Religious Studies

Scripture, Interpretation and Practice Program Details

UVA's Graduate Program in Scripture, Interpretation, and Practice prepares students for advanced research and teaching about the phenomena of scriptural study, textual interpretation, and religious practice in all three of the Abrahamic traditions, as well as in Asian and other scripturally centered traditions. The first goal of the Program is to examine the Bible, the Qur'an, and other scriptures as literatures that generate communities of religious practice: practices of study, of interpretation and reflection, of ritual, and of social life. The PhD in SIP is designed to prepare students for teaching positions in departments of Religious Studies, where they will be able to offer advanced courses in their primary tradition of study (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, or Asian and other traditions) and more general courses in Abrahamic and other traditions.

Coursework in SIP focuses primarily on the three Abrahamic traditions, with emerging programming in Asian religions as well. There are foundational courses: in the languages, texts, and histories of the Tanakh, the New Testament, and the Qur'an; and in the interpretive traditions of rabbinic Judaism, of early and Patristic Christianity, and of classical Qur'anic exegesis and interpretation. There are ethnographic and comparative courses in the religious practices of individual traditions, from reading practices to ritual and prayer practices, in the past and today. There are courses on interpretation theory, on ritual theory, and in philosophical hermeneutics, pertinent to each of the traditions and to broader, comparative studies. And there are courses on the practice and theory of "scriptural reasoning": our term for modes of study, fellowship, and analysis that bring Abrahamic and other text-traditions into sustained dialogue.

Core Faculty:

Ahmed al-Rahim: Islamic Studies, Muslim intellectual history.
Elizabeth Alexander: Rabbinic literature and hermeneutics.
Asher Biemann: Modern Jewish thought, German-Jewish intellectual history.
Greg Schmidt Goering: Classical Hebrew language; Jewish wisdom literature.
Clarke Hudson:  Daoist thought and commentary; social thought; hermeneutics.
Peter Ochs (convener): Scriptural reasoning in the Abrahamic traditions.
Vanessa Ochs: Jewish ritual studies; material culture and religious studies.

Associate Faculty:

Larry Bouchard : Religious and Ethical Studies of Imaginative Literature; Interpretation theory.
Mehr Farooqi: (Dept. of MESALC) Urdu literatures.
Gabriel Finder: (Dept. of History) Eastern European Jewry, Holocaust
Martien Halvorson-Taylor: Hebrew Bible, Biblical Interpretation, Second Temple Period .
Kevin Hart: Phenomenology and Theology; Catholic Theology; Poetry and Religion.
Paul Jones: Christian theology and philosophy of religion in the West; Christology.
Charles Mathewes: Comparative religious ethics; Christian thought; religion and politics.
Ahmad Obiedat: Arabic language; Muslim philosophies.

Students may also take courses with other members of the Department of Religious Studies and, with approval, other members the Arts and Sciences Graduate Faculty.


Degree Requirements:



Scriptural Tradition: Upon matriculation, students declare their primary and secondary traditions of study.  Currently, most students in the program specialize in Judaism, Christianity, or Islam.  Students may also specialize in any of the Asian scriptural traditions (in which case their work will be coordinated with the program in History of Religions).  

Course Requirements:

All Ph.D. candidates within the Department of Religious Studies who do not hold a graduate degree are required to pass a minimum of 54 credits (18 courses) in classes at the 5000 level and above plus 18 additional credits (which may be taken in non-graded non-topical research consultation). Students who already hold a graduate degree in Religious Studies from another University (M.A., M. Div., or equivalent) may petition for advanced standing at the end of their first year of residence and be permitted to waive up to 24 credits (8 courses) of the course-work requirement.

All Ph.D. candidates in SIP must fulfill the following distribution requirements:

  • Scriptural Tradition: At least 8 courses in their primary tradition of study and 3 courses in their secondary tradition and 1 course in a third tradition
  • Pillars of SIP

  1. Scripture: “What is Scripture”' (RELG 5960) or an alternate course as designated by the faculty.

  2. Interpretation“Interpretation Theory” (RELG 5070), “Pragmatism and Semiotics” or an alternate course as designated by the faculty.

  3. Practice“Ethnography and the Study of Religion” (RELG 5835) or an alternate course as designated by the Faculty.

  • Practicum: During their first year, all students attend a practicum in Scriptural Reasoning, held monthly.
  • SIP Colloquium: All students in coursework are required to enroll in the one credit SIP colloquium offered each semester. Each year the student group selects a focus of study. Colloquia are addressed by faculty, visiting lecturers, and students and are often held as a lunchtime seminar, at times open to the department at large.

