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MA in Religious --> PhD US and World/ International History (Islamic World)


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Hey Folks, 

Ok, so I have made my list of top 10, pie in the sky, pipe-dream graduate programs.  What really vexes me, however, is what I should do if Plan A doesn't work out.  I am curious about your opinion about earning a MA in religious studies with a focus in Islamic studies as a means to complete my Arabic studies.  Also, the MA is offered at UCSB, where I got my BA in history in 2011 (3.89 GPA). This option  would this also give me a chance to reconnect with my professors who would write my recommendation letters.   My current research interest is US foreign policy towards the Middle East. Would it weird out PhD admissions committees if my MA was not in history?  I have posted the program requirements below.  




M.A. Program, Plan II
This Master’s degree does not lead to Ph.D. work at UCSB. Requirements for the terminal M.A. in religious studies include completion of 36 units(of which at least 24 must be graduate-level units in coursework related to the proposed area of study).
All of these must be for a letter grade and include the following:

  • The religious core course RS 201, offered in fall quarter only, is required of all incoming M.A. II students.
  • In addition to RS 201, M.A. II students must take five graduate seminars (20 units) related to the proposed area of study. A maximum of 12 units of RS 596, Directed Reading and Research, may be counted toward the required units of graduate-level coursework.
  • Three additional courses (12 units) to meet the unit requirements must be at least at the upper-division level, and only RS 596, Directed Reading and Research, may be counted from the independent study options.

No foreign language or thesis is required for the M.A. Plan II. Ordinarily all degree requirements are met in one year.


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An MA in something other than history will not derail your chances. That being said, you need to make sure that any program you do helps the kind of scholarship you want to do (US foreign policy and a religious studies degree seem like an odd mix to me, but if you think you can make it work then go for it) and helps position you as an applicant to PhD programs. For the study of the Middle East or broader Islamic world languages are a big thing. If you have the necessary language skills already or can figure out a way to get them during your time at UCSB then all is well. If you don't, or you can't, then you'll have a tough row to hoe when it comes to receiving admission.


Many people who do MA's use their thesis as a writing sample for their PhD applications because it shows research skills and the ability to think independently. If you do this program you'll need to figure out a way to write a good sample some other way. I would suggest talking to your professor about the kind of training you'll receive in the program and how that maps to what you want for your future.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Well, there is a professor who focuses on Islamic political groups and the history of Iran.  My sample writing from my BA was about Iran.  I was thinking that she could help me refine my sample while I was talking courses.   UCSB offers an opportunity to specialize in Islamic studies within the religious studies program.  I figure since my research is going to be about, in part, the US foreign relations with the Islamic world, that such a seemingly small diversion wouldn't be held against me.  But then again, I am not sure.  That is why I was asking for opinions.  I think I should write an email for sure. 

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