Comparative Religion

Language Requirement
Basic Competency Certification
Required Core Courses
Other Course Work
Graduate School Requirements
Final Degree Requirements
Supervisory Committee                                                                                       Research Paper(s)                                                                                               Examinations                                                                              APPLYING TO GRADUATE                                                                  PRACTICAL TIPS AND PROCEDURES FOR FINISHING
Working with Your Committee on Preparation for the Written Exam                  Working with Your Committee on Preparation of the Final Research Papers        You, the Scheduler!                                                                                            Last Steps in the Process                                                           FELLOWSHIP APPLICATIONS AND FINANCIAL AID                           COMPARATIVE RELIGION FACULTY 


It is important to familiarize yourself with the Comparative Religion Program Requirements for a Master of Arts in International Studies and with the General Graduate School Requirements for a Master’s Degree. Specific requirements for each concentration are detailed below. Comparative Religion requirements are designed to meet Graduate School requirements, but it is a good idea to check that you satisfy both the Program and Graduate School requirements needed to graduate.

Graduate Program Coordinator (GPC)
Professor James Wellman is the Chair and also the Graduate Program Coordinator (GPC) for the Comparative Religion Program. He will serve as your faculty adviser. As you review the program requirements and guidelines, you will find that some actions require formal approval from the GPC. This approval should be in writing and should be placed in your file in Paula Milligan’s office.


Language Requirement
The program places a very high priority on the acquisition of language skills, particularly for students who aim eventually for graduate study at the Ph.D. level. Language study is an essential part of the program. To meet program requirements you must meet two different language requirements. The first consists of three years of a language necessary to conduct research in your major concentration. The second entails acquiring an elementary reading knowledge of a secondary foreign language necessary for reviewing published research, usually French or German. Elementary reading knowledge corresponds to a year of academic study.

The languages appropriate for each concentration are listed below under the section for each concentration. Prior to starting your language study you should consult with Professor Wellman. We are also aware that some concentrations (particularly the Religion and Culture major) may demand a contemporary language proficiency; again, seeking advice from the GPC for fulfilling your language requirements is strongly encouraged.
Language classes are offered through Asian Languages and Literature (Sanskrit, Hindi, Bengali, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Indonesian, and Vietnamese), Classics (Latin and Greek), Near Eastern Languages and Civilization (Arabic, Turkish, Persian, Aramaic, Coptic and Hebrew) and Romance Languages and Literature (French and German). Many of these languages are offered during the summer as intensive courses equivalent to one full year of study. The Jackson School does not offer languages.

If you already have some language proficiency in your chosen languages but are uncertain about what level to take, contact the department offering the language for advice. Language taken at other institutions can be used to fulfill language requirements, provided it is recorded on a transcript. If you believe you are at or beyond the required language level but do not have a transcript to show this, you should arrange to take a proficiency exam through the appropriate department. Do this early; if your exam results do not show the required proficiency, you will need time to take the appropriate course work.

The M.A. degree is notionally a two-year program, but it is important to note that students who enter the program already having significant training in their chosen primary language will be in the best position to complete the degree within this time. Less foreign language preparation prior to entry may lengthen the time to completion. In some instances it is possible to shorten the overall time for satisfaction of the language requirements by taking advantage of opportunities for language study during the summer quarter at UW or in study-abroad programs.

In any event, consult with Prof. Wellman and pay close consideration at the very beginning of the degree program so that you meet the language requirements in a timely fashion.

Basic Competency Certification
To achieve a basic competency in the history of world religions, you must take JSIS B 201, which focuses on Western Traditions, and JSIS B 202, which focuses on Eastern Traditions. These courses cannot be taken for graduate credit. If you have taken equivalent courses at other institutions, it is possible to have one or both of these courses waived with written approval from the GPC. It is also possible to waive the requirement by passing written certifying exams. These exams are given by the professors currently teaching the two courses.

Required Core Courses

JSIS B 501 (The Study of Religion) and JSIS B 502 (Religion in Comparative Perspective) should be taken in the first year. These courses are designed to introduce you to the theory and academic study in comparative religion. Finally, you must register for JSIS B 598 for every quarter of your tenure in the MA Program. Student leadership is a hallmark of this Colloquium which is coordinated in cooperation with the Chair and with Professor Kyoko Tokuno.