SIP Language Requirements: General

Modern Languages

Like all Doctor of Philosophy Candidates in Religious Studies, candidates in SIP must demonstrate by examination a reading competency in both French and German, but one substitution may be approved when other modern languages are appropriate to the field of concentration (such as Modern Hebrew or Arabic). Candidates in SIP must also demonstrate by examination a reading competency in languages specific to their primary area of concentration.

Scriptural Languages

Doctor of Philosophy Candidates in SIP are expected to demonstrate reading competency in two of the following scriptural languages: Classical Hebrew, Koine Greek, and Classical Arabic. A student may substitute an Asian scriptural language for one of these. Upon matriculation, students are expected to demonstrate competency in at least one scriptural language (see below). All students are strongly encouraged to take at least one course each semester that requires readings in their primary scriptural language(s).

Supplemental Languages

Candidates in SIP may also be expected to demonstrate reading competency in languages specific to their primary area of concentration:

  • Jewish Tradition: Rabbinic Hebrew; students concentrating in Rabbinics must also show competency in Aramaic. Other language competencies will be assigned when appropriate to a particular concentration.
  • Christian Tradition: Students concentrating in Patristics or medieval studies should show competency in either Patristic Greek or Patristic/Medieval Latin. Other language competencies will be assigned when appropriate to a particular concentration.
  • Muslim Tradition: Reading competency in classical and medieval Arabic religious texts. Persian language competence will be assigned when appropriate.
  • Asian Traditions: Reading competencies as appropriate.

A student’s responsibility for supplemental language study will be assessed through a cooperative effort among the student, the student’s advisor, and appropriate language faculty.


Comprehensive Examinations:

No sooner than one semester and no later than one year after the completion of all coursework and language examinations, Ph.D. candidates must pass five comprehensive examinations in SIP. At least one exam in areas #3, 4, or 5 must be devoted to reflections on methods of study unique to SIP.

1) Primary scriptural tradition: A 6 hr. exam in either Hebrew Bible and Rabbinic Interpretation; or Old/New Testament and Patristics; or Qur'an and classical/medieval interpretation; or an Asian scriptural tradition.

2) Secondary scriptural traditionsA 6 hr. exam in a second Abrahamic tradition of scriptural reading and interpretation, or in an Asian tradition if the student’s primary tradition is Abrahamic.

3) Practice: A 6 hour exam or equivalent research paper, as approved by the SIP faculty, on religious practices in the scriptural traditions (such as ritual practice, liturgical or other), and/or on religious material culture, and on how best to study these practices (for example, through ethnography and/or ritual theory as applied to any one of the scriptural traditions).

4) Interpretation: A 6 hr. exam in methods of interpretive reasoning appropriate to SIP: for example, scriptural and textual hermeneutics or semiotics; theories of scriptural interpretation (commentarial, legal, literary, theological, or philosophic). The exam may be divided into two sub-topics pertinent to a student’s research and teaching.  Students may submit either a written exam or a research paper, as approved by the SIP faculty.

5) Special Topics: A 6 hr. exam or an equivalent research paper, as approved by the SIP faculty, in sub-disciplines appropriate to a student’s research and teaching. The exam may be divided into two sub-topics pertinent to a student’s research and teaching. Some work in comparative studies is encouraged but not required. 


Upon successful completion of the comprehensive examinations, a Ph.D. candidate will be invited to choose a dissertation advisor from the SIP Faculty and, with the advisor's guidance, to gather a dissertation committee including at least one other member of the SIP Faculty and at least one faculty member outside of SIP (in any other Area of the Graduate School). The candidate will then prepare a dissertation proposal and submit it to the committee for approval. The candidate is strongly advised to complete the dissertation within two years -and no longer than three years - after completing the comprehensive exams.



Scriptural Tradition: On matriculation, students declare their primary tradition of study (Judaism, Christianity, or Islam). MA students specialize in one Abrahamic tradition and take courses in the other two traditions as well.

