Religion and Modernity

Religion & Modernity

Co-conveners: Leela Prasad & Ebrahim Moosa 

Modernity as a cultural condition colors the perception of religion in varying ways and may be studied from multiple vantage points: geographical locations (Africa, Europe, North America, the Middle East, or Australasia), politico-historical frames (colonialism, caliphate), cultural forms (graffiti, food-ways, music), ideological formulations (democracy, capitalism, socialism), or technologies (artillery cannon, print, cyberspace).  What do we mean by ‘modernity’?  How do a plethora of modern social imaginaries draw on and contribute to religious sensibilities and religion’s place and function in a rapidly globalizing world?  How do religions engage each other in varied cultural, philosophical and historical spaces? These are some of the major questions explored in this track.   By raising foundational questions about the very concept of ‘religion’ as construed in the post-Enlightenment West through encounters, conflicts, resistance and engagement in both global and local venues, we hope to explore questions in which religion, culture and history feature prominently. As a particular kind of disciplinary formation or field of inquiry, Religion (or Religious Studies) is itself a product of one kind of modernity—and serves as a catalyst for other kinds of modernities. In this context, the nature, role and impact of Western modernities in relation to others is an important aspect of inquiry, although it is not the dominant or exclusive set of relations that can be examined. Modernities and innovations emerge at the interstices and intersections of major cultural, technological, political and historical transitions. At stake are questions such as: What is new? Who is the ‘other’?  Why and how are the ‘others’ construed? How does modernity affect the human condition? This track assumes that newness and creativity are endemic to the world; thus we assert that multiple modernities exist in specific times, places and expressive forms, with each calling for some kind of critical transformation.  Pursuing graduate study in this track means critical investigations of how religious thought and experiences shape and are shaped by modernity. Neither “religion” nor “modernity” is self-evident or universally held truths and therefore they become interesting objects for critical scrutiny. Students are required to have the problem of “modernity” as a primary and organizing principle for their graduate coursework and research. The track supports interdisciplinary study, a diverse range of methodological approaches (archival, ethnographic, documentary etc), and engagement with varied media (art, material culture, performance, film, for instance).  


J. Kameron Carter

Mary McClintock Fulkerson

Mona Hassan

Richard A. Jaffe

Hwansoo Kim

Wesley Kort

Ebrahim Moosa (convener)

David Morgan

Leela Prasad



Rey Chow, Literature Program

Engseng Ho, Anthropology & History

Kenneth Surin, Literature Program



 With modernity as the primary problematic for their coursework and research, students in the field are asked to situate their inquiries by identifying or adopting at least ONE of the following categories:

  1. Religions (e.g., Islamic, Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Taoist, etc., including derivative or counter movements)
  2. Methods (e.g., historical, philosophical, cultural studies, performance studies, literary studies, theological studies, political theory, etc.)
  3. Issues (authority, gender, race, communications, class, poverty, etc.)
  4. Locations/Cultures (e.g., the Americas, Muslim societies, various "empires," South Asian cultures, etc.)
  • Students who focus on only one option in categories "a" and "b" are expected to take at least two courses in which they are exposed to additional options. These courses can be part of the student’s minor fields.All students are required to take two courses that qualify as an internal minor in the study of religion.All students are required to take two courses that qualify as an external minor commensurate with their research focusAll students are expected to be familiar with debates that have shaped the academic study of religion during the 19th and the 20th centuries. Students who pursue comparative studies will have to work with specialists in the areas of inquiry, and justify their choice theoretical options in the fields chosen.
  • All in-coming students will be required to take a graduate course dedicated to Religion & Modernity” in the first year of their coursework.



Students will pursue minors in two areas outside this track: an internal minor and external minor. Normally, an internal minor (2 courses)is in the Graduate Program in Religion. The external minor (2 courses) will be in some other department or program in the university such as the Literature Program, Women’s Studies, Political Science, Philosophy, Cultural Anthropology, History, and Asian and African Languages and Literatures. In most cases a minor consists of two courses. Some minors within a field of the Graduate Program in Religion though will be determined by the requirements of the track in which the minor is undertaken.


Students are expected to register for 3 advanced courses per semester for at least two years. Students should select classes in such a manner in order not to complete more than two major research papers in a single semester.  


Reading knowledge of two languages beyond English and a language of native competence must be demonstrated by examination. The student must contact the GPR office to arrange for these exams to be taken within the first 18th months of the student joining the program. The choice of these languages will depend on the focus of the student's work. Otherwise, students will demonstrate reading competence in French and German.  


The prelim is administered by a committee of four to five faculty members chosen by the student in consultation with an advisor and normally taken in the third year of graduate study. It marks the end of coursework and the completion of language requirements. The written portion of the exam consists of 4 parts, followed by an oral exam (see A & B below). Each of the exams is based on a general bibliography containing an average of 30-40 books and seminal articles; contact any of the core faculty in the field for the latest version of list. Students are encouraged to begin formulating their reading lists for the prelim exams no later then the second term of their second year in the program, so that they will be ready to take the exams by the end of their third year. 


  1. Major field exam, four hours. Some of the readings for this exam will be drawn from the general bibliography in Religion & Modernity. Dissertation-area exam, three hoursInternal minor exam, three hours
  2. External minor exam, three hours


      An oral exam based on [A], two hours  


  1. Proposal: After successful completion of the preliminary examination, the student, now a candidate for the Ph.D., will submit a formal proposal for a dissertation topic to the dissertation committee, a committee of four to five faculty, including the director of the dissertation, chosen by the student in consultation with the director and approved by the Director of the Graduate Program in Religion.  Proposal discussion: The committee will meet with the student to discuss the proposal and to agree that it describes in adequate detail a feasible and appropriate project and the means by which it will be prosecuted. The proposal discussion should be completed within six months of finishing the prelim exams.
  2. Disssertation defense: When the dissertation is completed, the candidate will defend it orally before the dissertation committee. Defenses, while conducted by the dissertation committee, are open to the university community.



Students in other fields within the Graduate Program in Religion who wish to minor in Religion and Modernity are expected to take at least two courses and to be familiar with a representative selection of texts drawn from the list provided students for the general field portion of the preliminary examination.