Top 25 PhD Religion and Religious Studies 2017-2018


The Ph.D. in religion or religious studies covers a broad range of subject matter and methodologies. This ranking features the 25 best religious studies programs in the United States. The schools ranked here are both secular and religious. The methods and perspectives used by each institution in this ranking are wide-ranging, and each program brings something unique and interesting to the table. Those interested in earning a Ph.D. in religious studies or religion will find here a variety of perspectives and approaches to the subject. There is something here for everybody. Exclusive ivy league programs sit alongside prestigious state universities and religious seminaries with more open admissions policies. All of the programs ranked here are of a high quality and are intense and rigorous. All of the universities below are regionally accredited, non-profit, and many also have programmatic accreditation from the Association of Theological Schools. Further information on our methodology and sources is available at the end of the article.

#25. University of Iowa

Points: 11

University of Iowa-Best PhD in Religious Studies

Ph.D. in religion students at the University of Iowa will develop their understanding of religion by studying it from a variety of perspectives.

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Areas of concentration in this religious studies Ph.D. include religions in the Middle East, ancient near-East, and Mediterranean, religions in Asia, religions in the Americas and Europe, and religion, ethics, and society. Students will develop those concentrations through the school’s approach of religion and public life, which includes studies into religion’s relationship to gender, race, ethnicity, and other markers of identity, and the practice and study of religion in a digital age.

Tuition: $25,574
Accolades: Ranked #82 among National Universities
Concentrations: 4

#24. Florida State University

Points: 12

Florida State University-Best PhD in Religious Studies

FSU’s Ph.D. in Religion requires students to gain reading knowledge in two research languages–the most applicable of French, German, Italian, or Spanish.

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Florida State University students can choose between areas of study in American religious history, history and ethnography of religions, religions of western antiquity, and religion, ethics, and philosophy. The history and ethnography of religions focus area has further concentrations in religions of Asia, religions of Africa and Caribbean, religions of Mediterranean, and religions of Western Europe.

Tuition: $24,116
Accolades: Ranked #92 among National Universities by U.S. News
Concentrations: 8

#23. Emory University

Points: 12

Emory University-Best PhD in Religious Studies

Student scan choose between two overall programs in either religious practices and practical theology, or religion, conflict, and peace building.

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Emory University’s Ph.D. in religion offers courses of study in American religious cultures, ethics and society, Hebrew Bible, historical studies in theology and religion, west and south Asian religions, and theological studies. Some students may be attracted to the joint program that pairs a Ph.D. of the student’s choice (including religious studies) with a Doctor of Law (J.D.) program.

Tuition: $38,800
Accolades: Ranked #20 among National Universities by U.S. News and World Report
Concentrations: 9

#22. Vanderbilt University

Points: 12

Vanderbilt University-Best PhD in Religious Studies

Undergraduate students seeking to enter this program are advised by Vanderbilt to consider completing either the M.A. program in religious studies or the Master of Theological Studies program first.

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This Ph.D. program supports two main methods for studying religion. First as a critical, humanistic discipline, and second as a theological discipline. Concentration areas offered in this program include critical studies in Asian, Islamic, and Jewish traditions, ethics and society, historical studies, homiletics and liturgics, and religion, psychology, and culture.

Tuition: $44,496
Accolades: Ranked #15 among National Universities by U.S. News
Concentrations: 9

#21. Indiana University at Bloomington

Points: 13

Indiana University-Best PhD in Religious Studies

This Ph.D. in religious studies program combines the intimacy of a small program with the support of a major public university.

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Applicants to this program must have an undergraduate degree from an accredited four-year college and a minimum GPA of 3.0. The program is 90 credits for students entering without a graduate degree. Indiana University at Bloomington’s Ph.D. in religious studies offers concentrations in Chinese thought, Buddhist studies, religions in South Asia, religion in the Americas, ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern religions, and history of Christianity.

