Skip to content Skip to navigation


PhD Application

The online application is available on Stanford's Graduate Admissions website at

The deadline for applications is in December for consideration for admission starting in the following autumn.

The deadline for the next round is: Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Please note that department and university offices will be closed for Winter Break from December 21 until January 5. Any expedited deliveries or mail sent during that time will not be received until January.


To Which Area Should I Apply?

The department welcomes applications from students with broad research interests which run across or even contest the boundaries between different religious traditions and which address broader themes within religious studies. However, for the purposes of navigating the admissions website, please note the following. If you are still in doubt where your application is best directed, please write to the Director of Graduate Studies or the Chair for guidance.

  • Applicants wanting to work primarily in Buddhism should apply under East Asia or South Asia depending on their interests. Please note that applications in both these areas will be reviewed initially by all Buddhist Studies faculty.
  • Applicants wanting to work primarily in Christianity should apply under Europe and North America or Late Antiquity depending on their interests.
  • Applicants wanting to work primarily in Islam should apply under South Asia.
  • Applicants wanting to work primarily in Judaism should apply under Europe and North America or Late Antiquity depending on their interests. Please note that applications in both these areas will be reviewed initially by all Jewish Studies faculty.

After initial review by an admissions committee composed of faculty in the relevant subfield, applications are then read and considered by the faculty of the entire department. Please keep this in mind when formulating your statement of purpose.

Application Content

PhD applications should include the following:

  • completed application form (including indication of intended area or field of study in the department)
  • application fee (pay in online application)
  • statement of purpose (upload to online application)
  • two official copies of each transcript (mailed directly to the department)
  • three letters of recommendation (via online application)
  • writing sample of recent work on a religious studies topic (upload to online application)
  • Note: graduate record examination (GRE) scores are now OPTIONAL.

International Students

Most international applicants, and applicants whose first language is not English (this now includes US citizens) are required to submit recent scores from the:

  • test of english as a foreign language (TOEFL)

Applicants who have received a Bachelors or higher degree from a U.S. school are usually exempted.


  • In addition to uploading a scanned copy of the transcript, applicants must arrange to have two official transcripts sent to the department from every postsecondary institution they have attended for at least one academic year as a full-time student.
  • Electronic official transcripts are accepted; for these, only one copy is necessary. They must be sent directly from the institution or certified clearinghouse.
  • NOTE: An official transcript is one that is received directly from the issuing institution or from the CollegeNET CertiFile Service (CHESICC/Educational Perspectives) that bears the seal or signature representing its validity.
  • Transcript requirements are listed at

Transcripts should be sent to:
Department of Religious Studies
Building 70
Attn: Graduate Admissions
Stanford University
Stanford, CA 94305-2165 USA


Check the status of your application (e.g., letters of recommendation received, official ETS scores, etc.,) by logging into your application account Activity Log.


For full details concerning the application process, see Stanford’s Graduate Admissions website.

Remaining questions should be sent to:
Graduate Administrator

PhD Admissions Process

Each year, the Department of Religious Studies admits a small number of students to graduate study. Although numbers vary considerably from year to year, the department typically receives some sixty to seventy-five applications, from which it selects three to five for the doctoral program.

Application files are screened by a department admissions committees consisting of the faculty in the various areas or subfields, which recommend a limited number of files for the deliberation and decision of the entire professoriate. Notification of the result of the selection process normally occurs in late February. In many cases applicants being considered for admission are invited to visit Stanford to discuss their applications with the relevant faculty before a final determination is made. Students receiving offers of admission have until April 15 to respond. Those who have not already visited the campus during the selection process may apply to the department for funds to visit Stanford before making their decision on the offer.

Two principal factors play a role in the selection process:

  • the qualifications of the applicant, and
  • the match between the applicant’s interests and the department’s resources.

The professoriate judges applicants on a combination of talent, preparation, and scholarly promise. Primary considerations include

  • significant academic background in religious studies and in the languages necessary for research;
  • strong letters of support from academic references;
  • clarity and maturity in the statement of purpose; and
  • evidence of intellectual gift in the writing sample.

Considerable weight is given in the selection process to the question of whether the department’s resources are appropriate for the candidate. Generally speaking, only those applicants whose intellectual agenda matches well with the department’s faculty resources are likely to be selected. Applications to the PhD program, in particular, are judged in relation to the fields of doctoral study offered by the department.

Given that the chances of admission (and of subsequent success in the program) are strongly influenced by the fit between student and faculty interests, applicants are well advised to become as familiar as possible with the department’s intellectual profile before applying.

Prospective applicants to the PhD program will want to determine whether their interests would fit comfortably into a field of study offered in the department or could be adequately supported as an individually designed field by department faculty. To this end, they should familiarize themselves with the expectations of the relevant subfield (or area) and the type of work being done by faculty and doctoral students in the department. Direct consultation with faculty and doctoral students is strongly recommended.

There is no separate application for financial aid. Candidates admitted into the PhD program automatically receive full funding by requesting it on the application form.

Guidelines and applications for waivers of the application fee can be found on the Grad Admissions website here.

Knight-Hennessy Scholars

The Knight-Hennessy Scholars program awards up to 100 high-achieving students every year with full funding to pursue a graduate education at Stanford, including PhDs in Religious Studies. To be considered, you must apply to Knight-Hennessy Scholars by their deadline, and separately apply to the Religious Studies department by our deadline.
For more information on the Knight-Hennessy Scholars please see: