Guidelines for Capstone Paper/Honors Senior Thesis


A. The Capstone Paper

A major takes a 300-level course in the department during the senior year, for which the student writes, and presents in colloquia, a 15-20 page paper, written for the instructor of that 300-level course. This paper will have 2 faculty readers, though the grade will be given by the course instructor. This option does not allow for the possibility of Honors.


B. The Senior Honors Thesis

A major registers for the senior thesis course, at the 400 level, in which a student writes, and presents in colloquia, a thesis of 10,000 words (see guidelines). This option allows for the possibility of Honors.

1. Overview

The Honors Thesis in Religious Studies is an extensive and supervised research project. It is normally a one-semester course, for which one credit is given, involving a written thesis of 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).

Senior thesis research grant: Thanks to the generosity of Trinity alumnus Tom Chappell, the Theodor Mauch Fund has been established to provide a $1,000 award for the best senior Religious Studies thesis as determined by the faculty of the Religious Studies Department. The fund also provides approximately $1,000 for assisting one or more persons in doing research on their senior theses. The recipient of this research grant will be determined by the faculty in the department upon receipt of a grant proposal on the last day prior to the Spring Break in the student’s junior year.

Fall Term: The oral examination for the thesis must be completed by the last day of the Exam Period, and the final copy of the thesis must be submitted one full week before the date of the oral examination. 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 and the final copy of the thesis must be submitted one full week before the date of the oral examination. 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 on 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.

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. The colloquia, which involves a presentation of capstone work completed by all seniors, scheduled for the end of the semester, to which friends and family can be invited.

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 proposal of 750-1500 words, plus annotated bibliography, to your thesis advisor. A reminder will be sent around each semester to prepare your proposal, which will be due October 30 in the fall or March 15 in the spring of each year. Please note: this proposal is to come in during the semester prior to your signing up for the thesis. It will be circulated to the faculty of the Department of Religious Studies for review, comments, and advice.

The proposal asks that you provide a provisional title and topic, and that you address these issues:

  1. Provisional Thesis Title
  2. What is your thesis question or research objective? (Thesis Argument)
  3. What is the significance or importance of your thesis? (Thesis Significance)
  4. Which methods or theories will you use? (Methodology)
  5. What are your sources? (Preliminary Annotated Bibliography)

We encourage you to begin your preparations early for the thesis. To help, there is a limited amount of money from the Department of Religious Studies to support early research. This is a competitive grant, and you’ll need to apply for it at the beginning of the spring semester of your junior year. We’ll send out information to you at that time.

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.

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. Public Thesis Presentation

At the end of the semester, after the thesis is finished, each writer participates in a public presentation of his or her thesis. You’ll have about 15-20 minutes to talk about what you’ve done, and there’ll be refreshments available during and after. Normally, students invite friends and family to this gathering to help you celebrate your accomplishment!

10. Notification of Grade

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

11. Honors

To be awarded Honors in Religious Studies, 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.