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Religion in Public Life Certificate

The American experiment in democracy guarantees its citizens the free exercise of belief. The Bill of Rights prohibits the establishment of an official state religion. However, interpretations of these statements can vary widely. Recent Supreme Court rulings have failed to achieve a national consensus on this issue. The result is widespread confusion and difficult challenges that confront teachers, lawyers, journalists, health care practitioners, social workers and many other professionals.

The University of Pennsylvania has long been a pioneer in the nonsectarian study of religion. Today, Penn has over three dozen scholars who study various aspects of religion in diverse cultural settings, and who are well equipped to direct a graduate program in the study of religion in public life. Some areas that this program will cover are: diversity and deviance among American religions; church/state relations and the Constitution; issues in teaching about specific Eastern and Western religions; religious dimensions of contemporary ethical and social debates (abortion, euthanasia, minority and gender roles); religious art, music and holidays in the public sphere; and the prevailing interpretations of religion in the media and modern society.

Students who pursue a certificate in Religion in Public Life will explore these issues in the context of the MLA Proseminar, their coursework, and their Capstone Projects. Each student will design a program around an area of primary interest, selecting graduate seminars offered in the School of Arts and Sciences by the departments of Religious Studies, Folklore and Folklife, History, English, Anthropology and Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. Additional courses can be found in the Law School, the Graduate School of Education, the Annenberg School for Communication, and the School of Social Work (up to two courses outside of Arts and Sciences may be included in an MLA degree).

The Religion in Public Life Certificate Program within the Master of Liberal Arts Program at Penn requires the following:

  • The MLA Proseminar "Religion in Public Life"
  • At least one seminar dealing directly with church/state issues
  • Three additional courses dealing with Religion in Public Life issues
  • Three elective courses from the MLA curriculum
  • One course in which a Capstone Project related to the Religion in Public Life Certificate is successfully completed

Application Procedure

Students wishing to pursue a certificate in Religion in Public Life through the Master of Liberal Arts Program should complete an MLA Application.


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