Frequently Asked Questions

Q1: My background is not in religious studies, but I took some courses that involved the study of religion. Can those courses be counted toward the minimum admission requirement?

A1: For the purpose of meeting the admission requirement of ten (10) courses in religious studies, applicants may petition, in writing, to count selected courses as religious studies equivalents. Generally, no more than five (5) courses in other fields will be counted as religious studies equivalents. The petition should accompany the application for admission to the PhD. The questions to be addressed for each course are (1) how the course helped prepare you in the study of religious diversity in North America and (2) in what ways the course is relevant to your proposed dissertation
area. The first question is the primary one since this admission requirement concerns preparation in the study of religion. Since transcripts contain minimal information about actual course content, the case for counting a course can be strengthened by the inclusion of a course description, syllabus, and/or descriptions of papers or other kinds of research conducted in the course.

Q2: I have a theology degree. If I apply, will my courses automatically count toward the religious studies requirement?

A2: Religious studies and theology are not the same thing. Like philosophy, anthropology, and other such fields, theology is an allied field. When we receive an application for admission from an applicant in such fields, we look at specific courses, deciding which, if any, we will count toward the minimum for admission: ten (10) courses in religious studies. Normally, we accept no more than five (5) courses
as equivalents from any allied field, including theology. If you cannot meet the minimum, you must take qualifying courses to be able to apply for admission into the PhD program. Taking such courses does not guarantee admission, but it may enable you to compete successfully with other applicants.

Q3: I want to propose writing a dissertation on a theological topic. Is that a possible?

A3: Theological reflection is a fact of religion; therefore, studying it is as important as studying any other facet of religion such as ritual, myth, sacred places, or ethics. In addition, there are theologians among the faculty, just as there are historians, anthropologists, sociologists, and psychologists. Because of the interdisciplinary nature of the study of religion, some theological issues and methods are within our purview and fit well within such a program; others do not. Our decision is made on a
case-by-case basis. It is important to recognize that the Laurier-Waterloo PhD in Religious Studies is not a theological degree offered from within a religious tradition but a religious studies degree with a focus on religious diversity.

Q4: I would like to study an ancient, textual topic. Should I apply for admission?

A4: Even though we have faculty whose research and expertise lie in ancient areas, the PhD’s focus is exclusively North American. If your real interest is one of the ancient civilizations, ours is not the right program for you. However, if your interest lies, say, in the reception of, or the use of, some ancient text in North America, then the Laurier-Waterloo PhD program might be a good match.

Q5: I would like to study an Asian topic. Should I apply for admission?

A5: That depends. Only if your research focus is on Asian religions in North America. Even though we have faculty whose research and expertise lie in Asia, the PhD’s focus is exclusively North American, so if you wanted to study Asian religions in North America, the Laurier-Waterloo Ph.D. program might be a good match.

Q6: My home university will be the University of Waterloo. Because of the joint program, will I also have student privileges at Laurier?

For instance, will I be able to get parking, lockers, and access to the Athletic Complex and other resources normally granted to Laurier students with a student card?

A6: The joint program gives you access to the library, courses, colloquia, and faculty at either university. But for most other resources, such as the use of athletic facilities and parking, you must use the resources of your home university.

Q7: I want to get a jump on reading. Are course syllabi and required reading materials available before the start date?

A7: If you want more details about a course, contact the professor who teaches it.

Q8: What happens during our orientation?

A8: Orientation is partly social, partly academic. Mainly, you’ll meet other graduate students, talk with faculty, receive academic counselling, and register for courses. Attendance is mandatory because we review in detail the requirements of the PhD program.

Q9: Can work done in courses be channeled toward my dissertation, or do I have to avoid my dissertation topic when I work on course papers?

A9: By all means, explore possible dissertation topics by writing papers and doing projects on potential dissertation topics. There is no problem with your using a term paper as the seed from which a dissertation grows.

Q10: Does fieldwork require a student to deal with the university ethics committee? And must I complete fieldwork to graduate? May I use other research methods?

A10: Yes, all field research, whether conducted by students or faculty, whether in the course or outside a course, requires an appropriate ethical clearance, as well as adequate academic preparation. Other research methods are certainly an option, but you must discuss with your committee aboutwhich methods would be the most appropriate for your particular topic and acquire proper clearance to use those methods.

Q11: What if a teaching assistant (TA) needs to travel to do research and there are conflicts with teaching duties?

A11: To maintain your teaching (or research) assistantship, you must be available to do the work, which is typically in the fall or winter. So, try to travel during the spring and summer. If you must travel during the fall or winter, discuss the issue with the professor for whom you are a teaching assistant and see if it is possible to rearrange your work schedule. If not, the first priority must be the TA commitment.

Q12: Is there a reading week or other down-time for PhD students?

A12: Yes, you will find the dates for them in the calendar. They are the same for all graduate students.

Q13: The handbook refers to the “subfield” over which we will be examined during the field exam. What do you mean by “subfield?”

A13: Any subdivision of religious studies; the larger “area” that contains your dissertation topic. There is no universally agreed upon list of subfields, so, in practical terms, your supervisory committee defines your subfield in consultation with you.

Q14: Do I have to be physically present on campus during the spring and summer?

A14: Graduate students register for three terms, that is, for the entire year— fall, winter, spring/summer. A few graduate courses may be offered in the spring/summer, and you might want to take one or more of them. Alternatively, you might need to be away conducting library or field research elsewhere. Or, you may be away studying languages or preparing for exams. In all these instances, you are still officially registered and paying tuition but not necessarily physically present.

On rare occasion, you may wish to take an official leave, in which case you are not paying tuition, but neither are you building up residence credits. These situations require forms, reasons, and signatures; see the Calendar for specific procedures.

Q15: May I take undergraduate courses as part of my PhD?

A15: No. You may take only graduate courses, those numbered 600 or above. If you are required to take extra courses for admission, some of those may be undergraduate, but only if the director approves them for your specific case.