PhD degree requirements

The following is a summary of information about the requirements for joint Laurier-Waterloo PhD program in Religious Diversity in North America. Full information about the joint program regulations are available on the Graduate Calendar for UWaterloo students, and on WLU Religious Studies PhD program website and Religion and Culture Department website for Laurier students.  Information regarding current joint program details, including timelines and requirements, can be found in our Ph.D. Handbook: The Green Book.


The Ph.D. is designed to take four years for completion. Students must enroll 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 MA.

Students are expected to proceed through the program in a timely fashion. Normally, students must complete the course work and finish their preliminary proposal in the first year; comprehensive exams, presentation of the dissertation proposal, and acceptance of the proposal 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 RS/RE 700 and RS/RE 710, both doctoral-level research seminars. 

In addition to these two required core courses, doctoral candidates must complete at least two electives from an approved list of other graduate offerings at the two universities. One of these electives must be in religious studies. The list of approved courses may change from year to year. Directed study topics must be approved by the director.

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.

When taking courses at another institution, students must register through the OVGS process.


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. A preliminary proposal will be completed in the first year, prior to beginning preparation for comprehensive examinations. The proposal must be formally accepted by both the student’s supervisory committee and the joint Ph.D. committee before beginning the 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 comprehensive 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 on 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 (2) opportunities (including the first attempt) 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.

How to prepare for the dissertation

  1. The doctoral dissertation is a 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Four decisions are open to the examining committee:

  1. Accepted. The thesis is accepted with only typographical and/or minor editorial corrections to be made to the satisfaction of the supervisor. Such a decision can be rendered only if there is no more than one dissenting vote.
  2. Accepted with major revisions. The thesis is accepted subject to substantive changes in its content or major editorial changes carried out to the satisfaction of specified members of the examining committee. The examining committee's report must include a summary of changes required and must indicate the time by which the changes must be completed. Such changes must be completed within four weeks of the date of the examination.
  3. Decision deferred. The thesis requires modifications of such an extensive nature that the acceptability of the thesis is questionable. The examining committee's report must contain a description of the modifications expected and indicate the time by which the changes must be completed. The revised thesis must be submitted for re-examination. The re-examination will follow the same procedures as for the initial submission and the same examining committee will serve. A decision to defer is open only once for each candidate.
  4. Rejected. The thesis and/or defence are not acceptable. The examining committee must report the reasons for rejection. A student whose doctoral thesis has been rejected is required to withdraw from the PhD program.

If the examining committee is unable to reach a decision at the time of the thesis defence, it is the responsibility of the chair to determine what additional information is required by the committee to reach a decision, to obtain this information for the committee, and to call another meeting of the committee as soon as the required information is available.