Tuition: $26,812
Accolades: #86 among National Universities
Concentrations: 10

#20. Syracuse University

Points: 13

Syracuse University-Best PhD in Religious Studies

Most students in this program receive a teaching assistantship that includes a full tuition scholarship, a stipend, and health benefits.

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Applicants to the Ph.D. in religion program at Syracuse University must hold an MA in religion or equivalent degree. Students will conduct innovative research in one concentration, and one traditional or regional religious culture, and may also select a second concentration or religious culture. The program is interdisciplinary and approaches religion as an intellectually provocative and problematic concept.

Tuition: $34,632
Accolades: Ranked #60 among National Universities by U.S. News
Concentrations: Flexible specialization options.

#19. University of California at Santa Barbara

Points: 13

University of California at Santa Barbara-Best Religious Studies PhD

UC Santa Barbara offers a combined MA/Ph.D. program in religious studies for undergraduates who wish for strong continuity between their master’s and doctoral levels of study.

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The Ph.D. in religious studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara offers eight concentrations, including Native American religions, philosophy of religion, Buddhist studies, Mediterranean religions, and East Asian religions. The program emphasizes a cross-cultural comparative study of religion and utilizes an interdisciplinary approach to study religion through the lens of history, political science, anthropology, sociology, comparative literature, and philosophy.

Tuition: $26,322
Accolades: Ranked #37 among National Universities by U.S. News
Concentrations: 8

#18. Georgetown University

Points: 13

Georgetown University-Top Religious Studies PhD

Georgetown University is the oldest Roman Catholic and Jesuit university in the United States.

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Georgetown University’s Ph.D. in theological and religious studies reflects a devotion to intercultural and interreligious understanding. Students, in conjunction with a faculty advisor, determine their own specialization within the discipline. The primary focus of the program is research into religious pluralism through various frameworks, including comparative theology focusing on mutual illumination and historical and cultural significance of engagements within and between religious communities. Some students also focus on researching pluralism and diversity within a single religious tradition.

Tuition: $44,712
Accolades: Ranked #20 among National Universities by U.S. News
Concentrations: Flexible specialization.

#17. Rice University

Points: 13

Rice University-Top Religious Studies PhD

The Ph.D. in religious studies program at Rice University reflects the school’s commitment to interdisciplinary study.

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Rice University’s Ph.D. in religion offers students the flexibility to design their specializations according to their interests with faculty guidance. Coursework consists of 54 credits (18 courses) and is interdisciplinary by nature. Students must pass reading exams in French and German within the first two years of study. All students will take qualifying exams their fourth year covering areas like African-American religions, biblical religions, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and new age and new religious movements.

Tuition: $35,712
Accolades: #15 among National Universities by U.S. News
Concentrations: Flexible specialization options.

#16. Northwestern University

Points: 13

Northwestern University-Top Religious Studies PhD

Northwestern offers numerous areas of study which can be augmented through the interdisciplinary cluster initiative.

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Northwestern University’s religious studies Ph.D. allows students to choose between areas of specialization in American religions, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, medieval and early modern studies, ethics and theology. The interdisciplinary cluster initiative allows students to augment their studies by taking courses from outside programs like African studies, Asian studies, British studies, classics, critical theory, gender studies, and rhetoric and public culture.

Tuition: $48,624
Accolades: Ranked #12 among National Universities by U.S. News
Concentrations: 7
Standout Features or Attributes: Interdisciplinary Cluster Initiative

#15. Stanford University

Points: 13

Stanford University-Top Religious Studies PhD

Stanford doctoral students can do one year of their study at universities like Harvard, Cornell, MIT, Princeton, University of Chicago, and Yale through an exchange program.

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Stanford University’s Ph.D. in religious studies program features concentrations in Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and modern religious thought, ethics and philosophy. Students will take an interdisciplinary approach, exploring the examination of religion through a broad selection of methodologies including history, art history, comparative literature, philosophy, anthropology and more.

