The Designated Emphasis in the Study of Religion (DESR) supports graduate training in Religious Studies and in the Theory of the Study of Religion, promotes graduate research on topics related to religion, and brings together a cross-disciplinary faculty Group in the Study of Religion.
Recognizing that many Berkeley students across the Humanities and Social Sciences are already deeply engaged in the study of religious phenomena, the DESR creates a space where those students may come together and focus on the history and theory of how others have approached such phenomena. Since Berkeley currently has no department of Religious Studies, the DESR also integrates professional approaches derived from Theology and Religious Studies, alongside those derived from other cultural traditions and critical approaches to religion.

The DESR’s three core-course requirements are intended to establish an understanding of Methods in the Study of Religion (STRELIG 200), Histories of the Study of Religion (STRELIG 201), and Local Approaches to the Study of Religion (STRELIG 202). In addition to three core courses, the DESR also requires students to take one elective course. As with the core courses, various elective courses are offered each semester by faculty in departments across the Humanities and Social Sciences.



Only students enrolled in Ph.D. programs at the University of California, Berkeley are eligible to apply for the DESR. Students are required to be admitted to the DE before taking the Qualifying Examination.

Application Process

Please submit applications and supporting materials via email to

Please provide the following items:

  • The completed Petition for Admission to the DESR form (download here)
  • A statement of intent (500-1000 words) describing how religion relates to your dissertation project or research interests
  • A recommendation form (download here) from a faculty member preferably in your home department (potentially an adviser) under separate cover

Representation on Doctoral Committees

To qualify for the Designated Emphasis, the student must have on the Qualifying Examination committee a representative of the DESR. One of the members of the student’s dissertation committee must represent the DESR and be a member of the DE’s designated faculty. These faculty members may be outside or inside members of the student’s committees.

Degree Designation

Upon successful completion of the dissertation, the student’s transcript will include the designation: “Ph.D. in [major] with a Designated Emphasis in the Study of Religion.” This designation certifies that they have participated in, and successfully completed, a Designated Emphasis in the Study of Religion in addition to all departmental requirements for the doctorate.


DESR students are required to take four courses. Three of these comprise the core curriculum, and one is an elective selected from a list of courses offered by the DESR faculty.

STRELIG 200: Methods in the Study of Religion

Methods in the Study of Religion is an introduction to methodological best practices in the Study of Religion from the perspectives of different fields. It is made up of multiple modules that combine the study of primary sources with exemplary methodological approaches. These approaches include but are not limited to: anthropological theories of religion and society, historical genealogies of categories of religion and the secular, theology and Church history, sociological approaches to issues like religious organization and conflict, religion and science, religious literature and Biblical hermeneutics, as well as particular religious histories.

STRELIG 201: Histories of the Study of Religion

Histories of the Study of Religion is an introduction to the history and development of the field of “Religious Studies” as an intellectual space for the study of a sometimes historicized, sometimes naturalized phenomenon called “religion.” Since the narration of any history of the study of religion serves to circumscribing a particular set of phenomena as “religious,” this course does not isolate a canonical history of the field. Instead, it progresses in roughly diachronic manner, through a number of thematic threads representing the development of different domains of the study of religion.

STRELIG 202: Local Approaches to the Study of Religion

Local Approaches to the Study of Religion is intended to create a space for students to reflect on the issues involved in the application of critical and theoretical approaches. This course asks students to consider the opportunities and benefits of two approaches to the beliefs and practices connected with a particular set of traditions: first, as studied in their historical and cultural specificity, versus second, as described as the instantiation of a universal religious phenomenon such as the “sacred” aspect of human experience. The course is intended for students to reflect on the issues involved in the application of critical and theoretical approaches such as the multidisciplinary ones introduced in Methods of the Study of Religion, and the examples from Religious Studies surveyed in Local Approaches to the Study of Religion. Looking closely at a case study of the application of both of these kinds of approaches to a particular subfield prepares the student for the methodological challenges of applying the term “religion” in their own field.


Additionally, students must complete one elective course from a list of pre-approved graduate courses on religion. In some instances, students may petition for other, relevant courses to be counted towards their elective requirement. If a course is offered for variable units, students must enroll at the maximum possible unit value. Potential elective courses will vary depending on faculty teaching plans in a given semester.

Please see the “Courses” page for more information.