Religious Studies (MA)

Religious studies is an interdisciplinary field focusing on religious beliefs and practices and their relationship with the wider world.

Programme Director Professor Hannah Holtschneider discusses the undergraduate Religious Studies (MA), Religious Studies and English Literature (MA), and Religious Studies and Scottish Literautre (MA) programmes here at the School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh.

Religion has a long history and remains a powerful force in the contemporary world. Religious studies provides the tools and skills to help you get to grips with this vital field of study. At the School of Divinity, the study of Religious Studies proceeds from a non-confessional perspective, based on the principle that religions influence most human endeavours for good or ill.

Why study this programme

  • You will have the opportunity to study a wide range of religious traditions in the contemporary world. Our programme covers historical and contemporary material, and it is interested in the groups and people practising religion as their gods, deities, ancestors and spirits.
  • You will study the concepts, emotions and rituals which underpin religious belief and practice and their role and function in culture and society.
  • You will look at practices and texts, consider a range of expressions of religion from popular culture to systematic ideas, and approach religion individually and collectively.
  • You will not only acquire a profound knowledge of your subject but also gain a good understanding of research methodologies and develop a range of skills to prepare you for various employment opportunities and continued life-long learning.
  • You can enhance your knowledge of specific religious traditions by taking language courses.
  • Students develop an understanding of the main phenomena of religion, such as belief systems, rituals, mythology, iconography and ethics, through various methodologies.

Degree programme information and specifications

Degree structure and courses

  • Students take 480 credits over four years (120 each year).
  • In years one and two, students take 240 credits from pre-honours courses.
  • In years three and four, students take 240 credits from honours courses, including a 40-credit dissertation in the fourth year.

You will choose courses that cover a range of religious traditions such as Asian traditions, Buddhist and Hindu traditions, Christianity, indigenous religions, Islam, Judaism, New Age, spirituality and new religions.

From the beginning of your studies, you may choose to take the 'Combined Studies' option, which allows a combination of Religious Studies with another subject in the Arts, Humanities or Social Science such as Anthropology, Classics, History, Languages, Literary Studies, Music, Philosophy, Politics and Sociology.

In your third and fourth years, you may choose from the following options:

  • Focus on one religious tradition with the option of taking programmes in the appropriate language (Hebrew, Greek, Arabic or Sanskrit, as available).

  • Focus on two religious traditions.

  • Continue with your 'Combined Studies' option.

Degree programme table

Aims and outcomes

The Religious Studies MA programme has five main goals:

  • To develop knowledge and understanding of the histories, practices, social conditions and cultural expressions of established, indigenous and new religions.
  • To enable the student to identify and analyse a variety of different forms of evidence derived from field studies, texts, artefacts, oral traditions, archaeology and testimonies of adherents.
  • To provide the intellectual tools with which to apply such evidence to the investigation, understanding and critical evaluation of the phenomena of religion using both diachronic and synchronic approaches.
  • To provide a solid methodological and cognitive foundation for further research in aspects of specific traditions or in approaches to the study of religions in general.
  • To develop the general critical, analytical and communicative skills which prepare students for a wide variety of employment opportunities, for vocational training and continued life-long learning.

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How to apply