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The minimum degree requirements for the Laurier-Waterloo PhD in Religious Studies are as follows.


The PhD is designed to take four years for completion. Students must enrol in the program full-time, be available for classes and regular on-campus consultation for at least the first two calendar years, and complete a minimum of six terms beyond the Master of Arts (MA).

Students are expected to proceed through the program in a timely fashion. Normally, students must complete the course work and finish their proposal in the first year; comprehensive exams in the second year; and the dissertation project in the third and fourth years. The responsibilities of the supervisor and the supervisory committee notwithstanding, the candidate is responsible for ensuring that program requirements and deadlines are met in a timely fashion.


The degree requires a minimum of four courses beyond the MA. Students are required to take RE700 and RE710, both doctoral-level research seminars, as well as two electives. Depending on a student’s goals and admission assessment, additional course work may be required. Doctoral students must achieve at least a B in each course.


Students must demonstrate reading knowledge of a second language relevant to the field and/or the dissertation. If the topic of the dissertation makes knowledge of a third language essential, the candidate must demonstrate competence in this language as well. Students are not permitted to begin their dissertation until all language requirements are met.


The proposal is a written document outlining the dissertation project. The proposal must be formally accepted by both the student’s supervisory committee and the joint PhD committee before proceeding to the comprehensive examinations and dissertation project. Subsequent, substantive changes in the proposal must be approved by the supervisory committee and the program director.

Comprehensive Examinations

There are two examinations, each based on a bibliography constructed by faculty in consultation with the student. The purpose of the general exam is to ensure breadth and to assess competence in the religious diversity of North America and in religious studies. The purpose of the field exam is to focus an area of specialization containing the dissertation project. The general exam is conducted by the joint committee, whereas the field exam is conducted by the student's supervisory committee. A candidate has only two opportunities to complete each of the examinations successfully. These examinations should take place by the end of the candidate's second year in the doctoral program. To be permitted to take the examinations at a later time, a candidate must petition the director for an extension. Extensions are normally granted only once and then, only for one term.

Dissertation Project

The dissertation project consists of three required, closely related parts: the dissertation, the public presentation, and the dissertation defence. Students must pass all three. Evaluations, carried out by the supervisory committee, take into consideration the mastery of both style and content.

The doctoral dissertation is an piece of research (approximately 50,000-90,000 words in length) aimed at making an original contribution to the study of religion. The dissertation must be crafted for publication as a book, although actual publication is not a degree requirement. This way of fulfilling the dissertation requirement is a distinctive feature of the program, and guidelines are available from the director. The dissertation is prepared in consultation with the supervisory committee, which includes the candidate's supervisor acting as chair, along with two other faculty members, one of whom may be a member of a non-religious studies department.

The public presentation is a second distinctive feature of the Laurier-Waterloo PhD in religious studies. The presentation must be accessible to the public, open to questioning and debate, and subject to faculty evaluation. This presentation may take various formats and must demonstrate the candidate’s ability to make the results of research publicly intelligible and engaging for a diverse, educated but non-specialist audience. The public presentation is held in a venue and at a time different from that of the dissertation defence. Holding it in an off-campus location is preferable. Evaluation is on a pass/fail basis, and a pass is required to complete the degree. Evaluation of such presentations is by the supervisory committee on the basis of a set of criteria available from the program director. A candidate who fails may attempt the presentation only one additional time.

The dissertation defence, which is distinct from the public presentation, is an oral review and evaluation of the dissertation. Prior to the defence, an examining committee is established. It includes the supervisory committee plus an internal examiner from another department at either university. A chair (from the university in which the student is registered) and an external examiner (from another university) are appointed by the appropriate dean of graduate studies. The supervisory committee recommends external examiners to the dean of graduate studies. The decision of the examining committee is based on the dissertation and the candidate's ability to defend it orally. A candidate who fails may attempt the presentation only one additional time.

Contact Us:

Doug Cowan, Graduate Program Coordinator



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