Department of Religious Studies

Honors Thesis

How to Get Started

Do you want to write a thesis? You can begin thinking about your answer to this question at any time in your course of study.

Fundamentally, an honors thesis is simply an opportunity for students to conduct extended independent research under the guidance of faculty. While an honors thesis might sound like an intimidating project, try to imagine it as a set of several related research papers, connected by a single topic, issue, or question. Thinking about it that way, ask yourself: do I have a topic, issue, or question that I would like to write several papers about, over the course of a year?  If the answer is yes, then you should think seriously about writing a thesis.  As you consider an answer to this thesis and set out pursuing it, you may find it helpful to explore recent theses by concentrators in Religious Studies.

Beyond a set of interests and ideas, the first thing you need is an advisor.  In their sixth semester (ordinarily Spring semester of junior year), a student contemplating a thesis should identify a faculty member with whom they hope to work.  Students should ask faculty members if they are available and interested in supporting a thesis as a first or second reader.  The faculty member might decline for any number of reasons or may suggest other members of the department better suited to work with the student. 

If the faculty member agrees to advise the thesis, the student begins honing the topic of the thesis in consultation with the faculty member.  Before the student finishes the sixth semester, the broad contours of the project should be laid out so that the student can commence productive research at the very beginning of the seventh semester.  Before the beginning of examination period of the sixth semester, the student should complete a senior thesis proposal, obtain the necessary signatures, and submit all these materials to the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

Capstone Seminar and Thesis Workshop

Thesis writers should enroll in the Senior Capstone Seminar (RELS 1995) during the Fall semester of their senior year, and they should enroll in RELS 1999 (Thesis Preparation) in the Spring semester of their senior year.  For the Fall semester, RELS 1995 serves as the venue for thesis preparation. 

In the Capstone Seminar, thesis writers will be offered break-out sessions that provide specialized instruction and mentorship in thesis planning, research, and writing.  Dual concentrators who are enrolled in the Capstone Seminar while writing a thesis for their other concentration are welcome to join thesis workshop if their thesis is related to the academic study of religion.

Thesis Readers

Students are responsible for identifying readers for their theses.  But the Director of Undergraduate Studies and your concentration advisor can offer assistance identifying potential readers.  To receive honors, students must receive an "A" grade on their thesis from both readers. 

The "first reader" is your primary advisor.  Potential thesis writers should devise a potential thesis in consultation with an advisor.  The role of the "second reader" is more flexible.  A second reader can serve as an additional advisor who offers feedback throughout the year of research and writing, or the second reader might only read the thesis in its final form. At minimum, the second reader offers a second opinion (alongside the advisor's) about whether a thesis deserves honors; a more maximal role would have the second reader serve essentially as a second advisor. The role of the second reader should be established through dialogue between thesis writers and their readers. 

Additional Information

The Bishop McVickar Prize is awarded for the best senior honors theses on any topic related to the academic study of religion