find their own place within it.
  2. Students will demonstrate both a broad grounding and a developed specialization in a particular religious tradition or culture and its history.
  3. Students will learn to employ a religious studies methodology suited to their particular research specialization.
  4. Students will work through the issues of constructing a syllabus for an introductory course and will formulate a pedagogical philosophy and approach.
  5. Students will design and execute an original research project that makes a significant contribution to their field of specialization.

Admission Requirements
The Area requires a clear and focused statement of academic purpose, specifying a field for which the GTU has appropriate faculty resources and the student has appropriate academic background and basic language preparation.

Language Requirements
The Area requires two foreign languages, at least one a modern research language (e.g. French, German, Japanese). The second language might be a classical language, a field language, or a second research language.

The Area requires that students take IDS 6000 (Seminar on Interdisciplinarity) in their first fall semester. They must also take HR 6006 (Issues in Contemporary Study of Religion), and students doing the teaching preparation comprehensives (below) must take IDS 6016 (Seminar on Course Design and Syllabus Development). Students are also expected to work with their advisors to identify and take courses that will prepare them for broad certification and comprehensives.

Comprehensive Examinations

  1. Religious Tradition or Culture of Specialization

The student will have certified breadth in a particular tradition. The tradition may be a religious tradition(e.g., Buddhism, Islam, Confucianism) or a religious culture, such as that of China or Japan. The broad tradition or culture of specialization should be sufficiently broad to serve as grounding for at least a decade of professional work. This exam will focus on the student's significant specialization within the tradition (an historical period, a major theme -- e.g. Chan or Zen Buddhism, Religious pluralism in contemporary Turkey)

  1. Methodology

Scholars in religious studies use a wide range of methodologies (historical, philological, interpretive, anthropological, feminist, critical, postcolonial, etc.) The two required courses (see above) introduce students to a range of literature in religious studies using various methodologies and approaches, and encourages students to consider these literatures in relation to their own scholarly approaches. This exam will require the student to explore in some depth critical issues in a methodology that s/he intends to uses in his/her research. The student will develop a select bibliography in consultation with the comprehensive committee, and write a bibliographic essay or a critical essay on methodologicalissues.A very preliminary draft of the bibliography will be developed in the Seminar on lnterdisciplinarity, and the paper for Issues in Contemporary Studies in Religion (HR 6006) will be a very preliminary version of the methodology paper.

  1. Preparation for Teaching

This examination requires the student to prepare a full syllabus with clearly defined objectives, requirements, expectations, evaluation criteria, and a reading list for an introductory course with no prerequisites. The course can be an introductory course in the student's religious tradition or culture of specialization (see exam 1), an introduction to the study of religion, a course on world religions, or an introductory course whose scope is broader than the student's religious tradition or culture of specialization. The syllabus is to be accompanied by a 15-20 page paper describing the intellectual approach of the course and specifying the decisions made about both content and instruction.The Doctoral Seminar IDS 6016 (Seminar on Course Design and Syllabus Development) serves as a context in which to develop this syllabus and its accompanying paper.

Students whose primary professional goals are other than teaching may petition for an alternative form of this comprehensive, designed to prepare them to meet their professional goals. The petition should include a project or course and paper equivalent in sophistication to the pedagogical requirement.

  1. Research Paper

This paper represents the student's distinctive approach to research in religious studies, using the methodology discussed in examination 2 in conjunction with the religious tradition or culture discussed in examination 1. The paper may be related to the topic of the dissertation, but should be a self-contained, autonomous 30-40 page research paper.

Area students are expected to meet all general GTU requirements and standards for the dissertation proposal and the dissertation. Dissertations will be evaluated using the Dissertation Rubric developed by the Cultural and Historical Studies of Religions Area.

Allied Field Requirements

Students who declare CHSR as an Allied Field will be required to take HR 6006 and a 3000-level and above course, approved my CHSR Area convenor, in one of our CHSR tracks (Buddhism, Islam, East Asian religions) outside the student's field of specialization, as well as the methodology comprehensive (examination 2), which is a revision and updating of the HR 6006 paper.




Core Doctoral Faculty

JUDITH A. BERLING • GTU (Chinese and comparative religions) • Interreligious learning; student centered pedagogy; interreligious theologial education; East Asian spiritualities.

MARIANNE FARINA, C.S.C. • DSPT (Philosophy and Theology) • Moral theology; Islamic philosophy and theology; comparative ethics and social theory; interfaith dialogue.

MUNIR JIWA • GTU (Islamic Studies) • Islam and Muslims in the West; aesthetics, media, and cultural production; liberalism, secular modernity, religious/subject formation; anthropology, ethnographic methods, critical theory.

SCOTT MITCHELL • IBS (Buddhist Studies) • Buddhism in Western cultural context; Pure Land Buddhism; postcolonial studies of religion; ritual studies; media studies.

RICHARD PAYNE • IBS (Japanese Buddhism) • Tantric fire ritual; ritual studies; ritual historiography; ritual structure.

SEIGEN YAMAOKA • IBS (Buddhist Studies) • Shin Buddhist Ministry; Shin Buddhist Religious Education; Shin Buddhist Studies


Consortial Faculty Resources

LISA GRUMBACH • IBS (Buddhist Studies) • History of Buddhism; Shinto and Japanese religions; religion and landscape.

DAIJAKU KINST • IBS (Buddhism and Pastoral Care) • Foundations & development of Buddhist pastoral care, chaplaincy, counseling in interfaith context; critical foundations for effective interfaith dialogue; interface of traditional Buddhist psychology and contemporary psychoanalytic perspectives; the teachings of Eihei Dogen: Buddha Nature, Time and Self; contemplative development and the experience of Trust.

JOHN HILARY MARTIN, O.P. • DSPT emeritus (History of Religions) • Myth and ritual; noetics of symbolism; interreligious dialogue.

DAVID MATSUMOTO • IBS (Buddhist Studies) • Jodo Shinshu history and thought.