Course Requirements:

For all candidates within the Department of Religious Studies. For all candidates within the department, the M.A. in Religious Studies has the following general requirements. Either: a) The successful completion of 24 credit hours (8 courses) of course work, of which at least 6 hours must be taken in courses with a strong emphasis on method; and the preparation and successful defense of a thesis which exhibits competence in the area of specialization, skill in a given method of study, and an ability to employ resources in the relevant foreign language(s); OR b) The successful completion of 30 credit hours (10 courses) of course work, of which at least 6 hours must be taken in courses with a strong emphasis on method; and the satisfactory performance in a comprehensive examination based upon a reading list approved by the relevant field committee; (The choice between these options is determined in consultation between the student and faculty advisors, and with a view to the student's objectives in graduate study.)

Course Distribution Requirements: MA candidates in SIP must fulfill the following distribution requirements:

• Scriptural Tradition: At least one course in each of the three Abrahamic traditions, and at least four courses in the primary tradition of study.

• Practicum: During their first year of study, students are required to attend a practicum in Abrahamic scriptural reasoning, held monthly.

• SIP Colloquium: All students in coursework are required to enroll in the one credit SIP colloquium offered each semester (see above under PhD requirements).


A reading knowledge of either French or German and must to be demonstrated by examination (although another language may be substituted under appropriate circumstances and with the approval of the Committee on Graduate Studies). On matriculation, candidates in SIP must also demonstrate by examination a reading competency in at least one scriptural language specific to their primary tradition of study. Competency in other scriptural languages is encouraged.


M.A. in Religion, Politics, and Global Society.

Beginning next Fall (2016), UVA’s Religious Studies Department will offer a terminal MA in Religion, Politics and Global Society. This multi-disciplinary program will prepare students from across the globe to understand the dynamic relations among religious traditions and modern polities: competitions among religious communities, clashes between secular and religious commitments, science versus faith, neighbor versus neighbor. Students will examine religion, politics, and global society through disciplinary practices culled from across the university. Hosted by UVA’s distinguished faculties in religious studies and politics, and featuring faculty from many departments and schools, the program complements UVA’s nationally recognized initiatives in global affairs and global studies. The MA immerses students in the study of religious traditions in their interface with contemporary societies in order to engage religion at key global crossroads where modernities contend, civilizations clash, and lifeways connect.

Faculty Advisory Board:

  • Ahmed H. al-Rahim, Religious Studies
  • Asher Biemann, Religious Studies 
  • Donald E. Brown, Director Data Science Institute; Systems and Information Engineering
  • Dorothy Fontaine, Dean of the School of Nursing
  • Peter Furia, Politics, Global Studies
  • Matthew Gerber, Systems and Information Engineering
  • Richard Handler, Director of Global Studies; Anthropology
  • James Hunter, Sociology
  • Allen Lynch, Politics
  • Shankar Nair, Religious Studies
  • Peter Ochs, Religious Studies
  • John M. Owen, IV, Politics
  • Philip Potter, Politics
  • Jonah Schulhofer-Wohl, Politics
  • Herman Shwartz, Politics
  • Michael Smith, History
  • Milton Vickerman, Sociology
  • Barbra Mann Wall, Nursing School
  • Denise Walsh, Politics, Women and Gender Studies
  • Jerry White, Global Studies

Affiliated Faculty:

  • Majida Bargach, Director of Global Internships; French
  • Talbot Brewer, Philosophy
  • Eve Danziger, Anthropology
  • Lise Dobrin, Anthropology
  • Kathleen Flake, Religious Studies
  • Nichole M. Flores, Religious Studies
  • Jennifer L. Geddes, Religious Studies
  • Robert P. Geraci, History
  • Cynthia H. Hoehler-Fatton, Religious Studies
  • Willis Jenkins, Religious Studies
  • James Loeffler, History
  • Loren Lomasky, Philosophy
  • Xiaoyuan Lui, History
  • Neeti Nair, History
  • Vanessa Ochs, Religious Studies
  • Yoav Peled, Jewish Studies
  • Janet Spittler, Religious Studies
  • Kath Weston, Anthropology

M.A. track in Religion, Conflict & Peace

The MA in Religion, Conflict & Peace trains students to analyze and assess violent conflict with particular attention to the diverse roles played by religious actors, traditions and institutions. It offers a program of advanced study that treats religion as a specific field of inquiry in the theory and practice of peacebuilding, conflict analysis, conflict resolution, violence and nonviolence, ethnicity and nationalism, politics and political theory, diplomacy, and human development. In addition to these areas of study, the MA may be of particular value for individuals preparing to work in foreign service, peacemaking, second-track diplomacy, community development and organizing, religious leadership, or related areas of teaching/training.