Tuition: $47,331
Accolades: Ranked #5 among National Universities by U.S. News
Concentrations: 5
Standout Features or Attributes: Top 10 Ranking, Exchange program with other top schools.

#14. University of Denver and Iliff School of Theology

Points: 14

University of Denver/Iliff School of Theology-Best Religious Studies PhD

Students in this study of religion Ph.D. program will collaborate with faculty to design a personal specialization, allowing them to pursue their own individual interests in the field.

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The University of Denver partners with Iliff School of Theology (which shares the University of Denver’s campus) to offer this joint doctoral program in the study of religion. The interdisciplinary program combines faculty from UD’s philosophy, anthropology, literature, art history, media studies, psychology, and international studies with Iliff’s religion and theology faculty.

Tuition: $43,164
Accolades: Ranked #86 among National Universities by U.S. News.
Concentrations: Flexible individualized specialization.
Standout Features or Attributes: ATS-Accredited

#13. University of Virginia

Points: 14

University of Virginia-Top Religious Studies PhD

The University of Virginia is one of the only religious studies programs offering a concentration in Daoism.

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The University of Virginia Ph.D. Religion program divides itself into four major tracks which are theology, ethics, and culture; history of religions; scripture, interpretation, and practice; and historical studies. The 11 focus areas within those tracks include Daoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, religious ethics, religion and culture, study of Judaism, and Judaism and Christianity in antiquity.

Tuition: $25,168
Accolades: Ranked #25 among National Universities by U.S. News.
Concentrations: 11

#12. University of Notre Dame

Points: 14

University of Notre Dame-Top PhD in Religious Studies

The University of Notre Dame (along with Duke) is ranked by the Roman Catholic theology journal First Things as the best divinity school for the study of religion and theology.

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Notre Dame University’s Ph.D. program in religion offers concentrations in Christianity and Judaism in antiquity, history of Christianity, liturgical studies, moral theology/Christian ethics, systematic theology, and world religions and world church. Notre Dame also offers joint Ph.D. programs in peace studies/theology, and theology/history and philosophy of science.

Tuition: $49,050
Accolades: Ranked #15 among National Universities
Concentrations: 6
Standout Features or Attributes: ATS-Accredited, Ranked #1 divinity school by First Things.

#11. University of Pennsylvania

Points: 14

University of Pennsylvania-Top Religious Studies PhD

In this Ph.D. in religious studies program, each student works with an advisor to determine their own course of study within the context of the offered specializations.

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The University of Pennsylvania Ph.D. in religious studies offers specializations in Buddhism; religions of South, Southeast, and East Asia, Second Temple Judaism, early Christianity; Judaism and Christianity in late antiquity, medieval and modern Christianity, Islamic history and thought, religion in America, Pentecostalism, African American religion, and religion in the African Diaspora. UPenn’s Ph.D. in religious studies takes approximately five years to complete.

Tuition: $31,068
Accolades: Ranked #8 by U.S. News and World Report.
Concentrations: 5
Standout Features or Attributes: Ivy League

#10. Princeton Theological Seminary

Points: 15

Princeton Theological Seminary-Best Religious Studies PhD

While Princeton Theological Seminary is not affiliated with Princeton University, it is ranked one of the nation’s top theological seminaries by the Roman Catholic theological journal First Things.

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Princeton Theological Seminary’s Ph.D. in Religion and Society encourages students to work with faculty to determine their specialization, often but not necessarily always within areas of faculty strengths like sociology of religion, history of religion, ethics, and theology. This program’s faculty seminars include critical issues in the history of religions, Aquinas on law and the virtues, and theological anthropology.

Tuition: $14,500
Accolades: Ranked #6 among the top Theological Seminaries by First Things
Concentrations: Flexible approach.
Standout Features or Attributes: ATS-Accredited

#9. Boston University

Points: 15

Boston University-Best Religious Studies PhD

Boston University’s Ph.D. in religion features 19 areas of faculty strength within the four tracks.

