Taking the Department's motto seriously -- studying religion in culture -- this MA degree explores cross-disciplinary social theory and applies it 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 presses beyond mere description and cross-cultural comparison, instead using social theory to understand the effects that narratives, practices, classification systems, and institutional structures have on social groups and their members. The degree program maintains this approach with a combination of analytic tools and digital skills, training students to use innovative technologies so as to communicate their findings effectively to wide audiences.

Two Key Foundations

The premise of the degree is that the work taking place in our field has wide relevance. Critical analysis and innovative communication skills in the public humanities are therefore both 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 original article-length research papers and to create substantive digital presentations. These emphases begin in the first semester of the program, with two Foundations courses: one in social theory and the other in public humanities. 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 faculty expertise with incoming students' interests and needs. (This assignment is open to revision, at the discretion of the graduate director, should student interests change.) Faculty supervisors assist students in navigating the degree program, advising courses based on student interests, and mentoring the completion of a culminating thesis project. 

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 be not only reading widely in social theory (and applying it to an historical, regional, or ethnographic example of their choice) but also 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 in sharing their research. Students are also encouraged in their second semester to take a course examining the history of the study of religion in order to think critically about the application and relevance of those foundational elements in the field of religious studies. 

Relevance of the Degree

The program is designed not only for students hoping to pursue doctoral work but also 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. Rigorous coursework and original research with the mentorship of faculty prepares students for prestigious PhD programs; meanwhile, experience applying digital platforms to those research interests equips students with sought-after skills that can be applied to a number of careers.

Non-credit Colloquium

A required, non-credit Graduate Colloquium meets twice each semester and exposes students to a range of professional issues relevant to higher education today. The kinds of topics covered include, but are not limited to: teaching, C.V. preparation, applying for future graduate study, and career opportunities outside academia.

Journal Group

Attended by REL graduate students and faculty, an academic reading group meets twice each semester. Each session is led by a second-year MA student and features discussion of a current peer-reviewed journal article relevant to that student's research interests.


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.


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

Admission Requirements

More information on the requirements/elements of an application can be found here. Note: students who have graduated from UA's REL program --if overlapping with current faculty -- do not need to submit three letters of reference. Only one letter of recommendation is required of those students who have not majored in REL but who have taken courses with current faculty. For full consideration of possible funding, applications to begin the program in the Fall semester must be completed no later than December 1. Applications to begin in the Spring semester are possible as well, and must be submitted no later than October 15

Degree Requirements 

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 culminating research project.

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 pursuing the formal thesis option will usually enroll in 6 hours of Thesis and 3 hours of the Capstone Seminar (a collaborative course dedicated to supporting their research by inviting feedback from a faculty member other than their supervisor as well as from all other students in their cohort). Students pursuing the non-thesis option will take the 3-hour Capstone Seminar, as well as six hours of electives relevant to their research.

Thesis Option Hours
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 121
REL 504Special Topics
REL 511History of Religious Studies
REL 512Debates in Method and Theory
REL 521Self & Society
REL 522Power & Persuasion
REL 523Discourse & Practice
REL 524Past & Present
REL 525Identity & Place
REL 560Independent Study
REL 561Independent Study
REL 565Religion in Culture Applied
REL 580Academic Writing in REL
Total Hours36
Non-Thesis Option Hours
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
Elective Courses 127
REL 504Special Topics
REL 511History of Religious Studies
REL 560Independent Study
REL 565Religion in Culture Applied
REL 525Identity & Place
REL 522Power & Persuasion
REL 521Self & Society
REL 561Independent Study
REL 580Academic Writing in REL
REL 524Past & Present
REL 512Debates in Method and Theory
REL 523Discourse & Practice
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. Thesis Research (599) may not be transferred in from an outside institution.

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 from the other institution where the transfer credit has been requested, 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 or 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.  Admission to Candidacy for the Doctoral and Educational Specialist degrees are not affected and remain an important 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.

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 approve all members of 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 Affiliate 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.  All members must agree that the student is ready for the final oral thesis defense.  A final oral thesis defense 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 thesis defense unless there are extraordinary circumstances warranting the graduate dean's approval of the absence prior to the defense meeting.

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 the student and Tuscaloosa campus faculty should attend in person unless extraordinary circumstances dictate the need for virtual attendance.  In circumstances where virtual participation is necessary, all participants must follow the Virtual Participation guidelines found below.

Virtual Participation

Scope and Goals

All members of a student’s graduate committee are expected to attend and participate, usually in person, in any oral examination as part of the student’s graduate (Master’s or Doctoral) degree program. Traditionally, oral examinations are conducted with the student meeting their committee while gathered in one physical location on campus. However, the need occasionally arises for virtual participation in the oral examination. In these cases, graduate programs must ensure adherence to the following if any graduate-level oral examination involving the student’s entire thesis/dissertation committee includes virtual participation.

