Master of Religion and Public Life: Project Proposal

This article describes the MRPL Project Proposal. The Project Proposal is a core component of the MRPL application, where you have a chance to describe your proposed final project. Degree candidates will spend their year at HDS working towards their final project which will engage topics of religion in their professional field.

This post was written in November 2021 and contains accurate information for the 2022-2023 admissions cycle.

In this admissions webinar from October 2021, we describe the MRPL degree program in more detail. In it, you can also hear from some of our current MRPL students about their path to the MRPL degree and their plans for their final project.

What is the MRPL Project Proposal?  

All MRPL students will complete a final project that engages with the topic of religion within their profession. The final project will 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 three forms:  

  • A portfolio addressing a particular theme in the intersection of religion and the student’s profession. This option could, for example, take the form of a series of case studies, a series of articles, or a portfolio of artistic creations relevant to an articulated theme.; or  
  • Two smaller papers (each normally 20-30 pages in length); or  
  • One large paper (normally 40-60 pages in length) 

The Project Proposal Form, which you will submit with your application, is an opportunity for you to get started on thinking about your final project and to articulate your initial thoughts on your intended project.  

Where do I find the Project Proposal Form?  

You can access the project proposal form and instructions within the HDS online application for admission. Once you start your application for admission, you’ll be prompted to submit the form.  

What kind of information do I need to provide in the Project Proposal Form? 

You’ll use the Project Proposal Form to provide some preliminary thoughts on your intended final project.  

The form asks several questions about your intended project, and it may be helpful to do some reflection before answering them. They include:  

  • Briefly summarize your intended project. 
  • What impact do you hope to achieve? 
  • Please list up to three HDS faculty members whom you have identified as potential advisors for your project. Additionally, please list up to three additional resources (professional or academic, external or internal to Harvard) that could support your project.  
  • What are your hopes and intentions for seeking the MRPL degree at this time in your career? How are you hoping to apply the learning and what change are you seeking to create? 

It may be helpful for you to write your responses on a separate document before inputting them into the form within your application. Make sure to proofread and edit your responses and please keep in mind that responses for each question cannot be longer than 1500 characters (which is usually around 200-350 words). 

How should I approach writing the project proposal?   

There’s no one right way to approach your project proposal, but it is something that you’ll want to spend a considerable amount of time on.  

Your final project should be something that contributes to deepening the understanding of religion within your professional field. Therefore, we recommend that you start by reflecting on where religion intersects with your profession in ways that feel authentic, relevant, and exciting to you.  

There are several related, but distinct questions that the Project Proposal asks, and it may be helpful to think about how you can use each section to provide insight into yourself, your passions, and your proposed project from multiple angles.  

You’ll need to highlight several resources, including HDS faculty members, who may be well suited to support you and your project, so be sure to spend some time reflecting on and identifying who those people and organizations might be. 

Finally, like any piece of writing, please make sure to edit, edit, edit! Again, it may be helpful to write your responses on a separate document before inputting them into the Project Proposal Form within your application.  

Once I submit this form is my project set in stone? What if I want to change it later?  

While we expect your project to continue to evolve once you start classes at HDS and start working on your project more fully, it is important to note that your final project must receive approval from your faculty advisor and the Religion in Public Life advisor by mid-December. In order to meet this timeline, the strongest candidates will present a strong outline of their intended project in their application, so we encourage you to take some time to reflect on your project now.  

Do you have any examples of past project proposal topics?  

Because the MRPL program is designed to support professionals as they explore the intersections of religion with their respective fields, no two project proposals will be alike.  

Some of our current students’ projects include:  

  • Working with public school administrators to deepen their understanding of religion in education  
  • Exploring what it means to be an Orthodox Christian in the United States  
  • Challenging the assumption of secularization in public health policy making  
  • Applying a chaplaincy approach to ceremonial magic  
  • Reflecting on the intersections of beauty, aesthetics, fashion, and religion 

Check out the MRPL Public Presentations from Spring 2022 for an overview of the projects pursued by our inaugural MRPL class. As you can see, the MRPL project is wide-ranging, and you will have the opportunity to do a deep dive into whatever topic you propose!  

We hope this post was helpful as you write your Project Proposal. If you have any other questions about the MRPL or the Project Proposal please reach out to us at

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