Religious Studies: Indo-Tibetan Buddhism MA

The 45-credit MA Religious Studies with Indo-Tibetan Buddhism concentration is designed for students who want an in-depth study of Buddhism, from the Indian roots of all forms of Buddhism, to its wide-ranging manifestations in Tibetan Buddhism that has not only preserved the textual, meditative, oral, and scholastic traditions of India for both sutra and tantra, but has also played a central role in the development of Buddhism throughout the Himalayas, Central Asia, and Mongolia.

This MA degree investigates the Buddhist tradition as it developed in India, from the perspective of the Three Turnings, and how it adapted to the Tibetan landscape, with an approach that values religion and human experience as expressed in culture, the arts, social institutions, the lives of saints/yogis, ethics and philosophy, ritual, myth, symbol, and contemplative practice. The program explores critical methods of contemporary scholarship, such as textual analysis and phenomenology, as well as the richness of religious imagination and meditative practices, through integrating study and practice each semester. This program also includes elements of a traditional Tibetan monastic college education (shedra) that provides a systematic foundation in Buddhist view, meditation, and conduct, based on the materials, teaching methods, and forms of analytical meditation developed at Nitartha Institute since its founding in 1996 by Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche. The faculty includes Western-trained academics and acharyas (master teachers) steeped in Indo-Tibetan Buddhist practice, as well as English-speaking Tibetan lamas (masters) extensively trained in their own traditions.

Optional Tibetan Tradition Emphasis

Students with particular interest in the scholastic tradition of Tibet have the rare opportunity of rounding out the monastic college (shedra) aspect of their studies by selecting the optional Tibetan Tradition emphasis, which involves attending a monthlong summer program of Nitartha Institute between the first and second years of the degree program. The courses they take during this program, in conjunction with their studies at Naropa, lead to the completion and receipt of the Foundation and Intermediate Curriculum Certificates of Nitartha Institute, which qualify students to enter the study of the Advanced Curriculum and to apply for the Teaching-in-Training program at Nitartha after their graduation from Naropa. (For background information, see

Culminating Requirements

The degree program concludes with an oral comprehensive exam as well as a master’s paper or project.

Degree Requirements

First year, fall

  • REL600 Meditation Practicum I: Seeds of Peace (3)
  • REL611 The First Turning of the Wheel: Nature of Mind and Emotions (3)
  • REL614 Mind and Its World I (3)
  • REL645 Methods and Issues in the Study of Religion (3)


First year, spring

  • REL620 Meditation Practicum II: Self and No-Self (3)
  • REL624 Mind and Its World II (3)
  • REL650  Buddhist Meditation Intensive (noncredit)*
  • REL661 The Second Turning of the Wheel: The Bodhisattva Path (3)


First year, summer

Tibetan Tradition emphasis students will attend Nitartha Institute**

  • REL705 The Mind Only School (1.5) Tibetan Tradition emphasis only
  • REL720 The Mahayana Path to Enlightenment (1.5) Tibetan Tradition emphasis only

SUBTOTAL 3 (Tibetan tradition emphasis only)

Second year, fall

  • REL635 Meditation Practicum III: Mind-Training (3)
  • REL701 The Middle Way School (3)
  • Two Religious Studies electives (6)


Second year, spring

  • REL710 The Third Turning of the Wheel (3)
  • REL751 Buddhism in Tibet (3) or
    REL760 Vajrayana: Symbol, Iconography and Ritual (3)
  • REL780 Meditation Practicum IV: Maitri and Mandala (3)
  • REL880 Comprehensive Exam (0)
  • REL885 Master’s Project (0)
  • Religious Studies elective (3) Except for Tibetan Tradition emphasis

SUBTOTAL 12 (9 for Tibetan Tradition emphasis)

Total Credits 45

* It is highly recommended that students complete the noncredit monthlong Buddhist Meditation Intensive requirement (REL650) by the winter break between the fall and spring semesters of their first year, or at the latest during the summer following their first year. Tibetan Tradition emphasis students are only required to do two weeks of this meditation intensive.

** Students should complete the requirement of attending a monthlong Nitartha Institute program in the summer following their first year. This is integral to the sequence of the curriculum. This replaces three credits of electives in the final semester.

Religious Studies Electives

Buddhism Electives

  • REL540 Zen Buddhism (3)
  • REL546 Flight of the Swans: Dharma Comes West (3)
  • REL751 Buddhism in Tibet (3)
  • REL760 Vajrayana: Symbol, Iconography, and Ritual (3)

General Electives

  • REL525 Contemplative Christianity (3)
  • REL529 Contemplative Judaism (3)
  • REL530 Contemplative Hinduism (3)
  • REL535 Kabbalah and Consciousness (3)
  • REL545 Contemplative Islam (3)
  • REL585 Spiritual Models of Social Action (3)
  • REL623 Religious Experience in Africa: Sacred Cosmos, Ritual, and Community (3)
  • REL625 Prayer and Prophecy: Biblical Literatures (3)
  • REL634 Hindu Yoga-Tantra (3)
  • REL655 Trends in Religious Studies (3)
  • REL672 Non-Dualism in Theory and Practice (3)
  • REL676 Inner Oral Tradition of the Torah (3)
  • REL749 Contemporary American Religion (3)
  • REL779 Interreligious Dialog: Theory and Practice (3)

Contemplative Practice Electives

  • REL504W The Breeze of Simplicity: Meditation Weekend (1)
  • REL540 Zen Buddhism (3)
  • REL554W Opening the Heart: Meditation Weekend (1)
  • REL571 Christian Prayer and Mystical Practices (3)
  • REL609W Mindfulness Instructor Training I (1)*
  • REL690W–791W Shambhala Training Levels I–XII (1)
    • REL690W Shambhala Training Level I: The Art of Being Human (1)
    • REL691W Shambhala Training Level II: Birth of the Warrior (1)
    • REL692W Shambhala Training Level III: Warrior in the World (1)
    • REL693W Shambhala Training Level IV: Awakened Heart (1)
    • REL694W Shambhala Training Level V: Open Sky (1)
    • REL695W Shambhala Training Level VI: Great Eastern Sun (1)
    • REL790W Shambhala Training Level VII: Windhorse (1)
    • REL791W Shambhala Training Level VIII: Drala (1)
    • REL792W Shambhala Training Level IX: Meek/Perky (1)
    • REL793W Shambhala Training Level X: Perky (1)
    • REL794W Shambhala Training Level XI: Outrageous & Inscrutable (1)
    • REL795W Shambhala Training Level XII: Golden Key (1)
  • REL709W Mindfulness Instructor Training II (1)*
  • REL809W Mindfulness Instructor Training III (1)*

* These courses must be taken in sequence. The prerequisites for REL609W are Meditation Practicum I and II, as well as a Buddhist monthlong meditation intensive, two weeks of which must be completed before the class begins.