Historical Relations Between Religious Traditions– Required Elective

With the written approval of the GPC, you must select a course that deals with the history of regions in which two or more religious traditions come into contact with one another. Examples are those that investigate the spread of Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, or Islam from their cultures of origin to other regions. You should be sure that there is written agreement from the GPC on which specific course is being counted for this requirement.

Other Course Work

Major Concentration. Students complete 4 to 5 courses in a chosen major. Major Concentration Options are:  Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Religion, or Religion and Culture.  

Minor Concentration. Students complete two or more courses in a chosen minor. Options for the Minor Concentration are:  same as major plus Religion in America, African religions, East Asian religions, Greco-Roman religions

For specific further requirements for each major concentration see the Comparative Religion website:




Hebrew Bible and Ancient Near East




Graduate School Requirements

The concentrations pages mentioned above detail requirements specific to the Comparative Religion M.A. degree. In addition, you must make certain that the courses you take fulfill another set of more generic requirements established by the Graduate School for all M.A. programs. Please note carefully the following Graduate School requirements: (1) You must complete a minimum of 36 credits, including JSIS A 501-502, non-language courses taken to fulfill your concentration requirements, and the required historical relations course. (2) At least 18 of these credits must be at the 500 level or above and (3) at least 18 credits must be graded. Graded courses include all 400- and 500-level courses (except 498 and 499) for which you receive a decimal grade. IMPORTANT NOTE: Graduate Independent Study courses (JSIS A 600) can be taken to fulfill our Comparative Religion concentration requirements, but they are not considered graded courses even though you may, in some cases, receive a decimal grade. Such grades are not included in your GPA.


It is preferable to take courses at the 400-level or above, since graduate credit is not granted for courses below the 400-level. However, from time to time the content of a 300-level class may meet an important curricular need for an M.A. student. With written approval from the GPC, you may take 300-level courses, with prefixes other than JSIS. In some cases it is possible actually to receive graduate credit if one arranges to attend a 300-level course while formally enrolling in a 600-level Independent Study course, making a contract with the instructor of the 300-level course to do the work required for that class along with some extra work to meet graduate standards. 


Final Degree Requirements
Supervisory Committee
By the beginning of your second year in the program you should have a Supervisory Committee. In consultation with the GPC, you will select three members of the Comparative Religion faculty (or faculty affiliated with Comparative Religion) to serve on your committee. The chair should be someone familiar with your work in your major concentration and with whom you have a comfortable relationship. The other members should be faculty with whom you have taken at least one graduate-level class. One member should be from your minor concentration while the other should normally be the instructor with whom you took the JSIS A 501 or R 502 method and theory seminar, unless an alternative arrangement has been approved by the GPC.

Research Paper(s)
You should work closely with your Supervisory Committee on your final paper(s); if one, approximately 50 pages in length; if two, 25 pages each. These papers are usually revisions of your best research seminar papers. Your revisions, which are expected to consider both your instructors’ criticisms and your own subsequent insights, should be made in consultation with members of your committee. If you write two papers, one should be from the major concentration, and the other from the minor concentration. If you write only one, it should incorporate subject matter or theory from both your major and your minor concentrations. Since the primary focus of the oral exam is your paper(s), the nature of these paper(s) must be negotiated with your committee chair. The papers should be submitted at least one week prior to the oral exam to give the committee members adequate time to evaluate your work.

Ideally, both the written and oral exams are held at the end of your last quarter in the program, after completion of all necessary course work. What follows is a description of the overall process. After that are some important practical guidelines for scheduling everything, for your preparation and advance work with your committee, and for the completion of the final steps in the process. Sometimes students take an extra quarter just to prepare. You must be registered for at least 2 credits, however, to maintain your status as a student. One option is to register for Independent Study with the chair of your committee.

Written Exam
The examination proper begins with the written exam, which involves a take-home set of questions for which you are given one week to provide written responses, and concludes with the oral exam, which is most often an hour or so in length, and takes place a week after you have submitted the responses for the written exam. The purpose of the written exam is to allow you to think synoptically about the various issues you have confronted in your core seminars and other course work. For this reason it is important to select a Supervisory Committee which is familiar with your work. These are the people with whom you will negotiate the precise structure and content of the examination.

