Each doctoral candidate submits a formal dissertation proposal to the chair of the supervisory committee the semester following the qualifying examinations.

The proposal should define, in a clear, focused, and well thought-out manner, the goals of your dissertation research as well as your methodological and theoretical approaches. The proposal should show to your committee and the Graduate Committee that you have a firm grasp of your topic, its potential contributions to the study of religion, and the disciplinary contexts in which it will be situated. The proposal should be a concise and accessible document, using language that all scholars of religion—not just those in your subfield or specialty—will understand.

The proposal should be limited to 15-20 double-spaced, typed pages, not including your bibliography and appendices. Keep in mind that the proposal is meant as a description and justification of a dissertation project and not an account or status report of research already completed.

The sections described below should help you focus  your topic, limit the scope of your inquiry and justify the importance of your study. Your bibliography will illustrate the depth of your preliminary research and your expertise within the context of your topic.

Though deviations from these guidelines can be made in consultation with one’s dissertation chair, please adhere to the following expectations:

Abstract (200 words maximum)

The dissertation abstract states your thesis topic, provides a concise summary of that topic, and describes the significance of your treatment of an important scholarly question about religion, religious experience, and the understanding of religious behavior and thought. It should articulate clearly and concisely, without the use of jargon or specialized vocabulary, the problem(s) or issue(s) on which your dissertation will focus.

Proposal (5,000 words maximum)

The proposal should explain the proposed dissertation at greater length than the abstract and should be constructed of the following sections:

Statement of the Problem: Concisely state the question, issue, or problem that your dissertation will engage. Do not repeat your abstract here; rather, use this section to explain your thesis and the argument that you propose to analyze and demonstrate in your dissertation. In your articulation of the dissertation’s main topic, you should both  describe the context out of which it arises and define the boundaries and limits of your research.

Significance of the Study: Describe in explicit terms the contribution(s) your dissertation will make to the advancement of knowledge in religious studies generally and your subfield in particular.  Describe the context out of which your dissertation topic arises by providing a review of the literature that is important for your research and the ways in which your dissertation will add to and differ from that literature. More than just implying the significance of your study,  state explicitly why your research matters in terms of your specialty and the wider investigation of religion, religious experience, and the understanding of religious behavior and thought.

Methodology: Explain the methods by which you will demonstrate the argument which you have proposed, described and justified in the previous sections. This section allows you to show your facility with the theoretical and practical models you will utilize as part of your dissertation research. You should make it clear that you know both how you will construct your argument and that you are able to do so with the data collected in your research. Defend your choice of method(s) for your particular study and explain why those method(s) fit your dissertation goals. Make sure to include the way(s) in which you will construct your argument using the method(s) and theory (theories) you describe.

Chapter Outline: Present a description of how the dissertation will be structured, including an outline (in narrative or schematic form) of the proposed chapters.

Timeline: Detail your progress to date and your schedule for the research and writing of your dissertation. This section should be no longer than 500 words.

Selected Bibliography

As an indication of how thorough an investigator has researched  his/her field, the bibliography  shows the researcher’s command of the context and history of a particular topic. Your bibliography should also show the relationship of your topic to the study of religion and other fields of inquiry related to your topic. Make sure that it indicates the major theoretical and critical works that bear on your dissertation. For your proposal, include only the works that most clearly demonstrate your preparation to carry out the work you propose.


If applicable, submit any of the supporting materials that make up your proposal, e.g., questionnaires, research apparatus, Institutional Review Board approval, etc.

Format Requirements

  • Margins: 1 inch all around
  • Page numbering: all pages must have Arabic numbers (1,2,3) at bottom center
  • Tables and figures belong at the end of the appropriate chapter. Do not insert them in the text.
  • Spacing: Double-space paragraph text. Single-space headings, tables, figures, equations, and items in a list. Only 1 space between items in a list. Only 1 space after a heading or subheading.