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Boston University allows students to work with faculty to create their own areas of specialization within one of the four tracks, which are texts and traditions, religious thought, religion and society, and religion and science. Areas of faculty strength include ancient Mediterranean religions, Jewish studies, Islamic studies, world Christianity, religion and political philosophy, and history and the philosophy of science and religion interactions.

Tuition: $47,422
Accolades: #39 among National Universities by U.S. News.
Concentrations: Flexible concentrations.
Standout Features or Attributes: ATS-Accredited

#8. University of North Carolina

Points: 15

University of North Carolina-Top PhD in Religious Studies

Students admitted to the Ph.D. program who have not earned an M.A. in the study of religion must complete the M.A. first.

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The University of North Carolina Ph.D. in religious studies program offers areas of specialization in Islamic studies, medieval and early modern studies, religion and culture, religion in the Americas, religions of Asia, early Judaism, early Christianity, and Greco-Roman religion. Students in this program will take courses like approaches to the study of religion in the Americas, methods in Islamic Studies, and critical approaches to the Hebrew Bible and its history of interpretation.

Tuition: $26,354
Accolades: Ranked #30 among National Universities by U.S. News
Concentrations: 12

#7. Columbia University in the City of New York

Points: 15

Columbia University-Top PhD in Religious Studies

Students entering this program must have an M.A. degree in religion, and then complete an M.Phil. degree before moving into the Ph.D. in the study of religion.

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Columbia offers students a chance to specialize in areas like Christianity, Buddhism, East Asian religions, North American religions, Islam, Judaism, and South Asian religions. Students will choose a secondary focus like history, tradition, bio-ethics, or communication. This program is offered in conjunction with Barnard College and Union Theological Seminary and draws on the strengths of the faculty at all three institutions.

Tuition: $42,280
Accolades: Ranked #5 among National Universities by U.S. News and World Report.
Concentrations: 8
Standout Features or Attributes: Ivy League

#6. Princeton University

Points: 15

Princeton University-Top PhD in Religious Studies

Students must have a reading knowledge of two modern foreign languages; at minimum one of these languages should be learned before entering the program, and the other in the student’s first year.

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Students in the Religious Studies Ph.D. program at Princeton will choose between concentrations in Asian religions, Islam, religions of Mediterranean antiquity, religion and philosophy, religion, ethics, and politics, and religion in the Americas. Some courses offered include studies in religion and morality, religion and critical thought, and religions of late antiquity.

Tuition: $45,320
Accolades: Ranked #1 among National Universities by U.S. News.
Concentrations: 6
Standout Features or Attributes: Ivy League, Ranked #1.

#5. University of Chicago

Points: 16

University of Chicago-Best Religious Studies PhD

The University of Chicago Divinity School is one of only two schools on this ranking that is both ATS-accredited and ranked among the top 10 universities in the United States.

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The University of Chicago religious studies Ph.D. program offers concentrations in philosophy of religions, religious ethics, history of Christianity, history of Judaism, anthropology and sociology of religion, Islamic studies, and religions in America. Students will take courses like philosophy of language, race and religion in 20th century America, and religion in modern America.

Tuition: $51,624
Accolades: Ranked #3 among National Universities by U.S. News
Concentrations: 11
Standout Features or Attributes: ATS-Accredited, Top 10 Ranking

#4. Yale University

Points: 16

Yale University-Top Religious Studies PhD

Yale’s religious studies department offers a joint Ph.D. program with the department of African-American studies in religious and African American studies.

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Students in Yale’s religious studies Ph.D. program can choose between concentrations in theology, philosophy of religion, ancient Christianity, Islamic studies, Judaic studies, American religious history, religious ethics, and Asian religions. Yale’s religious studies Ph.D. program is quite exclusive. In 2014 there were 209 applicants, and only 9 were admitted.

