Thesis Introduction and Timeline

The senior thesis is an excellent opportunity for Religion majors to sustain thoughtful and creative research on a significant topic of their choosing. The thesis serves for many as the capstone experience of their undergraduate career. The senior thesis presents the opportunity to conduct independent research, work closely with a faculty advisor, and develop and test analytical and interpretive skills.

Majors in the Religion Department are encouraged, but not required, to write a thesis in their final year of study. This opportunity is available to all majors in the department.

Most students choose a topic relevant to some of their previous course work in the study of religion. Choice of a topic should be made under the guidance of a faculty member who will approve their proposal and supervise their project. In every case, the thesis topic should be specific enough to allow for depth of treatment. At the same time, however, the topic should not be so narrowly or technically construed as to allow students to lose sight of its relation to the broader issues in the study of religion. All majors who choose to write a thesis must have their proposed subject approved by their thesis advisor and the Director of Undergraduate Studies in the spring of their junior year. During the senior year, the student enrolls in Guided Reading and Research with their advisor. The final draft, usually around 40 pages in length, is due in the first week of April.

Students who receive a grade of Distinction on their thesis and maintain a GPA of 3.66 or above will be considered for departmental honors. Writing a senior thesis qualifies the student for consideration for departmental honors, but does not assure it. In most years, only 10 percent of majors receive departmental honors.

All junior religion majors and concentrators should enroll in RELI UN3199 Theory (formerly the Junior's Colloquium). The main purpose of the colloquium is to ensure that all majors and concentrators have a grasp of some of the major theories and methods employed by scholars in their explorations of religious phenomena. Students who intend to write a senior thesis should approach Theory as an important setting in which to think about theoretical and methodological approaches that they might apply to their thesis.

In the beginning of the spring term, all majors in their junior year are sent a reminder about the Senior Thesis Application, which is due the first week of May. The senior thesis application must be approved by the Director of Undergraduate Studies. The thesis application consists of a 5-7 page prospectus and approval from a Religion faculty member who will serve as the thesis advisor.

Juniors who plan to study abroad during the spring of their junior year and who wish to write a thesis should consult with the Director of Undergraduate Studies during the fall term about alternate due dates and requirements.

Students writing senior theses should enroll in Guided Reading and Research with their thesis advisor. Students should discuss this with their thesis advisor in the spring of their junior year. A total of three points of guided reading may be counted toward the major. Students should make sure to negotiate the requirements for this course with their thesis advisor as professors run independent research courses differently. As the department sets few formal deadlines for the thesis, students ought to work with their advisor to create a set of intermediate due dates. A sample timeline is noted below. The letter grade for Guided Reading and Research is separate from that of the thesis, which is graded as pass, fail, or distinction.

The “timeline” outlined below provides an example of how students might pace their thesis writing and research.

  • Early October: Revised Project Proposal Due
  • First week of December: Outline of Project Due
  • Last week of January: Draft of one chapter due
  • First week of March: Draft of project due
  • First week of April: Completed project due