  • The student’s consent must be sought and obtained in advance of conducting the oral examination with virtual participants.
  • Virtual participation by committee members must include both audio and visual capability so that:
    • each committee member can hear the student and view the student, any presentation slides, and any demonstrations;
    • the student can hear and view each committee member.
  • All committee members must participate interactively and in real-time for the entire examination, including any preparatory discussion leading up to it, the presentation itself, its discussion and evaluation.

The following sections provide detail on the technical and attendance requirements for an oral examination with virtual participation. Departments and programs may enforce stricter guidelines than those outlined, including an on‑campus‑only policy if deemed necessary and appropriate.

Technical Requirements

Real-time and fully interactive audio and video communications must be maintained throughout the examination and any related discussion. The audio/video communications facilities must allow the student and all committee members to see and hear each other during the entire examination. There must be adequate provision for the transmission of text, graphics, or writings referenced or generated during the examination (e.g., slides, whiteboard). The use of audio-only communications is not permitted.

In case of technical difficulties or technology failure, the committee will decide whether to continue the examination once the difficulty is resolved, or to cancel the examination and reschedule it for a later date, without prejudice to the student.

If the student or any committee member(s) have a disability that will be impacted by virtual participation, reasonable accommodations should be provided.

Attendance Requirements: campus-based programs

Programs should ensure that students are advised about virtual participation guidelines related to an oral examination, including reference to these guidelines as well as any other program-specific requirements.

It is generally expected that members of a graduate student’s committee be physically present with the student for each oral committee examination. However, an oral examination may have virtually participating committee members according to the following rules:

  • Any one member of the graduate student’s committee (excluding the chair / advisor) can participate at a distance without seeking further authorization.
  • The committee chair will be allowed to participate at a distance only if rescheduling the oral examination for a time when they are on campus would cause hardship to the student. In this case, the committee chair should submit a petition to the Dean of the Graduate School, outlining the reasons leading to the request.
  • Similarly, a petition from the committee chair to the Dean of the Graduate School is also required if more than one committee member is to participate at a distance. Such petitions will only be considered if rescheduling the oral examination to a time when only one member of the committee would be participating at a distance would cause significant hardship to the student, as outlined in the petition.

All committee members participating virtually must be able to fully interact in the oral examination via audio and video capability; participation by viewing a recording of the oral examination is specifically prohibited. All members of the committee, on- or off-site, must participate in the evaluation of the examination; provisions must be made to record their vote and collect their signatures as necessary.

Student participation at a distance in graduate oral examinations involving their committee is generally not allowed for campus-based graduate programs. However, the committee chair and/or the graduate program director, in agreement with the student, may draft a petition to seek permission from the Dean of the Graduate School to conduct such an oral examination. This arrangement will only be considered if the committee chair agrees to it, and if rescheduling the oral examination for a time when the student is on campus would cause great hardship to the student; the petition should clearly outline the extenuating circumstances leading to this need.

Attendance Requirements: online or hybrid programs

An online graduate program is defined as a program in which no aspect of the degree program occurs on-campus, including oral examinations. A hybrid program is defined as a program which has both online and on-campus elements.

For online and hybrid programs that handle oral examinations in an online setting, all committee members as well as the student may participate virtually in the oral examination. However, these programs must fully adhere to the guidelines outlined in the Technical Requirements section above for any oral examination involving the entire committee.

Hybrid programs that require oral examinations to take place on campus must adhere to the guidelines set forth for campus-based programs.

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.

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. 

Final Thesis Defense

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.  The thesis must comply with the regulations in A Student Guide to Preparing Electronic Theses and Dissertations.

"Completed” means submitted to ProQuest after being successfully defended, carefully edited following the defense meeting, and having the Committee Acceptance Form (CAF) signed by all committee members, department chairperson, and graduate dean.  A majority of the thesis committee must approve the written thesis and defense before submission to the Graduate School. 

Graduate School deadlines, including each semester's thesis deadline, are available at the Graduate School's homepage.  Consult the ETD website for details of ETD submission, including information on what needs to be submitted to the Graduate School.  The graduate dean must approve the thesis before the student can be cleared for graduation.

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 (this link needs to be changed to 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 submit an Application for Degree via myBama no later than the last day to register or add a course for the semester (or first term of the summer semester) in which requirements for the degree are to be completed.  That specific date is published each semester at the Graduate School's website under Current Students/Deadlines for Graduate Students.

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.