The structure of the examination falls into three sections. The first focuses on theoretical issues in the study of religion; it requires the participation of the committee member who taught one of your theory courses (JSIS A 501 or 502), unless an alternative arrangement has been approved by the GPC. The second focuses on your major area of study, and the third on your minor area, drawing on discussions with the appropriate committee member in each case.

At least one quarter prior to the date of the “written exam” you will work out, in consultation with the relevant examiners, a series of to two to three issues, themes, and problems to prepare for the exam. The written exam proper consists of take-home, open-book essays in the fields of “Theory,” “Major Area,” and “Minor Area.” You will be given at least one and no more than two distinct questions by your committee for each of the three areas of the exam, and allowed one week to complete answers using whatever resources you have at hand. If you have only one question in a given area, the response should be 5-7 pages in length, double-spaced. If you have two questions in one or more areas, each essay should be no more than four pages in length and double-spaced.

After completing the answers to the written exam, these answers and the research paper(s) are to be submitted to the committee members.

Oral Exam:
The point of this exam is to allow your committee to evaluate your technical skills as a scholar. Can you frame significant theoretical, interpretive, or historical questions? How well have you integrated existing scholarly paradigms and results into your work? Are you capable of using the relevant languages in a competent way?

The oral exam is to be scheduled no earlier than one week after the answers to the written exam and the research paper(s) have been submitted to the committee members. The oral exam will last for approximately one hour and a half. The discussion in the oral exam will be based on the submitted research paper(s) and your responses to the written exam.
At the end of the oral exam, you will be asked to leave the room for a few moments while committee members compare their observations about your work in general and your oral performance in particular. If the committee is satisfied on all counts it will invite you back in for congratulations. If there are problems, you will be asked to reschedule those portions of the examination which the committee feels require more polishing. Where rescheduling is necessary, this should be done no later than the following academic quarter.

To graduate, you must apply through the Graduate School’s degree application Web site: The application period commences the first day of the quarter of graduation. The department requires that you apply for your degree by midnight on the 7th Sunday of the quarter (5th Sunday in Summer quarter).
The Graduate School will send you an email confirmation of your application for Master’s Degree will inform you of Graduate School requirements that must be met by the end of the quarter in which you graduate. The Graduate Program Adviser (Paula Milligan) will be notified of your application for Master’s Degree and will enter information detailing departmental requirements that must be met. This will generate an email from the Graduate School to you informing you of departmental requirements.

If you do not finish in the quarter in which you applied to graduate, you will have to re-apply. You must be registered for at least two credits in the quarter you graduate. It is important for you to maintain your status as a student until you graduate. To do this, you must be registered for every quarter except Summer Quarter or you must be formally on leave.

It is important to have a clear awareness at the very beginning of your program about what will be expected of you in the final stages and to begin planning with your Supervisory Committee the specifics of your final exam preparation as early as possible. Here are some suggestions about the steps you should be taking as the quarter of your graduation approaches.

Working with Your Committee on Preparation for the Written Exam:
Normally in the autumn quarter of your second year (i.e., at least two quarters before the quarter of your final exam) you should take the initiative and begin a discussion with each of your committee members about how to prepare for each of the three sections of the written exam. You will not be given in advance the actual questions that will be on the exam but you should establish a clear agreement with each committee member about the kinds of areas and issues for which you will be preparing. Here are some practical steps to be taken:

* Prepare for each committee member a draft document that includes a bibliography of primary and secondary works relating to that area of the exam, and a short summary that essentially reviews the issues and topics that have constituted your major interests in classes and reading relating to this part of the exam. Rather than a standardized M.A. exam with exactly the same questions for every student, our program aims to shape each exam to evaluate the student in ways that are relevant to the training she/he has actually been receiving. This step is your opportunity to inventory those books and sources, and topics and issues related to them, that you would like to be included in your final review and study and in conversation around the exam. The best way to start building these bibliographies is to include most all of the sources and modern works that were on the syllabuses of courses related to each section of your final exam, and then add any other important items that you consulted extensively.

