Taking the department's motto seriously -- studying religion in culture -- this MA degree explores cross-disciplinary theories on social formation and applies them to the study of religion, seeing each site studied as a test case in identity formation. Unlike other graduate programs in the study of religion, the MA in Religion in Culture at The University of Alabama therefore presses beyond mere description and cross-cultural comparison to use social theory to understand the effects that narratives, practices, classification systems, and institutional structures have on social groups and their members -- always doing so with an eye toward training students to use innovative technologies to effectively communicate their findings to wide audiences.

Two Key Foundations

The premise of the degree is that the work taking place in our field has wide relevance. Promoting both critical analysis and innovative communication skills are therefore the cornerstones of this MA. While all students will carry out their own independent research and gain co-writing experience with their supervisor, courses will require them to produce both original article-length research papers as well as create innovative digital presentations. In consultation with their supervisor, their culminating thesis project will emphasize one or the other of these two modes of scholarly communication -- allowing students to tailor the thesis to suit their own interests and career plans.


Supervisors are assigned by the graduate committee when a student is accepted into the program, making the statement of purpose a crucial element of the application process, inasmuch as it is the primary means by which the graduate committee determines whether there is sufficient overlap of its expertise with incoming students' interests and needs. (This assignment is open to revision, at the discretion of the graduate director, should student interests change.)

Degree Structure

The 36 credit hour graduate degree (2 years of course work, including the final thesis) focuses on providing students with two critical foundations: (i) becoming conversant in contemporary social theory and applying it to their area of interest in the study of religion and (ii) developing competencies in the tools of the public, digital humanities. In their first semester students will not only be reading widely in social theory (and applying it to an historical, regional, or ethnographic example of their choice) but will also be gaining familiarity with a wide variety of digital tools -- from video and audio recording and editing, to making web pages and working with "big data" -- that will assist them to share those findings.

Relevance of the Degree

Designed for students hoping to pursue doctoral work, the degree is also explicitly intended for those aiming to use these skills in any number of other professions -- places where the analytic skills gained from working in social theory are enhanced by their communication skills and digital expertise.


There are a limited number of graduate teaching assistantships (GTA) -- full or partial -- that are awarded annually on a competitive basis. Full GTA positions (i.e., 0.5 FTE) come with a full stipend and full tuition waiver (whether in- or out-of-state); partial GTA positions (e.g., 0.25 FTE) come with a half stipend and half tuition waiver.

Non-credit Colloquium

A required, non-credit Graduate Colloquium meets monthly and exposes students to a range of professional issues relevant to higher education today.


More information on the requirements/elements of an application can be found here. Note: students who have graduated from UA's REL program, while overlapping with current faculty, do not need to submit three letters of reference.


For more information, contact Prof. Merinda Simmons, REL's graduate director.

Structure of the Degree

It is expected that, in their first Fall semester, all graduate students will enroll in both REL 501 and REL 502 while also doing an independent study course with their supervisor -- which could also take the form of attending a 400-level seminar related to their interests (but completing additional requirements for graduate independent study credit). The aim of this first semester is to acquire skills (social theory + public humanities skills) while also beginning to explore the specific historical, regional, or ethnographic e.g. on which each student will focus during their eventual Thesis work.

In all subsequent semesters (i.e., Fall and Spring), students will normally enroll in three courses (for 9 credit hours), so as to complete the degree in 2 academic years.

With permission of their supervisor and in consultation with the Graduate Director, some of these hours may be taken outside the Department, so that students can benefit from campus-wide resources (e.g., language training necessary for carrying out their research).

In their final Spring semester students will usually enroll in 6 hours of Thesis and 3 hours of the Capstone Seminar (a collaborative course dedicated to supporting their Thesis work by inviting feedback from a faculty member other than their supervisor as well as from all other students in their cohort).

More InformationHours
Required Courses
1. Six hours of Foundation courses will be taken in the Fall semester of the 1st year:
REL 501Social Theory Foundations3
REL 502Public Humanities Foundations3
2. Nine hours of required courses will be taken in the Spring of the second year:
REL 590Capstone Seminar3
REL 599Thesis Hours6
Elective Courses
In consultation with your supervisor, students will complete an additional twenty-one hours of graduate course work, including independent study courses and seminars in REL, plus graduate courses from other departments (in consultation with your supervisor and the Grad Director). For e.g., depending on the student's program of study, courses in foreign languages, taught through Modern Languages and Classics, may be recommended. In addition, a required, non-credit Graduate Colloquium, led by the Graduate Director, meets monthly, to discuss a vareity of professional issues in the study of religion in particular, or higher ed in general. REL faculty are invited as well.21
Total Hours36

Master's Degrees

The primary purpose of master’s degree programs is to provide students with subject matter at an advanced level in their fields of study. Master’s degrees are designed to assist students either to continue their graduate studies or to meet the goals of their professions. In most cases, master’s programs also help students become familiar with methods of independent investigation.