The MA examines religion as it relates to both conflict and peace, exploring how and under what conditions religions fuel or help repair conflict, complicate or facilitate conflict resolution, and impact international and inter-community relations. The MA focuses on recent peacebuilding theories, on predictive models, and on the roles religions may play in transforming conflict and building peace. It prepares students for the complex challenges of building peace in the twenty-first century. 

M.A. Degree Requirements

The M.A. requires successful completion of 30 credit hours, including 24 credit hours of course work (8 courses), 3 practicum credit hours, and 3 credit hours of preparation for a capstone project. The capstone project, which students prepare through course work and individual research throughout their course of study, involves a detailed conflict assessment and peacebuilding plan for a contemporary instance of religion-related violent conflict. Course work must include the three foundational courses (listed below), at least two tradition-specific courses, and three electives. Students are encouraged to choose courses that will complement their research for the capstone project. The program involves a practicum in the first and third semesters of study. Each semester all students in the MA program meet monthly in a 1 credit hour proseminar to discuss their own research, reflect on the program, develop relationships with colleagues. Students take a comprehensive examination in their final semester. They are strongly encouraged to develop the language proficiency necessary for their region- and/or tradition-specific capstone research.

Course Distribution Requirements: MA candidates in Religion, Conflict & Peace must fulfill the following distribution requirements:

  • Three Foundational Courses: Religion, Violence & Strategy; Religion and Foreign Affairs; and Religion & War.
  • Religious Traditions: At least one course in each of two religious traditions, ideally related to the student’s capstone research or other individual work.
  • Proseminar: M.A. students attend a one-hour seminar monthly each semester, focusing on student research and professional development.
  • First-Year Practicum: During their first year of study, students attend a 1 credit hour practicum in Abrahamic scriptural reasoning, held monthly.
  • Second-Year Practicum: During their third semester of study, students take a 2 credit hour practicum course involving interface with governmental officials and civil society leaders relevant to their capstone research and course of study.
  • Capstone Project: During the final semester of study, students take 3 credit hours of topical research to prepare their capstone project.

Spring 2016 Course Offerings:

  • ANTH 3310 Controversies of Care in Contemporary Africa
  • ANTH 5590 Seminar: Ethnography of Africa
  • ANTH 5590 Seminar: Values, Identity and Survival
  • GSGS 3110 US Military Experience and International Development
  • GDS 3113 A Buddhist Approach to Development
  • HIEA 9021 Tutorial in "China in Hot and Cold Wars in Modern Times"
  • HIEA 9022 Tutorial in “Making of the 'Chinese Nation'"
  • HIEU 3021 Greek and Roman Warfare
  • HIEU 3702 Russia as Multi-Ethnic Empire
  • HIEU 3752 Evolution of the International System, 1815-1950
  • HIEU 9028 Tutorial in British Legal and Political Thought
  • HIME 3559 Cultural History Palestine/Israel
  • HIME 3559 Arab Cold War
  • HIUS 3456 History of U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1914
  • MESA 3559 Islam, Religious Diversity, and Encounter with Other Religions
  • PHIL 3710 Ethics
  • PHIL 3999 Philosophical Perspectives on Liberty
  • PHIL 7770 Political Philosophy
  • PLCP 7500 Identity and the State
  • PLCP 7500 Terrorism and Insurgency
  • PLIR 3310 Ethics and Human Rights in World Politics
  • PLIR 3500 Domestic Politics of International Relations
  • PLIR 5710 Asymmetry and International Relations
  • PLIR 5810 China in World Affairs
  • RELA 3900 Islam in Africa
  • RELB 3030 Mindfulness and Compassion
  • RELC 3090 Israelite Prophecy
  • RELC 3222 From Jefferson to King
  • RELC 3245 Religious Liberty
  • RELG 3559 Religion and Foreign Affairs
  • RELG 5541 Just War
  • RELG 5559 Ethics and Aesthetics
  • RELG 5559 Environmental Ethics
  • RELG 5559 Abrahamic Feminisms
  • RELH 5475 Social Vision in Hinduism
  • RELI 3110 Muhammad and the Qur'an
  • RELI 5559 Islamic Philosophy and Theology
  • RELJ 3100 Medieval Jewish Thought
  • RELJ 5559 Germans and Jews
  • RELJ 5559 Benjamin, Adorno, and Arendt
  • SOC 3410 Race and Ethnic Relations


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