**Each committee member should be asked to review her/his document, and make suggestions for additions or other revisions. When you have negotiated a final draft, that will then be your study guide, and also the basis on which each committee member will eventually compose one or two questions for his/her section of your written exam. At the very latest, these documents should be finalized before the beginning of the quarter of the final exam. (NOTE: Paula Milligan may have copies of such documents produced by students and their committee members in previous years, which you can consult to gain a better idea of how to go about this.)

Working with Your Committee on Preparation of the Final Research Paper(s):
As explained earlier, your final research paper(s) is/are normally developed from research paper(s) written in the context of seminars during your M.A. program. Thus, it is important to start thinking about possible candidates for such papers even in your first year of the program. No later than the beginning of your final quarter in the program, the decision of what this paper(s) will be should have been settled with your committee chair and members. Recall that the final draft of the paper(s) must be submitted along with your answers to the written exam, and that the research paper(s) will be an important part of the discussion in the oral exam.
Therefore, it is in your interest to do everything in your power to avoid last-minute “surprises” as far as the research paper portion of the exam is concerned. That is, it is highly recommended that well before the time of the written exam you make sure that at least some, if not all, of the members of your committee have seen at least one earlier draft (ideally, more than one) of your research paper(s), and have already had opportunity to offer feedback. Early feedback on preliminary drafts can be solicited even many months before the final exam. Here is your opportunity to optimize your control over a very important element of your final exam.

You, the Scheduler!
At the end of your program, it will be time for you to schedule your written and oral exams with your Supervisory Committee. This is one of the easier and more routine tasks in the end game, but it is important that you should start on this process no later than the beginning of your last quarter. The way to proceed is to work “backwards”:
Contact Paula Milligan and determine what is the latest date on which you can complete the Oral exam under Graduate School rules and submit the Warrant (see below) to Paula. Your oral exam cannot be scheduled any later than that date, and you should try to schedule it at least a day before this date.

The next step is to find a date, time and room for the oral exam that is going to be possible for you and all three of your committee members. This is the only date and time of the exam process on which all four of you must be present, so it is the trickiest to schedule—and you have to find a room available for that date and time. The easiest way to start may be to find out 3 or 4 times that will work for your committee chair, and then send out these choices in an email to the other committee members and see which choice(s) is possible for all three.

Once you come up with some date/times that would be viable for your committee, make an appointment with Paula Milligan. Bring to that appointment a copy of the last printed planning sheet given to you by Professor Wellman, and a completed Exam Scheduling Form with the GPC’s signature. Paula will help you find a room that can be reserved for one of the dates/times possible for your committee. Once a room is confirmed and reserved, Paula will officially notify all involved, and she will prepare your file for your oral exam. As a courtesy, you should send your own email note (with a cc to Paula!) to all members of your committee, confirming the final date/time for the oral exam.

A date should be set on which you will be given the written exam questions. Since you will have one week to write your answers and the committee must have at least a week to read over them and the final version of your research paper(s), the date for your reception of the questions must be at least two weeks prior to the date of the oral exam. Paula will need the questions a bit before that. Find out from her the date by which she must receive all these questions. Your committee chair and other members should be notified of this date in your courtesy email to them mentioned in #3. Paula also will be sending official notification to them.

Last Steps in the Process
After you have turned in your research paper(s) and the answers to your written exam, these will be forwarded to your committee members. Prior to your oral, your file will be given to the chair of your committee. Aside from providing a record of your work in the program, it will also contain your Oral Exam Form, your written exam, and your Warrant. Both your Oral Exam Form and your Warrant must be signed by committee members following successful completion of the oral exam. Any required course work for which you have yet to receive a grade will be listed as a contingency on the Warrant. When these grades are received, your graduation will be finalized by the Graduate School.

If you finish all required course work and need only to complete your paper(s), you may want to consider going on leave until the paper(s) have been completed. In the quarter you return, you can register for JSIS 600/Independent Study with the chair of your committee and reapply to graduate.