Tuition: $39,800
Accolades: Ranked #3 among National Universities by U.S. News
Concentrations: 10
Standout Features or Attributes: Ivy League

#3. Duke University

Points: 17

Duke University-Best PhD in Religious Studies

Duke University’s divinity school is considered by First Things, a prestigious Roman Catholic theology journal, to be tied with Notre Dame as the best divinity school in the world.

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Duke’s Ph.D. in religion is exclusive, enrolling between 65 and 75 students. The program offers concentrations in Christian theological studies, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Islamic studies, religion and modernity, Asian religions, world Christianity, early Christianity, and history of Judaism. Courses students take will depend on concentration and include titles like early Christianity and its relation to Judaism, the life of Paul, and justice, law, and commerce in Islam.

Tuition: $47,590
Accolades: Ranked #8 among National Universities by U.S. News
Concentrations: 10
Standout Features or Attributes: ATS-Accredited, Top 10 Ranking

#2. Brown University

Points: 19

Brown University-Top Religious Studies PhD

Brown is one of the only top schools offering three distinct Ph.D. programs to choose from in religious studies.

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The three Ph.D. programs in religious studies offered by Brown are Asian religious traditions, religion and critical thought, and religions of the ancient mediterranean. The concentrations offered in these programs include Japanese religious and intellectual history, Confucian traditions, theory of religion, religious ethics, early Christianity, early Islam, Judean religion, Greek religion, and Roman religion.

Tuition: $48,272
Accolades: Ranked #14 among National Universities by U.S. News
Concentrations: 16
Standout Features or Attributes: Ivy League

#1. Harvard University

Points: 20

Harvard University-Top PhD in Religious Studies

Harvard’s Ph.D. in the study of religion only admits 5 to 6 percent of applicants.

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While Harvard’s study of religion Ph.D. does not require a master’s degree officially, it is rare for students without one to be accepted to the program. Harvard offers a wide range of concentrations including African religions, Buddhist studies, comparative studies, Islamic studies, Jewish studies, Christianity, religion and society, and philosophy of religion.

Tuition: $41,832
Accolades: Ranked #2 among National Universities by U.S. News
Concentrations: 18
Standout Features or Attributes: Ivy League

Methodology

Our rating system was designed to take both cost and program quality into account. Points were awarded based on price, third party rankings, number of concentrations and the flexibility of the program. Bonus points were awarded for standout features of attributes of these universities, including attributes that make the degree particularly distinguished, such as being from an ivy league university, top ten university, or programmatic accreditation from the Association of Theological Schools. When schools tied in points, higher ranking was given to the school having the better rating with US News and World Report.

Tuition

$0.00-$20,000=3 Points
$20,000-$35,000=2 Points
$35,000-$50,000=1 Point

Third Party Rankings

In instances where a program was ranked in more than one of these categories, only the highest point value was applied:

Regional Ranking=1 Point
Regional Top 50 Ranking=2 Points
Liberal Arts Top 200 Ranking=3 Points
National Top 200 Ranking=4 Points
Liberal Arts Top 50 Ranking=5 Points
First Things Top 10 Ranking=5 Points
National top 100 Ranking=6 Points
National top 50 Ranking=7 Points

Standout Features or Attributes

In the event a school is both ivy league and ranked in top ten, only the highest point value is applied.

School is Ivy League=3 Points
School has top 10 ranking by U.S. News=2 Points
School has ATS Accreditation for Ph.D. program=2 Points
Other Standout Features=1 Point

Concentrations

Points for concentrations are scored by awarding points equal to half the offered number of concentrations or tracks rounded down. Programs designed for maximum flexibility in allowing students to design their own specializations will be awarded 5 points by default.

Sources

First Things

U.S. News and World Report

Images were sourced from Wikimedia commons or from each school’s own website.

Tuition information was sourced from College Navigator

Programmatic accreditation status was sourced from the Association of Theological Schools

TD Staff
June 2017

This concludes our ranking of the top 25 PhD religion and religious studies degree programs for 2017-2018.