Department of Religious Studies

Asian Religious Traditions (ART)

ART offers training in Asian religions in their historical, intellectual, and cultural contexts.

Buddha headStudents normally specialize in one cultural area (China or Japan) and choose their tradition or region of specialization from among the fields of expertise of the Brown faculty.

  • Harold Roth specializes in Chinese thought and religion of the classical period, and in early Daoist contemplative traditions.
  • Jason Protass works on Chinese Buddhism, especially Chan and Zen studies.
  • Janine Anderson Sawada specializes in Japanese religions, with particular emphasis on popular religions and Buddhist and Confucian movements of the 16th through 19th centuries.


East Asian Religions

  • Chinese thought and religion of the classical period
  • Early Daoist contemplative traditions
  • Chinese Buddhism
  • Confucian Traditions
  • Japanese religious and intellectual history


Asia PictureStudents of East Asian Religions concentrate in the religious traditions of either China or Japan, but attain broad competence in the religious history of the alternate area as well. Students may also focus on a specific religious tradition (Daoist, Confucian, or Buddhist) whether within the parameters of one cultural area or across the broader East Asian context. Most students who specialize in the Daoist tradition concentrate on its origins and development in the intellectual contexts of early China and selected later developments, while students of Confucianism focus on Neo-Confucian interpretations of China and Japan. Students of Buddhism concentrate on the cultural, literary, and institutional history of Song, Yuan, and Ming Chinese Buddhism, and/or Japanese Buddhism of the late medieval through early modern periods. A specialization in the history of the Japanese new religions is also possible. Regardless of their area of concentration, all students are expected to develop an understanding of the key issues involved in the historical interaction of the major East Asian religious traditions.


Successful applicants to the doctoral program in East Asian Religions ordinarily possess an M.A. or the equivalent in a related field of study. For students who wish to concentrate in Chinese religions, at least two years of Chinese are required; three or more is recommended. For students who wish to concentrate in Japanese religions, at least three years of Japanese are required. Excellent command of English, both spoken and written is essential


Courses are selected in consultation with the student's primary advisor, usually in a meeting at the beginning of each semester. Before their preliminary examinations students in East Asian Religions are expected to complete at least six graduate seminars or the equivalent; at least four of the seminars will be in the main area of concentration (China or Japan), and at least two in the secondary area. With the approval of the area faculty, a Brown University undergraduate course numbered above 1000 may count toward the seminar requirement if the student receives an "A" grade on a graduate -level paper for the course.

Students should draw on resources at Brown University not only in Religious Studies, but also in East Asian Studies, History, History of Art and Architecture, Comparative Literature, and/or the social sciences as appropriate. It is also possible to cross-register for specialized courses at Harvard University, as time permits (usually after modern East Asian language requirements are completed), and subject to the approval of both the ART advisor and the Harvard instructor.

Before their first preliminary examination, students should also complete the following specific courses:

  • RELS 2000 Theory of Religion
  • A course in Chinese or Japanese bibliography and reference resources (in accordance with the area of specialization) or the equivalent, depending on availability. 
  • A course in the history of China, Japan, or Korea (numbered 1000 or above)
  • A course in the literature or art history of China, Japan, or Korea (numbered 1000 or above)

For current courses related to East Asia at Brown, see "East Asia Related courses" posted annually by the Department of East Asian Studies.


East Asian Religions students must attain reading competence in at least one modern European language other than English (ordinarily French); in consultation with their advisory committee, they may count one East Asian language for the departmental second modern language requirement. Native speakers of an East Asian language will be asked to demonstrate mastery of a second modern East Asian language and a modern European language other than English.

Students of Chinese religions must demonstrate competence in modern Chinese, proficiency in classical Chinese, and reading ability in modern Japanese. Students of Japanese religions must attain proficiency in modern Japanese and competence in classical Japanese (bungo): depending on their period of specialization, they should also learn how to read Sino-Japanese (kanbun).

Entering students are expected to take diagnostic examinations in the modern East Asian languages, which are administered at the beginning of each academic year by the Department of East Asian Studies. Successful completion of the language requirements is certified as follows, subject to the discretion of area faculty.

Modern East Asian Languages

Completion of the following courses or demonstration of the equivalent level by passing a diagnostic exam administered by Brown University faculty (in either case with a grade of B or better). 

  • China concentrators: CHIN 0800 and JAPN 0400 (JAPN 0600 recommended)
  • Japan concentrators: JAPN 0800 or JAPN 0910

Classical Chinese and Kanbun

Successful performance in a written test administered by the area faculty. These are translation exams in which lexical aids may be used. In some cases, advanced (graduate level) coursework, with a grade of B or better, may satisfy this requirement, subject to faculty approval.

