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Department of the Study of Religions

MA Religions of Asia and Africa and Intensive Language

Duration: 2 years full time, 4 years part time


Minimum Entry Requirements: Normally, minimum upper second class Honours degree from a UK university, or an overseas qualification or equivalent standard. Applicants with qualifications obtained at private or religious institutions should enquire about the School’s position on such qualifications.

Start of programme: September

Mode of Attendance: Full Time or Part Time

Who is this programme for?:

The MA Religions of Asia and Africa is in the first place a rewarding cultural and human experience. It is designed both as an end qualification in itself and as a platform preparing students for more advanced graduate work.

It typically suits students falling into one of the following three categories:

  • students planning to pursue further research, which may involve at a subsequent stage the acquisition of a doctoral degree and a career in higher education;
  • students willing to pursue a career or professional activity, for which advanced knowledge of the religions of Asia and Africa and of the theoretical and practical issues involved in their study is essential: arts, media, teaching, NGOs and charities, interfaith dialogue, consultancy for governmental agencies or the private sector, religious institutions, museums, and more.
  • students who wish to pursue the academic study of religions as a complement to their personal experience and commitments: religious ministers and clerics from all confessions, believers, yoga and meditation practitioners; anyone interested in specific religious traditions or in religion as an essential dimension of life, and in the critical and experiential enhancement that their academic study may offer.


The two-year intensive language pathway is directed at students who want to engage with a country in a professional as well as academic way, as the intensive language course will enable them to reach a near proficient knowledge of the language.

The MA Religions of Asia and Africa at SOAS is the premier postgraduate curriculum in the U.K. for the study of the religions of Asia and Africa.  It covers a wider range of religious traditions than most comparable programmes, whether in the U.K. or abroad: Buddhism in nearly all its doctrinal and regional varieties, Asian and African Christianities, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Shinto, Taoism, Zoroastrianism as well as the local religious cultures of Asia and Africa.  It is strongly interdisciplinary and methodologically diverse, offering advanced learning in the theory of religion as well as in historical, anthropological, philosophical, sociological and textual approaches to the study of particular religious traditions.

It provides a unique opportunity to tap cutting-edge academic expertise and library facilities on Asian and African religions as part of a spirited, cosmopolitan student community and within the intense religious and cultural scene of London.

It can also be taken with an intensive language pathway over two years, therefore making this programme unique in Europe.

The Japanese pathway is available for students who have an intermediate level of Japanese. Students will be required to take a placement exam in the week before classes begin in order to determine if their level is suitable. Please contact Professor Drew Gerstle (ag4@soas.ac.uk) for further information.

The Korean pathway is designed for beginner learners of Korean. Students with prior knowledge of Korean are advised to contact the programme convenor, Dr Anders Karlsson (ak49@soas.ac.uk). Students will take four course units in the Korean language, one of them at a Korean university during the summer after year 1.

The Arabic pathway is designed for beginner learners of Arabic. Students will take four units of Arabic, one of them at the Qasid Institute in Jordan or another partner institution during the summer after year 1.  Programme convenor: Dr Mustafa Shah (ms99@soas.ac.uk)

Email: ld11@soas.ac.uk


Students are generally required to follow taught units to the equivalent of three full courses (which may include one language course), and to submit a dissertation of 10,000 words.

In the two-year language pathway, students take 2 intensive language units and one discipline unit in their first year.  During the summer, they will participate in a summer school abroad (location dependant on language).  Upon their return, they will take one intensive language unit in their second year and two discipline units.

Programme Specification

Teaching & Learning

Year abroad

Yes (summer)

Teaching & Learning

Aims and Outcomes

  • Advanced knowledge and understanding of selected approaches, methods and theories in the study of religions, with particular reference to the religious traditions of Asia and Africa.
  • Advanced skills in researching and writing about topics in religious studies, also as a platform for further research at doctoral level.
  • Advanced skills in presentation or communication of knowledge and understanding of topics in religious studies.
  • Specialisation in one area from among those covered by the units listed in the programme structure.
  • In the two-year pathway, the student will also be provided with a near proficient ability in a language.



  • Students will learn how to assess data and evidence critically, locate and synthesise source materials, critically evaluate conflicting interpretations and sources, use research resources (library catalogues, journal databases, citation indices) and other relevant traditional sources.
  • Subject specific skills, such as manuscript transcription, textual bibliography, the editing of texts; familiarity with the study of religions as an academic field of study and its varieties.
  • Aspects of literature in the Study of Religions, philosophy, learning, iconography and history, the impact of religion on society.
  • Acquisition of language skills.


Intellectual (thinking) skills

  • Students should become precise and cautious in their assessment of evidence, and to understand through practice what documents can and cannot tell us.
  • Students will develop the capacity to discuss theoretical and epistemological issues in an articulate, informed, and intellectual manner.
  • Students will learn to become precise and critical in their assessment of scholarly arguments and to question interpretations, however authoritative, in order to reassess evidence for themselves.
  • Students will learn to present complex theoretical arguments clearly and creatively.
  • Those students who take a language option should be able to assess primary sources in foreign languages and critically evaluate interpretations proposed by different scholars.
  • Students will acquire both theoretical and regional expertise in order to develop and apply self-reflexive approaches to the issues raised by the cross-cultural study of religions.


Subject-based practical skills

The programme aims to help students with the following practical skills:

  • Academic writing.
  • IT-based information retrieval and processing.
  • Presentational skills.
  • Examination techniques.
  • Independent study skills and research techniques.
  • Reflexive learning.
  • In the two year intensive language pathway, to acquire/develop skills in a language to Effective Operational Proficiency level, i.e., being able to communicate in written and spoken medium in a contemporary language


Transferable skills

The programme will encourage students to:

  • Write concisely and with clarity.
  • Effectively structure and communicate ideas (oral and written).
  • Explore and assess a variety of sources for research purposes.
  • Work to deadlines and high academic standards.
  • Assess the validity and cogency of arguments.
  • Make judgements involving complex factors.
  • Develop self-reflexivity.
  • Develop an awareness of the ethical complexity of representational practices.
  • Question the nature of social and cultural constructs.

A Student's Perspective

The courses at SOAS are highly specialised which makes it a unique institution in the world and it’s a privilege to be studying here. SOAS has been an experience that I wouldn’t have missed for the world.

Carl Eoghain Cooper