Asian Religions

Richard Jaffe, convener

This field comprises the study of the various religious traditions of Asia , both in Asia and in its diaspora.

The field draws on critical studies in the humanities and social sciences, and it brings to the study of Asian religions diverse languages, studies of literary, visual, and performing arts, material culture, popular movements, and theory.

Students should take advantage of the extensive offerings in Asian languages, literatures, history, anthropology, and art history at Duke in their area of concentration. Students are also encouraged to take full advantage of the offerings in Asian and religious studies at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University in constructing their curriculum and selecting committee members.


The Department of Religion has six Asianists on its faculty. We particularly encourage students with interests aligned with those of these faculty members to apply to the program.

  • Richard M. Jaffe, a specialist in early modern and modern Japanese religion, particularly Buddhism in Japan and its diaspora
  • Hwansoo Kim, a specialist in early modern and modern Korean religion and culture, particularly Buddhism in Korea and its diaspora.
  • Ebrahim Moosa, whose research topics include comparative Islamic ethics and laws, with special attention to South Asian perspectives on these topics, as well as Islamic education in the subcontinent
  • Leela Prasad, whose research concerns ethics and contemporary Indian religions in South Asia and its diaspora, folklore studies, ethnography, gender, and narrative

Requirements for the Major

Field Requirements

Students in the field are asked to concentrate their studies on a particular religious tradition/region from among the following areas of expertise offered by the Duke faculty.

  • East Asian Buddhism in Asia and the diaspora from the 17th century to the present
  • Japanese religions from the 17th century to the present
  • South Asian religions, particularly non-Islamic traditions in South Asia and diaspora in the colonial and post-colonial periods
  • Chinese religions
  • Daoism

Minor Fields

Students will pursue minors in two areas outside their specific subfield of Asian religions. Normally, one of these minors will be in the Graduate Program in Religion and one will be in some other department or program in the university, such as the Literature Program, Political Science, Philosophy, Cultural Anthropology, History, or Asian and African Languages and Literatures. In most cases a minor consists of two courses, but what constitutes a minor within a field of the Graduate Program in Religion will be determined by the field in which the minor is undertaken.


Students are expected to register for four courses a semester for at least two years. These courses should be selected so that a student will not be required to complete more than two major research papers in a single semester.


Reading knowledge of two languages other than the student's native language must be demonstrated by examination. The choice of these languages will depend on the focus of the student's work. In addition, expertise in the primary source language(s) associated with the student's subfield will be demonstrated by either coursework or examination.

Preliminary Examination

The prelim is administered by a committee of four or five faculty members chosen by the student in consultation with an advisor and normally is taken in the third year of graduate study. It marks the end of course work and the completion of language requirements. The exam consists of five parts. Each such part is based on a bibliography containing an average of fifteen-twenty books and articles. Students are encouraged to begin formulating their reading lists for the prelim exam no later than 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. The five parts of the prelim exam are as follows:

  1. a major field exam, four hours
  2. a dissertation-area exam, three hours
  3. a minor exam, normally internal, three hours
  4. an additional minor exam, normally external, three hours
  5. an oral exam, two hours


After successful completion of the preliminary examination, the student, now a candidate for the Ph.D., will submit a formal proposal with a preliminary bibliography for a dissertation topic to the dissertation committee. This committee, chosen by the student in consultation with the supervisor and approved by the Director of the Graduate Program in Religion, will comprise five faculty members, including the supervisor of the dissertation. The committee will meet with the student to discuss the proposal and to determine whether it describes in adequate detail a feasible and appropriate project and sets out appropriate means for its prosecution, or, alternatively, whether (and in what ways) the proposal should be revised, then resubmitted to the committee for further discussion and approval.

The student will write the first draft of the dissertation in consultation with the supervisor. As part of the process, the student normally will submit individual chapters or portions thereof to other members of the dissertation committee in addition to the primary supervisor. The student should consult with the supervisor and other readers to determine when and how these materials will be distributed.

After the supervisor has reviewed the first drafts of all the chapters, the student will make the revisions suggested by the supervisor and any other committee members to whom the student has shown it for feedback. (The student may, of course, prior to making one or more suggested revisions, seek to convince the relevant committee member[s] that such revision is inadvisable or unnecessary.)  In the normal course of things this revised form will be the penultimate draft. The student will give the supervisor six weeks to review this penultimate draft. The supervisor may decide

  1. that the dissertation is ready for defense
  2. that the dissertation requires some minor revisions
  3. that it needs substantial revision. If substantial revision is required, the supervisor may suggest that one or more of the other readers should read it in part or in full.

If any revisions are required, the student will make them and then resubmit the dissertation. The supervisor will decide whether the revised dissertation is ready for the next stage. Once the supervisor has decided that the dissertation is ready for defense, the student and supervisor may then set the defense date, allowing at least three weeks between submission of the defense copy and the defense.

The completed dissertation normally should not exceed 100,000 words, including all ancillary material and footnotes but excluding the bibliography.

Requirements for a Minor

Students in other fields within the Graduate Program in Religion who wish to minor in Asian Religions 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.