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Religion Degree Requirements

The Master of Liberal Arts, Religion degree program is offered online with 1 course required on campus at Harvard University. Weekend options are available for the on-campus requirement.

Getting Started

Explore Degree Requirements

Required Course Curriculum

  • Two people on a zoom call.

    Online core and elective courses

  • School building.

    On-campus Engaging in Scholarly Conversation course

  • Lightbulb in a hand.

    Capstone or thesis

12 Graduate Courses (48 credits)

The degree is customizable. As part of the program curriculum, you choose either a capstone or thesis track as well as the religion and elective courses that meet your learning goals.

The primarily synchronous online format ensures real-time engagement with faculty and peers.

Required Core & Elective Courses

  • HUMA 100 Proseminar: Introduction to Graduate Studies in English and Religion
  • 4 religion courses
  • 1 religion seminar
  • 1 Engaging in Scholarly Conversation (see on-campus experience)
    • This 4-credit requirement is fulfilled by completing 2 two-credit Active Learning Weekends or 1 three-week summer course.
  • 2 religion electives
    • EXPO 42a Writing in the Humanities is an elective option.

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Tip: Seminars offer small-class discussions as well as ample opportunities to connect with faculty and peers while engaging in research. We encourage you to complete multiple seminars.

Thesis Track

The thesis is a 9-month independent research project where you work one-on-one in a tutorial setting with a thesis director.

For this track, you enroll in the following additional courses:

  • HUMA 497 Crafting the Thesis Proposal in Dramatic Arts, English, and Religion Tutorial
  • RELI 499AB ALM Thesis in Religion (8 credits)

Recent Thesis Topics:

  • Horatio Alger Jr. and Dr. Russell H. Conwell: Protestant Prescriptions for Social and Economic Mobility
  • Reverend Theodore Judson Jemison: The Man Who Revolutionized the Civil Rights Movement
  • A Comparative Analysis of the Transmission and “Translation” of Tibetan Buddhist Teachings in the American Context

Capstone Track

The capstone track includes the following additional courses and a capstone project. You choose between two topics for the precapstone and capstone courses.

  • A religion elective
  • Precapstone:
    • GOVT 597A Precapstone: Strategies to Advance Social Change
    • HIST 597 Social Reform Movements in America Precapstone
  • Capstone:
    • GOVT 599A Social Justice Capstone: Equity and the Struggle for Justice
    • HIST 599 Social Reform Movements in America Capstone

Capstone experience. First, in the precapstone, you gain foundational preparation through critically analyzing the scholarly literature. Then, in the capstone, you execute a semester-long research project with guidance and support from your instructor and fellow candidates.

Capstone sequencing. You enroll in the precapstone and capstone courses in the same topic, in back-to-back semesters (fall/spring), and in your final academic year. Capstone topics are subject to change annually.

Harvard Instructor Requirement

For either the thesis or capstone track, 8 of the above courses (32 credits) need to be taught by instructors with the Harvard-instructor designation. The thesis course is taught by a Harvard instructor.

On-Campus Experience

  • Calendar.

    Choose between the accelerated or standard on-campus experience.

  • Two people talking at a table.

    Learn and network in-person with your classmates.

Nearly all courses can be taken online, but the degree requires an in-person experience here at Harvard University where you enroll in Engaging in Scholarly Conversation (ESC).

Join your fellow degree candidates for this interactive course that highlights the importance of true graduate-level analysis by training you in the skills of critically engaging the scholarly literature in your field of study.

You register for ESC after completing the proseminar with a grade of B or higher and prior to either the Crafting the Thesis Proposal tutorial or the precapstone to support your final research project. Ordinarily, students wait until they are officially admitted before enrolling in this course, as it does not count as one of the three, 4-credit courses required for admission.

You have two attempts to earn the required grade of B- or higher in ESC. A withdrawal grade (WD) counts as an attempt.

Choose between two on-campus experience options:

  • Accelerated on-campus option: ESC is offered in two, 2-credit active learning weekends. We strongly advise you complete the two weekends in the same academic year with same instructor (part one in fall and part two in spring).
  • Standard on-campus option: ESC is offered in one, 3-week Harvard Summer School (HSS) session. This option is ideal for those who want a more traditional on-campus experience. HSS offers, for an additional fee, housing, meal plans, and a prolonged on-campus experience here at Harvard University. Learn more about campus life at Harvard.

International Students Who Need a Student Visa

To meet the on-campus requirement, you choose the standard on-campus option and study with us in the summer. You can easily request an I-20 for the F-1 student visa for Harvard Summer School’s 3-week session. For more details, see International Student Study Options for important visa information.

In-Person Co-Curricular Events

Come to Cambridge for Convocation (fall) to celebrate your hard-earned admission, Harvard career fairs offered throughout the year, HES alumni networking events (here at Harvard and around the world), and, of course, Harvard University Commencement (May).

