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PhD Application


The online application will open in September each year. It is available on Stanford's Graduate Admissions website:


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

The deadline for the next round is: Tuesday, December 3, 2024.

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.  If you are in doubt where your application is best directed, please write to the Director of Graduate Studies or the Chair for guidance.

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.


Please check the Guide on Getting into Graduate School from the School of Humanities and Sciences:

It covers helpful information and exercises for prospective graduate students.

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)
  • unofficial transcript for each institition attended for a year or more (upload to online application)
  • Official copies of each transcript will be requested after decisions are made.
  • three confidential letters of recommendation (recommenders upload to 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.
Writing Sample Guidelines

The writing sample should be recent work of yours on a Religious Studies topic, 15–25 pages long (double spaced) and in English. You may submit a paper written for a class, a published article, or a section of an undergraduate honors or masters thesis or other long academic work (in which case please include a cover sheet explaining the larger project and how this excerpt fits into it). The writing sample should demonstrate your academic abilities, including a clear writing style and the capacity to think your way through a problem and frame an argument, observing the usual scholarly conventions (citation, reference, footnoting and so on). The approach should be academic and the subject matter related if possible to the area you propose to explore in your PhD studies. Keep in mind that your paper will be read by all members of the Religious Studies faculty.

Please preface the writing sample with a paragraph explaining why you chose the paper as well as the significance of the topic for the academic study of religion. This paragraph should be geared towards Religious Studies faculty outside of your subfield.

Statement of Purpose Guidelines

Your statement of purpose should describe your intellectual journey in no more than five pages, double spaced. It should narrate your university training to date, referencing specific books, courses, professors, and research experiences that made a significant impact upon your intellectual formation and research interests. Your statement may include references to your personal biography, but should be focused primarily on your intellectual development. You should identify a potential mentor(s) and explain why you think your area(s) of interest overlap.  You do not necessarily need to have identified a specific dissertation topic, although you should indicate potential ideas for your research. Most importantly, your statement should clearly describe your research interests as you currently understand them, and how you see your research contributing to new ways of academic and public understanding of religion as an important aspect of the human experience and of the world’s cultural diversity.

Please be aware that final admissions decisions in our department are made collectively. This means your statement of purpose must appeal not only to your proposed mentor(s), but also to the broader department.  Therefore, your statement should not just address your specific research interest. Rather, it should show evidence of a certain level of understanding of the area you propose to work in, as well as your interests in the broader field of religious studies.

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)

Stanford does not accept other tests at this time.

Applicants who have received a Bachelors or higher degree from a U.S. school are usually exempted from the TOEFL. Check international applicant requirements here.

Electronic transcripts are welcome.
  • Please only send official e-transcripts. Do not send paper transcripts. Please wait until we request them.
  • In addition to uploading a scanned copy of the transcript, once requested applicants will arrange to have official transcripts sent from every postsecondary institution they have attended for at least one academic year as a full-time student. (Please wait until we request paper transcripts to mail them.)
  • Electronic official transcripts are accepted. 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. If the applicant opens the transcript, it is no longer considered official.
  • Transcript requirements are listed at

E-Transcripts should be sent to:

religst-info [at] (religst-info[at]lists[dot]stanford[dot]edu)

Please only mail paper transcripts once we request them.

Our mailing address is:

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.


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

Remaining questions should be sent to:
Graduate Administrator
Email: religst-info [at] (religst-info[at]lists[dot]stanford[dot]edu)

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.

The Department of Religious Studies welcomes graduate applications from individuals with a broad range of life experiences, perspectives, and backgrounds who would contribute to our community of scholars. Review of applications is holistic and individualized, considering each applicant’s academic record and accomplishments, letters of recommendation, and admissions essays in order to understand how an applicant’s life experiences have shaped their past and potential contributions to their field.

The Religious Studies Department recognizes that the Supreme Court issued a ruling in June 2023 about the consideration of certain types of demographic information as part of an admission review. All applications submitted during upcoming application cycles will be reviewed in conformance with that decision.

Knight-Hennessy Scholars

Knight-Hennessy Scholars cultivates and supports a highly-engaged, multidisciplinary and multicultural community of graduate students from across Stanford University, and delivers a diverse collection of educational experiences, preparing graduates to address complex challenges facing the world. Each year, Knight-Hennessy Scholars selects up to 100 students who are newly enrolling in a graduate degree program in any of Stanford’s seven schools. Knight-Hennessy Scholars participate in an experiential leadership development program and receive funding for up to three years of graduate study at Stanford. Candidates of any country may apply. Candidates must submit two applications to be considered; one to Knight-Hennessy Scholars by their deadline (usually early October) and one to the graduate degree program by its deadline. Visit to learn more