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Department of the History of Art and Archaeology

MA Religious Arts of Asia

Duration: One calendar year (full-time) Two or three years (part-time, daytime only)


Minimum Entry Requirements: Minimum upper second class honours degree (or equivalent)

Start of programme: September intake only

Mode of Attendance: Full Time or Part Time

The Department of Art and Archaeology at SOAS provides a uniquely broad range of courses in the history of art, architecture and material culture of Africa and Asia, from their origins to modern times. The regions covered include China, Japan, Korea, the Islamic world, the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and Africa (including the African Diaspora). Our aim is to enable students to investigate the cultures of this immensely diverse area, while giving them the opportunity to specialise in fields of their choice.

This is the only programme of its kind anywhere in Europe, looking at the great religious traditions of Asia. It deals with many countries, regions and time periods from antiquity to the present. In practice, Buddhism receives the greatest coverage, from India, through Central Asia, Southeast Asia, China, Korea and Japan, but other notable religions, such as Hinduism and Shinto, and animistic and syncretic practices are also addressed. Courses consider iconography, ritual, faith and pilgrimage in their diverse regional and historical guises, making use of temple buildings, statues, paintings, vestments, accoutrements and fittings, formal, informal and popular. Students select at least two units (or four half units) from among MA courses that are designated as belonging to the Religious Arts of Asia programme.

In addition to the three taught courses, the fourth component of the degree is a 10,000 word dissertation. Students undertake independent research on a topic of their own choosing, generally related to the area of one of their taught courses, and supervised by a member of the department.

The MA has two main purposes. First, it can be used as a training programme for those who hope to go on to higher independent research (for a PhD), especially if their BA background lies in another field (such as the History of Western Art, or Asian/African area/language studies). For such students, the MA provides the necessary grounding in the material and techniques in the study of Asian and African art or archaeology. Secondly, for those who already have some background in this field, it provides an opportunity to broaden or deepen their knowledge at a higher level.

Entry requirements

The normal qualification for admission to the MA programme is an upper second class honours degree. Other qualifications, however, may be acceptable and the Department welcomes mature students. Students taking the MA degree may or may not have previous experience of our subjects. While knowledge of a relevant Asian or African language is not a requirement, for some courses it is an advantage for admission (see individual course descriptions for details). It is possible to include an element of language training within the MA programme by taking an Asian or African language as one of the two ‘minor’ courses. This option may be particularly desirable for those intending to progress to the PhD, who do not already have the necessary language skills.


Classes are normally two hours per week for each course. Teaching methods include lectures with discussion, seminars (at which students’ present papers) and museum visits. Students at all levels are expected to take an active part in class presentation. A particularly important element is the training of the student's visual memory.


For each of the three taught courses, the student will be expected to submit two or three pieces of written work usually around 3,000 to 4,500 words – for a total of 9,000 words per course. The emphasis is thus on developing essay skills during the session in preparation for the dissertation. In some courses the assessment is 100% on written work. On other courses, assessed course work forms 75% of the student’s final grade; an additional 25% is in some cases determined by slide quizzes, projects, or other forms of assessment (correct information will be distributed to students during the first few weeks of teaching). The 10,000 word dissertation must be submitted no later than 15 September.

Part-time study

Students may, under certain circumstances, be allowed to study for the MA on a part-time basis. The MA can be taken over two years, in which case the student takes two taught courses in the first year, and one taught course and the dissertation in the second. Alternatively, it can be taken over three years, in which case the student takes one taught course in each year. The dissertation can be written in any year, but it is strongly recommended that this be undertaken in the final year of the programme. It must be submitted by 15 September of the year in which the student registers for it.


Students must complete three units (or 0.5 unit equivalent) of taught MA courses in addition to the compulsory Dissertation. A minimum of two units must be selected from the MA courses available within the History of Art & Archaeology Department. No more than one unit (or equivalent) may be selected from the minor MA options available from other SOAS Departments

Regional Courses
Minor Options in Other Departments
Media Studies
Study of Religions
South and South East Asia

Programme Specification

Teaching & Learning

Teaching & Learning

Lectures and Seminars

Teaching consists of a combination of lectures and seminars. Classes are normally between two and three hours per week for each course. Teaching methods include lectures with discussion, seminars and museum visits.

Students at all levels are expected to take an active part in class presentation. A particularly important element is the training of the student's visual memory.

In addition to their studies on the MA programme, students at SOAS are able to participate in a wide range of research seminars, lectures and conferences that regularly take place in the School and in the University of London.


The 10,000-word dissertation on an approved topic linked with one of the taught courses.

Learning Resources
SOAS Library

SOAS Library is one of the world's most important academic libraries for the study of Africa, Asia and the Middle East, attracting scholars from all over the world. The Library houses over 1.2 million volumes, together with significant archival holdings, special collections and a growing network of electronic resources.


Students of MA Religious arts of Asia will develop a portfolio of widely transferable skills which employers seek including research skills; written and oral communication skills; visual awareness; and specialist subject knowledge of the Religious art of Asia. Art and Archaeology postgraduates very often continue to work in arts, culture and heritage roles and also forge careers in a wide range of fields across the world, including international development, diplomacy, banking and finance, language services, the legal sector, education and policy research. A postgraduate degree is a valuable experience that provides students with a body of work and a diverse range of skills that they can use to market themselves with when they graduate.

For more information about Graduate Destinations from this department, please visit the Careers Service website.

A Student's Perspective

The public transport in London is just great as it is easy to get around and also to get to other cities in the UK. The beautiful cities Cambridge and Oxford are basically around the corner and definitely worth visiting and many other nice British cities and places are also easy to get to from London.

Katja Utz, University of Heidelberg