Admissions

  • Diploma.

    Confirm your initial eligibility with a 4-year bachelor’s degree or its foreign equivalent.

  • Person climbing toward a flag.

    Take three courses in our unique “earn your way in” admissions process that count toward your degree.

  • Checking off a box.

    In the semester of your third course, submit the official application for admission to the program.

Below are our initial eligibility requirements and an overview of our unique admissions process to help get you started. Visit the Degree Program Admissions page for more details.

Initial Eligibility

Earning Your Way In — Courses Required for Admission

To begin the admission process, you simply register — no application required — for the following three, four-credit, graduate-level degree courses (available online).

These prerequisite courses count toward your degree once you’re admitted; they are not additional courses. They are investments in your studies and help ensure success in the program.

  • HUMA 100 Proseminar: Introduction to Graduate Studies and Scholarly Writing in the Humanities
    • Before registering, you’ll need to pass our online test of critical reading and writing skills or earn a B or higher in EXPO 42a Writing in the Humanities.
    • You have 2 attempts to earn the minimum grade of B in the proseminar (a withdrawal grade counts as an attempt). The proseminar cannot be more than 2 years old at the time of application.
  • 1 religion course
  • 1 religion course or elective (e.g., EXPO 42a)

While the three courses don’t need to be taken in a particular order or in the same semester, we recommend that you start with the proseminar or EXPO 42a. All three courses must be completed with a grade of B or higher, without letting your overall Harvard cumulative GPA dip below 3.0.

Applying to the Degree Program

During the semester of your third degree course, submit the official application to the program.

Don’t delay! You must prioritize the three degree courses for admission and apply before completing subsequent courses. By doing so, you’ll:

  • Avoid the loss of credit due to expired course work or changes to admission and degree requirements.
  • Ensure your enrollment in critical and timely degree-candidate-only courses.
  • Avoid the delayed application fee.
  • Gain access to exclusive benefits.

Eligible students who submit a complete and timely application will have nine more courses after admission to earn the degree. Applicants can register for courses in the upcoming semester before they receive their grades and while they await their admission decision.

The Office of Predegree Advising & Admissions makes all final determinations about program eligibility.

Search and Register for Courses

The Division of Continuing Education (DCE) offers degree courses all year round to accelerate degree completion.

  • You can study in fall, January, and spring terms through Harvard Extension School (HES) and during the summer through Harvard Summer School (HSS).
  • You can enroll full or part time. After qualifying for admission, many of our degree candidates study part time, taking 2 courses per semester (fall/spring) and 1 in the January and summer sessions.
  • Most fall and spring courses meet once a week for two hours, while January and summer courses meet more frequently in a condensed format.

To Complete Your Degree

  • Trophy on a computer monitor.

    Maintain a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher.

  • Clipboard with a pen.

    Complete your courses in five years.

  • Graduation cap and diploma.

    Earn your Harvard degree and enjoy Harvard Alumni Association benefits upon graduation.

Required GPA, Withdrawal Grades, and Repeat Courses

GPA. You need to earn a B or higher in each of the three degree courses required for admission and a B– or higher in each of the subsequent courses. In addition, your cumulative GPA cannot dip below 3.0.

Withdrawal Grades. You are allowed to receive two withdrawal (WD) grades without them affecting your GPA. Any additional WD grades count as zero in your cumulative GPA. See Academic Standing.

Repeat Courses. We advise you to review the ALM program’s strict policies about repeating courses. Generally speaking, you may not repeat a course to improve your GPA or to fulfill a degree requirement (if the minimum grade was not initially achieved). Nor can you repeat a course for graduate credit that you’ve previously completed at Harvard Extension School or Harvard Summer School at the undergraduate level.

Courses Expire: Finish Your Coursework in Under Five Years

Courses over five years old at the point of admission will not count toward the degree. As stated above, the proseminar cannot be more than two years old at the time of application.

Further, you have five years to complete your degree requirements. The five-year timeline begins at the end of the term in which you complete any three degree-applicable courses, regardless of whether or not you have been admitted to a degree program.

Potential degree candidates must plan accordingly and submit their applications to comply with the five-year course expiration policy or they risk losing degree credit for completed course work. Additionally, admission eligibility will be jeopardized if, at the point of application to the program, the five-year degree completion policy cannot be satisfied (i.e., too many courses to complete in the time remaining).

Graduate with Your Harvard Degree

When you have fulfilled all degree requirements, you will earn your Harvard University degree: Master of Liberal Arts (ALM) in Extension Studies, Field: Religion. Degrees are awarded in November, March, and May, with the annual Harvard Commencement ceremony in May.

Degree Candidate Exclusive Benefits

When you become an officially admitted degree candidate, you have access to a rich variety of exclusive benefits to support your academic journey. To learn more, visit degree candidate academic opportunities and privileges.