Master of Religion and Public Life (MRPL) Program

Religions have functioned throughout human history to inspire and justify the full range of agency from the heinous to the heroic. Their influences remain potent at the dawn of the twenty-first century despite modern predictions that religious influences would steadily decline in concert with the rise of secular democracies and advances in science. 

The Master of Religion and Public Life degree (MRPL) is a one-year graduate degree program designed for experienced professionals in primarily (but not exclusively) “secular” arenas whose work is focused on having a positive social impact and who are inspired by a vision of just peace.  The degree provides an opportunity for journalists, government officials, humanitarian aid workers, educators, artists, health care professionals, businesspeople, lawyers, and other practitioners to develop in-depth knowledge of the complex ways religion influences public life relevant to their arenas in ways that will advance their own vocational aims. 

Why Religion and Public Life?  

Despite the power of religion, there are few places where citizens and professionals can develop the kind of robust understanding of religion that is essential for active citizenship and innovative leadership. Religion and Public Life at Harvard Divinity School (RPL) stands apart in its explicit normative commitments to advancing just peace in collaboration with professionals in a variety of vocations.   

As the only nondenominational program of its kind in the United States, RPL provides a way to understand religion in context, with special attention to questions of power, peace, and conflict. Our approach is nonsectarian and academic. By this, we mean that we do not situate ourselves within any particular religious tradition and we promote the broad study of religion in “service of a just world at peace” in keeping with the vision statement of HDS.   

The MRPL degree is a main component of RPL which has many other dimensions, including a Certificate program for MTS and MDiv students, professional and lifelong learning opportunities, and a range of programs open to the public.  

Is the MRPL degree at Harvard Divinity School best for me?

Interested in learning more about the Master of Religion in Public Life (MRPL) at Harvard Divinity School and the admissions process?

Introduce Yourself

The MRPL degree allows candidates to shape a course of study relevant to their professional interests through coursework at HDS and throughout the University, a shared seminar with other professionals in the MRPL cohort, and a final project that will contribute to deepening understanding of religion within their fields.  

Graduates will be equipped to serve as leaders among their peers regarding the public understanding of religion in their professions.  They will be able to think in fresh ways about the roles religions play in their contexts, create new resources based on their learning, and conduct training workshops and seminars for their colleagues either independently or in conjunction with Religion and Public Life at HDS.  

  • Journalism  

  • Government   

  • Media and Entertainment  
  • Organizing and Activism 

  • Business 

  • Creative Arts  

  • Humanitarian Action 
  • Education 

  • Public Health  

  • Law

MRPL candidates plan a program of advanced study with the faculty director of Religion and Public Life and their faculty advisor. To receive the degree, candidates must satisfactorily complete one year of full-time study (a minimum of eight 4-credit semester courses) within one year from the initial date of registration for the degree, according to the following stipulations:  

  • Both semesters must be spent in full-time study (a minimum of four courses each term) in residence in Cambridge. There are no online or distance learning options for this degree  

  • No course with a grade below B- may be counted toward the degree  

  • Students must earn a cumulative grade average of B or higher to meet graduation requirements  

  • At least four of the eight required courses for the degree must be completed from those offered at HDS  

  • One-half of the total number of courses each semester must be chosen from those offered at HDS  

  • A minimum of four of the eight courses must be taken for a letter grade  

  • Students are required to take Theories and Methods in the Study of Religion, and the MRPL Religion and Public Life Seminar (one four-credit course that meets over the full year).  


Final Project   

MRPL students must complete a final project that engages the topic of religion within their profession. The final project is shaped in consultation with the faculty instructor of the Religion and Public Life Seminar, MRPL candidate peers in the seminar, and the student’s faculty advisor. The final project may take one of the following forms:  

  • A portfolio addressing a particular theme in the intersection of religion and their profession (e.g., a series of case studies, a series of articles, or a portfolio of thematically linked artistic creations);  

  • Two smaller papers (each normally 20-30 pages in length);  

  • One large paper (normally 40-60 pages in length).  

All options require approval from the faculty advisor and RPL director by mid-December. Final projects could incorporate work done in courses counting toward fulfillment of the MRPL degree requirements but must also represent substantially new material.  

Oral Examination Requirement  

Candidates for the MRPL must satisfactorily complete an oral examination administered by a committee composed of two members of the Faculty of Divinity with the option to include a member of their profession as a third outside reader. Oral examinations take place in the spring when the course requirements are nearing completion. Candidates must submit their final project to the examiners prior to the exam. This project provides a starting point for questioning at the one-hour final oral examination.  

Public Presentation Requirement  

Candidates are required to publicly present an overview of their final projects at the end of the academic year following their oral examination.  

Financial Requirements  

MRPL students pay one year of tuition.