Program Requirements

Two plans are offered for the master's degree:

Plan I.  Candidates for the master's degree under Plan I must earn a minimum of 24 semester hours of credit in coursework plus earn a minimum of 6 additional hours of thesis research hours, for a total of 30 hours.

Plan II.  Candidates for the master's degree under Plan II must earn a minimum of 30 semester hours of coursework credit and pass the comprehensive examination or complete a culminating or “capstone experience” as described under the Comprehensive Examinations section below.

Both plans require a minimum of 18 semester hours in the major subject. With the approval of the major department, the remainder of the coursework may be completed in either the major or a related field.

In some divisions and in many departments of the University, candidates are required to do their work under Plan I. Candidates working under Plan II may be required to participate successfully in seminar or problem courses that will give them an acquaintance with the methods of research and an appreciation of the place and function of original investigation in the field.

Residency Requirements

A student's program at the master's level must provide sufficient association with the resident faculty to permit individual evaluation of the student's capabilities and achievements.

Graduate Credit

A student must be admitted to the Graduate School and must register as a graduate student in order to receive graduate credit. Approval for graduate registration must be obtained from program advisors prior to registration.

Graduate Credit for Noncredit Experiences

All course credit used toward a UA graduate degree must be taught at the graduate level. No graduate credit may be earned by correspondence study or for experiential learning not conducted under the direct supervision of graduate faculty of The University of Alabama. UA does not offer graduate credit for noncredit workshops, seminars, continuing education experiences, professional development, internships, work/life experience, and so forth.  

Transfer of Credit

Courses of full graduate-level credit earned in a regionally accredited institution where a student was enrolled in the graduate school may be submitted for review for inclusion in a master's degree program. Evaluation of credit for transfer will not be made until after the student has enrolled in the Graduate School of The University of Alabama. Acceptance of credit requires the approval of the student's advisory committee and the dean of the Graduate School.  Credit will not be accepted for transfer from any institution at which the student failed to achieve a "B" average on all graduate work attempted. Only courses in which a student earned a "B" grade or better may be transferred.

In some cases, foreign educational credentials may not meet the Graduate School's criteria for transfer of credit. It may be necessary for students in this situation to secure an evaluation of their credentials from World Education Services Inc. (WES), an external foreign credential evaluation service. Additional information on their services can be found at their website. 

A student initiates at the Graduate School’s website a Request for Transfer of Graduate Credit earned at another institution. It is also the student's responsibility to assure that the Graduate School receives an official transcript of the credit requested for transfer, well in advance of the final semester. 

With the approval of the student's department and the dean of the Graduate School, the greater of 12 hours or 25 percent of the required coursework for a master's degree may be transferred from another institution. All credit toward the master's degree, including transfer credit, must have been earned during the six years (18 fall, spring, and summer semesters) immediately preceding the date on which the master’s degree is to be awarded. Revalidation (recertification) of graduate credits that will be more than 18 semesters old at the time of UA master's program completion is not an option.

Please note that some departments allow fewer than 12 hours of graduate transfer credit. Be sure to check with your department's graduate coordinator regarding your department's transfer policy.

400-Level Courses

A maximum of 6 semester hours of 400-level course credit may be accepted for a master's degree program, but only if a form for Approval of 400-Level Course Work for Master's Credit is approved by the Graduate School prior to the semester in which the 400-level coursework will be taken.

Time Limit

All requirements for the master's degree must be completed during the six years (18 fall, spring, and summer semesters) immediately preceding the date on which the degree is to be awarded. There is no provision for an extension of the time limit beyond six years for master's students.

Admission to Candidacy

During the 2013-2014 academic year, the Graduate Council eliminated the master’s candidacy requirement. Departments may monitor master’s candidacy if they wish, but the Graduate School does not monitor it and will not accept master’s candidacy forms. Doctoral candidacy is not affected and remains an important doctoral program requirement.


A thesis evidencing research capacity, independent thought, and the ability to interpret materials is required of all master's degree candidates who pursue Plan I. The subject chosen must be in the major field and must be approved by the graduate committee of the major department or school and by the head of the student's major department or division.

The final oral thesis defense is the culminating experience in the master’s program. As such, all members of the thesis committee are expected to attend and participate in real time. Virtual attendance via interactive video or teleconference is permitted for off-campus external committee members, but Tuscaloosa campus faculty should attend in person unless extraordinary circumstances dictate the need for virtual attendance.  

Article Style vs. Journal Format

Article Style.

