Comparative Religion MAIS Handbook

This handbook provides you with information concerning both academic and non-academic matters for students enrolled in a Master of Arts in International Studies, Comparative Religion.

First Things First

The Jackson School of International Studies (JSIS) houses many academic programs, of which the Comparative Religion Program is one. Advisers located in the Academic Services Office (located on the first floor of Thomson Hall, room 111) can answer all questions about transfer credits, course requirements and faculty. Bulletin boards located outside room 111 contain information on visiting speakers, film series, etc.

The Academic Services staff can also provide information on internships and job openings. If you have specific questions regarding these announcements, the career and internship adviser, Alison Wattles (awattles@uw.edu, 206-543-0176, Thomson Hall 124) can be of help. There are programs, fellowships, and grant opportunities that provide funding support for graduate work. We mention just a few in this handbook; a more extensive list is available through the Comparative Religion web site: http://jsis.washington.edu/religion/. The menu on the left side of that page includes a link to “Graduate Studies.” Included via that link is information on language fellowships (see particularly scholarships for intensive summer language programs http://clscholarship.org/, travel grants, teaching assistantships, other funding available within the university and from outside sources. The list is not comprehensive but is a good place to start.

Graduate student mailboxes are in the Graduate Lounge, room 311 Thomson Hall. Aside from being a good place to study or meet other students, this is the Graduate Lounge and features 5 computers, and a small “kitchen” with a refrigerator, sink and microwave. Please see the Graduate Program Adviser for the entry code to the lounge.

Advising and Resources
Program Guidelines
Degree Requirements Coursework Final Degree Requirements Practical Tips and Program Procedures for Finishing
Applying to Graduate On-Leave Status
Fellowships and Financial Aid Library and Other Resources

Advising and Resources

 James Wellman Acting Graduate Program Coordinator (GPC), James Wellman, Thomson 420, jwellman@uw.edu

The GPC is the faculty adviser for the first year of the program and will help students determine a suitable faculty mentor for the second year. Students should meet with their faculty adviser at least once a quarter. By the fourth quarter in the program, students should establish a Supervisory Committee to advise completing the final requirements of the program.


Graduate Program Manager (GPA) Rebecca Alhadeff

THO 116, ralhadef@uw.edu

The GPA guides students and provides advice on procedures and requirements for graduating from the Jackson School. For quick questions, students may stop by during drop-in hours on Wednesdays from 10 am to noon or Thursdays from 2-4 pm. Appointments are made here.

Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies FLAS and Fellowship Coordinator, Robyn Davis, Thomson 126, rldavis@uw.edu

Every autumn the FLAS Coordinator organizes FLAS information sessions for students ahead of the winter application deadline, which usually falls in mid-January. She is also available to meet with students in person and will answer questions via email about applying for and receiving FLAS fellowships.

lteresa Comparative Religions LibrarianLinda Di Biaseldibiase@uw.edu

The University of Washington has one of the best collections of Comparative Religion related materials in the country. Materials are housed in many different buildings across campus. Linda specializes in the Comparative Religion related collections housed at the university, including the vast digital resources. Linda is willing to meet with students to provide introductions to the Comparative Religion collections and resources, customize and tailor research inquiries, and provide general guidance on graduate student research.


Alison Wattles JSIS Career Services and Alumni Relations, Alison Wattles, Thomson 124, awattles@uw.edu

The Career Services Office organizes events on campus with employers, as well as provides support for students seeking internships and preparing to enter the job market upon completion of their degree. Appointments can be made here.

Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies JSIS Computer Specialist, Mark HaslamThomson Hall 408C, jsishelp@uw.edu

For technical or software problems with the computers in the Jackson School, contact Mark.


By the beginning of the second year in the program, sooner if possible, you should establish a Supervisory Committee and chair to serve in advising you, particularly as you near graduation.

If you find yourself struggling academically, we strongly advise you to meet with the GPC and/or GPA as soon as possible to discuss your options. Please review the Jackson School’s Satisfactory Progress and Performance Policies for Master’s Students.

Program Guidelines

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.

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 PhD level. Students must demonstrate the equivalent of two years of proficiency in their primary research language either by examination or successful completion of appropriate course work. Students do not have to demonstrate proficiency prior to entering the program. Students can complete the language requirement during the MA program.

The languages appropriate for each concentration are listed below under the section for each concentration. Prior to starting language study you should consult with the GPC, 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), French and Italian Studies, Spanish and Portuguese Studies, and the Department of Germanics (German). Many of these languages are offered during the summer as intensive courses equivalent to one full year of study. The Jackson School offers Modern Greek and Khmer 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 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 the GPC 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 RELIG 201, which focuses on Western Traditions, and RELIG 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

RELIG 501 (The Study of Religion) and RELIG 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 RELIG 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 the GPC.

Required Elective

Historical Relations Between Religious Traditions–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.

Strongly recommended

JSIS 594: International and Area Studies (2 credits)

Exposes students to the four-fold thematic intellectual rubric of the school, and to the wide range of teaching and research agendas represented in the Jackson School. Recommended common course for all first-year graduate and doctoral students. (Autumn quarter of first year)

Other Course Work

Major Concentration.

Students complete 4 to 5 courses in a chosen major concentration. 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 concentration. Options for the minor concentration are: same as major (above) plus Religion in America, African religions, East Asian religions, Greco-Roman religions.


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 RELIG 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

(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.


Graduate Independent Study courses (JSIS 600) can be taken to meet 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. The form for Independent Study is available here.

It is preferable that you 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. 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 RELIG 501 or RELIG 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 (RELIG 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 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. To schedule the Oral Exam, you must submit the Comparative Religion Oral Exam Scheduling Form to the GPA.