You can be considered through the International and Area Studies Fellowship application for most fellowships offered by the Jackson School.  Application procedures will be announced in October; the application deadline is usually January 15, but it is a good idea to check the deadline well in advance.  Awards are made in mid-April for the following summer and/or academic year.  Specific questions concerning FLAS should be addressed to the Fellowships Coordinator, Robyn Davis (Thomson 126).

Faculty evaluations and grades earned at the UW are of particular importance to fellowship committees, so it is helpful to carry a full load of relevant courses and do well in them. It is important to make good progress toward your degree before applying, and you must continue this progress if you receive a JSIS fellowship.

The Comparative Religion program offers 4-5 teaching assistantships each year. Each appointment is for one quarter only. Applications may be obtained on the Jackson School website toward the end of November.

In addition, the Domoto Webb Endowed Fellowship and the Eugene and Marilyn Webb Scholarship are offered through the Comparative Religion program. All incoming graduate students are automatically considered for the Fellowship. There is no need to apply. The amount of the Domoto Webb varies from $2500 - $8,000. The Webb Scholarship is awarded solely on the basis of academic merit and an application can be found on line at Application is limited to Comparative Religion undergraduate and graduate students. Usually about $1500 is awarded to one recipient in each category during Winter Quarter. You will be notified about the application procedure in plenty of time to apply.

For information and applications for need-based financial aid, consult the Financial Aid Office in Schmitz Hall. Their web site is




PHILIP BALLINGER, Assistant Vice President for Enrollment, Admissions; Faculty Affiliate, Language and Religious Experience, Early Christianity, Christianity and Mysticism.

GAD BARZILAI, Professor, Political Science, Law and Jackson School

CYNTHEA BOGEL, Associate Professor, Art History

DANIEL CHIROT, Professor, JSIS and Sociology

COLLETT D. COX, Professor, Asian Languages and Literature 

SARA CURRAN, Associate Professor, International Studies and Evans School of Public Affairs

TER ELLINGSON, Professor, Music and adjunct, Anthropology, South Asian Studies

ANTHONY GILL, Professor, Political Science

ELLIS GOLDBERG, Professor, Political Science (On-leave 2012-2013)

STEVAN C. HARRELL, Professor, Anthropology 

ALEXANDER HOLLMAN, Assistant Professor, Classics

CHARLES F. KEYES, Professor emeritus, Anthropology 

CLARK B. LOMBARDI, Associate Professor, School of Law 

SCOTT NOEGEL, Professor, Near Eastern Languages and Civilization; Adjunct History 

CHRISTIAN LEE NOVETZKE, Associate Professor, Jackson School

MARY R. O’NEIL, Associate Professor, History 

ARZOO OSANLOO, Associate Professor, Anthropology and Law, Societies and Justice

NOAM PIANKO, Assistant Professor, Jackson School

HEIDI PAUWELS, Professor, Asian Languages and Literature

STEVEN PFAFF, Associate Professor, Sociology

CABEIRI deBERGH ROBINSON, Assistant Professor, Jackson School 

MARK SMITH, Professor, Political Science, American Politics, Methodology.

CLARKE K. SPEED, Lecturer, University Honors Program and African StudiesROBERT C. STACEY, Professor, History 

SARAH STROUP, Associate Professor, Classics
KYOKO TOKUNO, Senior Lecturer, Jackson School of International Studies
JOEL THOMAS WALKER, Associate Professor, History 
JAMES K. WELLMAN Jr, Associate Professor, Jackson School 
MICHAEL A. WILLIAMS, Professor, Jackson School of International Studies 
GLENNYS J. YOUNG, Associate Professor, Jackson School of International Studies 
Associate Members
JERE L. BACHARACH, Professor emeritus, History and International Studies 
ROBERT C. COBURN, Professor emeritus, Philosophy
MARTIN S. JAFFEE, Professor emeritus, International Studies 
LINDA L. ILTIS, Lecturer, International Studies 
LORNA A. RHODES, Professor, Anthropology
RICHARD G. SALOMON, Professor, Asian Languages and Literature
ROBIN C. STACEY, Professor, History
EUGENE WEBB, Professor emeritus, Comparative Literature and the Jackson School of International Studies.  
See for contact information
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