At the doctoral level, "article-style dissertations" are unified works that include several distinct but related studies of research or creative activity, each of which is of publishable quality. The University does not permit an "article-style thesis" to be presented for a master's degree.

Journal Format.

A "journal-format thesis" is acceptable. Such a thesis follows the format of a particular journal in which the student and advisor want the thesis to be published. To prepare a journal-format thesis, the student uses the journal's "information for authors" or similarly titled guidelines in conjunction with the Graduate School's Student Guide to Preparing Electronic Theses and Dissertations.

A thesis committee must consist of at least three members appointed by the dean of the Graduate School. A form for Appointment or Change of Master's Thesis Committee is used to request that the graduate dean appoint a thesis committee. The request normally is made as soon as the successful defense of the thesis proposal has been completed. All members of a thesis committee must be members of the Graduate Faculty. The Committee Chair must be a full or associate member of the Graduate Faculty. One member must be from outside the student's major department. If the outside member is not a full or associate member of the UA Graduate Faculty (e.g., a highly qualified person from another university, a business, or industry), the graduate dean needs to appoint that member by approving Temporary Graduate Faculty status for the specific purpose of serving on the student's thesis committee. Unless there are extraordinary circumstances meriting approval by the graduate dean before the final oral defense of the thesis, all members of the thesis committee must attend the defense.

The candidate must give members of the examining committee a minimum of two weeks to read the thesis before the date of the final oral examination. A final oral examination is required of all students completing a thesis. All members of the thesis committee must be members of the UA graduate faculty and must attend the final oral examination unless there are extraordinary circumstances warranting the graduate dean's approval of the absence prior to the defense meeting.

As of August 15, 2009, all theses are submitted electronically rather than on paper. See the Graduate School's homepage for a link to information on Electronic Theses and Dissertations (ETD) for details.

Theses must comply with the regulations set out in A Student Guide to Preparing Electronic Theses and Dissertations, available on the Graduate School's website. Approval of the thesis by the graduate dean is necessary before graduation.

The thesis should be completed, if possible, while the student is in residence at the University. To request permission to complete a thesis in absentia, the student must, before leaving the University, submit a satisfactory outline of the thesis, as well as evidence that adequate facilities are available where the work will be done, to the head of the student's major department.

Protection of Human Subjects for Research

Scientific research involving human subjects has produced substantial benefits for society, but it also can pose troubling ethical questions. The mission of the University's Institutional Review Board (IRB) for Protection of Human Subjects is to ensure that research involving human subjects is conducted ethically. University and federal policies require that review and approval to use human subjects in research precede the research. In the case of thesis research that involves the use of human subjects in any way, the principal investigator is responsible for contacting the college Human Research Review Committee to obtain approval for the planned research. 

Comprehensive Examinations

In addition to the regular course examinations, a final comprehensive examination representing a "culminating" or "capstone" experience for a degree is required of all candidates for the master's degree (except for those candidates pursuing the Master of Accountancy, the Master of Business Administration, the Master of Library and Information Studies, the Master of Social Work, and the Master of Tax Accounting). The comprehensive examination is a culminating experience in which the student is expected to integrate prior learning. Each department, with approval of the Graduate Council, determines the most appropriate format. The various exams may consist of one or more of the following: 

  • a written and/or oral examination based on the content of the degree program;

  • a thesis and final oral defense;

  • a course requiring interpretation and integration of information from previous courses;

  • a research paper, a "policy and practice" paper, or equivalent experience;

  • a public performance or exhibition along with a contextualizing paper; and/or

  • a practicum or internship.

If the comprehensive exam requirement is met with option 1 and/or 2 above, then the examining committee for comprehensive examinations must consist of at least three members of the graduate faculty from that department and appointed by the dean of the Graduate School. The examination must be given at least six weeks before the date of graduation (two weeks before for Plan II) and reported promptly to the dean of the Graduate School on appropriate forms. A final report, on the Master's/EdS Examination Form is on the Graduate School website. The form should be submitted when all examinations are completed. A student may take the final oral or written examination only twice.  Failing the examination twice results in dismissal from the degree program and the Graduate School.

Application for Graduation

Each candidate for a master's degree must apply for graduation through myBama no later than the registration period for the semester or the first session of the summer term in which requirements for the degree are to be completed. 

Second Master's Degree

Six (6) semester hours of eligible credit from one master's degree at The University of Alabama may be applied to the requirements for a second master's degree, but only if the department of the second master’s agrees to the courses in the plan of study. Any hours from the previous master’s degree must have been earned during the six years (18 fall, spring, and summer semesters) immediately preceding the date on which the second degree is to be awarded. ***Please note that if a student double counts six hours between two master’s degrees, no hours may double count toward any additional master’s degrees.