West and South Asian Religions

Course of Study Description

The course of study in West and South Asian Religions (WSAR) draws on the extensive strengths of Emory’s faculty in Islamic, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions to offer seminars and dissertation supervision in these traditions from a range of methodological perspectives. While these three main traditions broadly define three primary streams of study within WSAR, the cross-fertilization of ideas and practices across traditions and throughout West and South Asia remains a core interest of the faculty and students. 

All students are required to have a secondary area of expertise, most frequently one of the three religious traditions within WSAR but occasionally another religious tradition (e.g., Judaism) or area of academic inquiry (e.g., cognitive science). The result is a diverse intellectual community that engages in conversations touching on a wide range of cultural, historical and theoretical issues. These conversations are pursued through the regularly scheduled WSAR colloquium, at which faculty and advanced graduate students present their research.

Methodologically, the faculty in WSAR offer preparation in a wide range of approaches to the study of religion, including ethnography, historiography, gender studies, philosophical studies, performance theory, philology, cultural studies, literary studies, legal studies, hermeneutics, cognitive science, and contemplative practices. Most students will specialize in one of these approaches, usually incorporating elements of one or more of the others. Seminars in these methodologies are offered regularly as part of the general preparation. In some cases, methodological preparation will come through directed readings in addition to, or in place of, seminars.

The WSAR faculty are united in their assessment of the critical role that indigenous categories and local culture must play in the formation of the scholarly study of religious traditions. Thus, in addition to the rigorous training in methods described above, it is expected that in most cases WSAR students will spend at least one year abroad conducting research in one or more West or South Asian countries. Our students have had outstanding success in securing external grants to fund this year of research.

Students are required to complete two years of course work, with qualifying exams and the dissertation prospectus completed by the end of the fourth year. While these requirements are standard, every student’s career will differ to some degree. In the third year, many WSAR students will travel abroad for language study, usually with funding from an outside agency. After completing the candidacy requirements in the fourth year, students generally devote the fifth year to dissertation research, often conducted in the field with the support of a research grant. In the sixth year, students write up their research, aiming to complete the dissertation by the end of that year or, in some cases, the year after. 

The language requirements for WSAR students are tailored to their particular projects and are worked out in conjunction with their main adviser. In general terms, WSAR students are required to demonstrate advanced research proficiency in two or more foreign languages, one of which at least must be a West or South Asian language. Emory currently offers introductory to advanced levels of instruction in the following languages: Arabic, Hebrew, Hindi, Persian, Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Urdu. Students also may apply for funding to undertake private tuition in other less commonly taught languages such as Kannada, Tamil, and Telugu.

Significant library holdings in West and South Asian religions are housed in Woodruff Library. The Pitts Theology Library also has extensive holdings related to West and South Asian religions, especially in the area of the history of Christian missions. Considerable acquisitions are being pursued via electronic formats, including extensive holdings in Tibetan texts.

Emory and Atlanta offer wide resources in support of the program. The Law and Religion Program of Emory School of Law offers seminars and occasional major international symposia in the interrelations among law, religion, and religious human rights, including attention to Islamic ethics, law and politics. The Atlanta metropolitan area offers significant opportunities for the study of West and South Asian religious traditions in their diaspora context in the American South. Emory enjoys cordial relations with many religious communities, which have been most hospitable in welcoming students to observe and study their communities and practices.

Associated Research Programs and Forums

Emory Forum for the Ethnographic Study of Religion
South Asia Seminar
PhD Program in Islamic Civilizations Studies


Recent dissertations and placements:


Aftab Singh Jassal, Religions “In Search of Nagaraja:  Narrative, Place-Making, and Divine Embodiment in Garhwal" Placement: Post Doc, Thompson Writing Program, Duke University

Constance Kassor, "Thinking the Unthinkable/Unthinking the Thinkable: Conceptual Thought, Nonconceptuality, and Gorampa Sonam Senge's Synopsis of Madhyamaka"

Mohamad Abdun Nasir, "Islamic Law and Social Change: The Religious Court and the Dissoulution of Marriage Among Muslims in Lombok, Indonesia"


Lee Ann Bambach, "That Ye Judge With Justice: Faith-Based Arbitration by Muslims in an American Context"

Brendan Ozawa de Silva, "Becoming the Wish-Fulfilling Tree: Compassion and the Transformation of Ethical Submjectivity in the Lojong Tradition: Life University


Adam benShea. "Talking with Prophets: Applying Socio-Rhetorical Interpretation to Prophetic Dialogue in the Qur’an"

Manuela Ceballos, "Crossing Borders, Inscribing Boundaries, Frontier Literatures of Encounter and Violence in Fifteenth and Sixteenth Century Iberia and North Africa," Assistant Professor, University of Tennessee at Knoxville

Tiffany Ann Hodge, 'The Rules of God': The Practice of Religion and Law in Rural Bangladesh."

Brooke Dodson-Lavelle, "Against One Method: Toward a Critical-Constructive Approach to the Adaptation and Implementation of Buddhist-based Contemplative Programs in the United States" Founder and President Coalition for Care

Jonathan J. Loar, "'My Bones Shall Speak from beyond the Tomb:' The Life and Legacy of Shirdi Sai Baba in History and Hagiography" Reference Librarian, Scholarly Services in the Asian Division's South Asian Collections, Library of Congress

Jennifer D. Ortegren, "Dharma, Class, and Aspiration: The Shifting Religious Worlds of Urban Rajasthani Women," Assistant Professor of Religion, Highpoint University

Catherine E. Prueitt, "Carving out Conventional Worlds: The Work of Apoha in Early Dharmakīrtian Buddhism and Pratyabhijñā Śaivism," Assistant Professor of Buddhist Philosophy, George Mason University