Graduate students should take intensive language courses in accredited and approved language programs, whether in North America or East Asia, during the summer when possible, so as to complete their requirements in a timely fashion. They are expected to apply for external funding for these programs well in advance of the projected study period.

Annual Progress Report

Each academic year, students will submit a brief written self-evaluation in which they describe their progress and achievements during the previous year, and their prospective plan of study for the coming year(s). This document, no more than one page in length, should be submitted by email to the ART coordinator by April 20th.

Second Year Review

During the fourth semester, students will submit two seminar papers written at Brown University for a formal review. No later than the first Monday after Spring Recess, students must submit to the ART Coordinator the papers, both the original with the comments and feedback from the instructor, and the edited version as appropriate. The ART faculty will review the student's progress in academic writing and take it into account in determining the student's standing in the program.

Preliminary Examinations

The first of two ART Preliminary Examinations consists of take-home essays and an oral defense, covering the student's major and minor fields in the Asian Religious Traditions area. In general, the first exam is designed to ascertain broad teaching and research competence as well as familiarity with major scholarly debates in the primary field. With the approval of the advisory committee, students may pursue additional minor fields to address varying types of primary sources or methodologies, and may involve the participation of faculty outside the area. The second exam takes the form of a research paper and is designed to certify that the student is qualified to carry out research and writing in her or his proposed field of specialization. The details for examinations are to be arranged with the primary advisor and approved by the area faculty in accordance with the following guidelines.

First Examination

The first preliminary exam consists of three or four take-home essays of about five pages each, to be completed over the course of seven days. The writing of the essays will be followed by an oral defense with the area faculty, which will ordinarily take place one week after the essays are submitted.

The exam questions will be based on a bibliography of English language works compiled by the student in consultation with the advisory committee. The bibliography, ordinarily about 10-12 pages, should be organized into sections by major and minor fields, whether geo-cultural areas (China, Japan, and in some cases Korea) or major religious traditions (Daoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Shinto). Translated primary sources should be set off from secondary literature. The bibliography must be developed and submitted to the committee for approval at the latest by the end of the semester preceding the one in which the exam is taken. 

For students who entered with an M.A. in a relevant field, the first exam should be completed by the end of the third year in the program or at the beginning of the first semester of the fourth year, at the latest. For students who entered without an M.A. in a related field, this exam should be completed by the start of the second semester of their fourth year of study.

Second Examination

The second preliminary exam is a 30 to 45-page research paper written under the guidance of the members of the examination committee. The paper must include a literature review of 5 to 10 pages and an original analysis based on primary sources, roughly 25 to 35 pages in length. The topic of the paper is chosen in consultation with the student's main faculty advisor, who in most cases will chair the student's exam committee and become the dissertation supervisor. The subject matter should be related to the student's projected thesis area and demonstrate significant use of primary sources in the student's main research languages as well as critical engagement with secondary sources.

The literature review should engage in a comprehensive manner, current knowledge, major theories or pertinent methodologies, and ongoing debates in the field in which the student plants to specialize for the dissertation. The remainder of the paper should take the form of an analysis or argument that is based on the student's original research into primary source materials that takes into account relevant secondary perspectives.

This examination is a substantial research paper, not a dissertation prospectus (though it may eventually serve as source material for some part of the dissertation). The paper should be completed by the end of the first semester of the fourth year in the program (or, in the case of students who entered the program without an M.A. in the field, by the end of the second semester of the fourth year), and under no circumstances may be completed more than one semester after the completion of the first examination.

Dissertation Research

Scholars of Japanese or Chinese religions conduct on-site research using original sources, whether primary texts in archives and libraries, works of art in museums, interviews with subjects, or other materials. In many cases, primary texts must be located, read, and understood under the guidance of a Japanese or Chinese specialist in the field. East Asian Religions graduate students should therefore plan to conduct research for an extended period, usually for at least one year, in China and/or Japan after they have been admitted to Ph.D. candidacy. Ordinarily they will apply for external fellowships to conduct research abroad in the fall of the year preceding the academic year in which they plan to live in China or Japan.


Core Faculty

Associated Faculty

Additional Programs

This field is devoted, but not limited, to the study of Islamic beliefs and practices within the cultural and historical context of the Middle East and South and Central Asia.
RCT students in this program focus on issues, problems, and texts concerning: philosophy and religion, religious ethics (that is, the interrelation among religion, ethics, and politics), and the theory of religion.