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Guidelines for Senior Thesis


Fall Term: The oral examination for the thesis must be completed by the last day of the Exam Period (this year, December 22 2015), and the final copy of the thesis must be submitted one full week before the date of the oral examination. The latest possible date this year would be December 15, 2015. Theses submitted after that date will not be accepted.

Spring Term: The oral examination for the thesis must be completed by the last day of the General Examinations (this year, May 13, 2016), and the final copy of the thesis must be submitted one full week before the date of the oral examination.  The latest possible date this academic year would be May 6, 2016. Theses submitted after that date will not be accepted.

Advisors may set up their own schedules with each senior, but they should work within these guidelines. Once a student and adviser agree upon the date for the oral and thus the date for the submission of the final and complete thesis (no more additions or corrections being possible), these become the absolute deadlines for that student.

1. The Senior Thesis: Overview

A Senior Thesis is required of all religion majors. This thesis is an extensive and supervised research project, forming the capstone of their undergraduate education. The Senior Thesis in Religion is normally a one-semester course, for which one credit is given, involving a written thesis approximately 10,000 words (excluding notes & bibliography). With permission of the instructor, a student may choose to do a two-semester thesis for two credits, entailing a paper of approximately 20,000 words (excluding notes & bibliography).

The thesis project involves three components:

  1. A written thesis, which is an extended argument demonstrating the proposition or point of view proposed by means of documented evidence and resulting in a coherent conclusion;
  2. An oral examination on the thesis, which follows completion of the written work; and
  3. Colloquia:

a) A dinner with senior and junior majors in September of each year to go over the thesis process.

b) Periodic presentation of faculty research (or other work) during both semesters, to which majors and non-majors will be invited.


As a first step towards focusing your thesis work, in the semester prior to registering for your thesis (RELG 497 for a single-semester thesis, or RELG 498 for the first part of a 2-semester thesis), you should submit a 250-word proposal (with preliminary bibliography) to your thesis advisor. A reminder will be sent around midterm each semester to prepare your preliminary proposal. This preliminary proposal will be circulated to the faculty of the DOR for review, comments, and advice. Make sure this proposal includes:


1. The question you set out to answer and its broader significance

2. The specific evidence (art objects, written texts, interview groups etc) you plan to use

3. How you plan to investigate it (basic method and interpretive technique)


2. Subject

The focus of the thesis is a subject of the student’s choice, confirmed by the advisor. Students should select their topics early in order to begin investigation of the subject, and to secure the thesis advisor of their choice.

3. Readers

Each thesis must have at least two readers from the department. The first reader is also the principal thesis advisor, who directs the student in researching and writing the thesis and determines the letter grade assigned for the course. Additional readers from outside the department may also be included. Students should make arrangements regarding readers early in the term to facilitate coordination of schedules.

If a thesis is comparative in structure, readers from all the fields encompassed should be fully involved as the work proceeds. One person, however, should assume the role of principal advisor. We encourage all students, regardless of topic, to be in touch with their second readers over the course of the thesis process and, especially, to submit their rough drafts to their second readers for comments and suggestions.

4. Process throughout the Semester

Students will contact their thesis advisor as soon as possible at the beginning of the semester. Student and professor will then establish a schedule for meeting together to work on the thesis. Thesis meetings are equivalent in importance to class meetings; regular attendance and progress form part of the final grade

5. Thesis Revision

Theses are expected to be revised throughout the thesis process. The thesis submitted in final form for the oral exam, however, may not be revised in any way after submission. The number of final copies of the thesis submitted for the oral must include a library copy in a black spring-form binder. The latter should be given to the Chair for deposit in the library. (See Deadlines, above).

6. Grade

Two distinct grades are given for the thesis:

  1. A letter-grade for the course, based on the quality of the product (the final paper turned in by the student), and on the quality of the process (cooperation of student with professor, meeting deadlines, general involvement with project). This grade is determined by the thesis advisor.
  2. A ranking grade based on both the final written thesis and the oral examination. This grade is determined by consultation between the first and second readers. It conforms to the college grading of General Exams and encompasses the following grades: Distinction, High Pass, Pass, and Fail.

7. Non-passing Paper

Examiners may not have an oral examination for a student with a non-passing paper.

8. Oral Examination

The oral examination, of 45 to 50 minutes, is given jointly by the first and second readers of the thesis. The student must schedule the oral examination in advance with both readers at a time convenient for all involved. The purpose of the oral examination is two-fold: to determine whether the student can explain clearly the data and interpretations presented in the thesis, and to discover whether the student can go beyond what is written in the thesis. The principal advisor chairs the examination, but both advisors share in asking questions.

9. Notification of Grade

The examiners will inform the student immediately after the oral whether he or she passed but will not reveal the specific grade. The Chair will write a formal congratulatory letter, indicating the ranking grade.

10. Honors

To be awarded Honors in Religion, a student must have an A- average in those ten courses fulfilling the major requirements and earn a Distinction on the Senior Thesis and Oral.