Your committee members will normally not have opportunity prior to the day of the oral exam to discuss among themselves your written responses or their impression of your final paper(s). Therefore it is standard procedure that just before the oral exam begins, you will be asked to leave the room for a few minutes while your committee members talk over initial impressions and decide the order of their questions. Again at the end of the oral exam, you will be asked to leave the room while committee members compare their final 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.

Applying to Graduate

To graduate, you must request your degree through the Graduate School’s Degree Application Website. 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 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 by in the end of the quarter in which you applied to graduate, you will have to re-apply. You must be registered for at least one credit 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 (see below).

Practical Tips and Program Procedures for Finishing

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:

1) 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 MA 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 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.

2) 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: The GPA 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”:

Determine the latest date on which you can complete the oral exam under Graduate School rules. 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 is possible for all three.

Once you come up with some date/times that would be viable for your committee, make an appointment with the Graduate Program Advisor. Bring to that appointment a copy of the last printed planning sheet given to you by the GPC, and a completed Exam Scheduling Form (available here) with the GPC’s signature. The GPA 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, the GPA 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 the GPA!) 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. The GPA 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. The GPA also will be sending official notification to them.

Last Steps in the Process

After you have turned in your research paper(s) and 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.

On-Leave Status

Graduate students are required to maintain graduate status during their program of study. Failure to maintain this status requires application to the South Asian Studies program for reinstatement to the University of Washington Graduate School and a fee if $250. Students who desire to take a quarter or quarters off without going through the reinstatement process must apply for on-leave status for each quarter they do not register. For complete details regarding the on-leave policy, refer to Graduate School Memorandum 9.

Registration and Planning Your Class Schedule

Registration for classes begins in the middle of the preceding quarter (middle of Spring Quarter for Autumn Quarter). Course lists for Comparative Religion, which contain course descriptions for the upcoming quarter, are available on the Comparative Religion website. As a continuing student you will be eligible to register in the first Registration Period. Registering early will ensure entry into the classes you want. Keep in mind that, with the exception of intensive language study, few classes relevant to your Comparative Religion program are offered Summer Quarter.

Taking Courses Outside of the Requirements

You may take courses that do not fulfill program requirements. Comparative study is encouraged, and classes that do not meet Comparative Religion requirements may be useful. However, taking too many courses that do not apply to your degree could prevent you from completing the program within two years.

Courses Not to Take

Do not register for any course numbered 499/Undergraduate Independent Study; (unless you are using the course for language study), as this will not count for graduate credit. Graduate Independent Study is usually numbered 600. The Graduate School will not allow graduate credit for courses numbered 300 or lower. The form for Graduate Independent Study is available here.

Number of Credits per Quarter

An average load per quarter for Jackson School graduate students is 12-15 credits or 3-4 courses, depending on credits per course. In the second year some students take fewer courses as they begin to focus on their final paper(s). If you are receiving financial aid, or hold a scholarship, fellowship or RA position, you must carry at least 10 credits per quarter. International students must be registered for 10 credits in order to maintain their F-1 Visa status.

You are not required to take a full course load every quarter, but taking a reduced load during Autumn Quarter may put you at a competitive disadvantage for fellowship consideration. It is difficult for the fellowship committee to assess your scholastic performance if you have only taken a course or two.

You are expected to finish your degree in two years. If you do not carry a full load in your first year, it could take longer to finish.


For tuition information, see this page. Most Jackson School students are Graduate Tier 1. Students pursuing concurrent professional degrees should contact the concurrent department. The concurrent tuition rate is the controlling rate.

If you are not a Washington State Resident, but are a US citizen or Permanent Resident, it is important that you check the Residency website.

Fellowship Applications and Financial Aid

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, 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 Director, Robyn Davis.

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.

For information on need-based financial aid, see the Office of Student Financial Aid.

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 however, the Webb Scholarship does require application. The amount of the Domoto Webb varies from $2,500 – $8,000. The Webb Scholarship is awarded solely on the basis of academic merit and a writing sample. Typically the awards range around $1500 to recipients in each category during Winter Quarter. You will be notified about the application procedure in plenty of time to apply.

Library and Other Resources

The University has one of the top libraries in the country, with an outstanding collection of print and electronic resources. The Comparative Religion Librarian is on hand to help with research needs. For more information, visit the Comparative Religion library website.

There are 5 workstations and a printer, and ten workstations and a printer in the computer lab, which is in the Thomson Hall Annex, basement of Thomson. You may use the printers after paying a quarterly fee to Jackson School Graduate Council for paper and supplies. If you have any technical or software problems with the computers in the Jackson School computer lab, contact the Jackson School’s computer specialist, Mark Haslam (jsishelp@uw.edu). Mark’s office is in Thomson 407.

The University’s Computing Resource Center is in Mary Gates Hall. Information about this and other computer labs can be found here. These labs offer word processing, spreadsheet, database, and graphics applications, and access to the Internet. The Center for Social Science Computation and Research (CSSCR) in Savery Hall 145 offers consultation on computer services for social science students, which includes all JSIS students.

The Jackson School’s 14 degree programs, including Comparative Religion, offer a wide range of colloquiums and symposia featuring JSIS faculty members and guest speakers. Graduate students are encouraged to attend these events. Announcements are usually posted both in Thomson Hall and in the Jackson School Calendar of Events. The calendar is updated by the Jackson School administrative office, and a link to the web calendar is sent by email weekly.

Additionally, the Jackson School has resources to help you transition into a job after you graduate! Feel free to read the JSIS Jobs Blog and consult the JSIS Jobs Boards to help you find companies and organizations hiring JSIS graduates.