Master of Religion and Public Life (MRPL) Program

Religions have functioned throughout human history to inspire and justify the full range of human agency, both for good and for ill. The widespread failure to understand the power of religion in human experience fuels bigotry and prejudice, leads to conflicts and crises, and hinders cooperative endeavors. To mitigate these consequences, there is an urgent need to promote a more sophisticated understanding of religion in public life.

The master of religion and public life degree (MRPL) is a one-year graduate degree program designed for experienced professionals who wish to develop in-depth knowledge of the complex ways religion influences public life related to their career areas. The MRPL degree provides an opportunity for mid-career journalists, government officials, humanitarian aid workers, educators, artists, health care professionals, lawyers, and other practitioners to become leaders in their fields who can help foster a better public understanding of religion and address the religious dimensions of some of the most difficult issues of our time. 

Specifically, the MRPL degree allows professionals to gain advanced knowledge about religion through coursework, a shared seminar with other professionals, and a final project that will contribute to deepening understanding of religion within their fields. Graduates will be equipped to serve as leaders regarding the public understanding of religion and how it impacts their profession. They will be able to create resources and conduct training workshops and seminars for their peers either independently or in conjunction with Religion and Public Life at HDS. Students are eligible to take courses from HDS faculty and from other faculties across Harvard to help them develop a course of study that is relevant to their professional interests.

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 would be 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 would 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 will be required to publicly present an overview of their final projects at a public symposium featuring their work that will be scheduled at the end of the academic year following their oral examination.

Financial Requirements

MRPL students pay one year of tuition.