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Senior Thesis Guidelines

Purpose of the Senior Capstone Project

The Religion Department believes that the opportunity to successfully execute a sustained, independent research project is a key value in our discipline. We seek to give our senior majors the opportunity to delve deeply into research that engages with the work they have already done in the major but extends it into new areas. We expect this process will provide a culminating experience for our majors, giving them opportunities to demonstrate mastery over key skills in our field (including formulating a thesis, demonstrating knowledge of context and/or historical background, applying theoretical models where appropriate, and analyzing primary sources in a well written, appropriately cited, effectively argued original research paper or literature review). Moreover, we want this endeavor to create an opportunity to further build our intellectual community as fellow scholars of religion—by fostering serious conversation not only between individual students and their senior project advisors, but also among all senior writers and faculty as we navigate senior projects together.  In order to foster success, we have developed the following timetable for the project.


Stages of the Project

The formal process includes six stages:
1. Topic development
2. Project proposal
3. Presentation of the proposal
4. Presentation of a sample of the work in progress
5. Writing of a full draft of the thesis or research paper, and its revision
6. Oral examination

 

1. Development of a Topic

Junior Year.  Identification of a topic; assignment of an advisor.  Look back over your coursework in the department and consider which kinds of projects have been the most engaging, challenging, and fulfilling for you, and start conversations with different faculty members about your thinking in process.  Submit to the department Chair by the first Friday of Block 7 a description of your proposed topic and an initial bibliography of key research sources (2-3 pages total).  Faculty and students will then meet together to discuss the proposals, and approval of topics will occur in time for pre-registration in Block 7, when you will register for RE405, the extended-format project preparation in the fall, and save a specific block in the spring for RE406 Senior Thesis or RE407 Senior Research Paper.

RE406 Senior Thesis.  Religion majors who wish to register for RE406 Senior Thesis, an independent block of thesis composition and revision offered to seniors each spring, must (a) submit a Senior Thesis proposal to the Religion faculty by the first Friday of Block 7 of their junior year, and (b) have a minimum GPA in the major of 3.5 at the time of submission. Registration for RE406 is subject to faculty approval.  Students enrolled in RE406 will research and write a traditional thesis (i.e., a 10,000-word piece of polished prose containing a contestable thesis supported by evidence and a reasoned argument) under the direction of a faculty thesis advisor. Students will defend their final thesis during the block immediately following their dedicated thesis block.

RE407 Senior Research Paper.  Religion majors who do not qualify to register for RE406 or who elect not to do so shall register for RE407 Senior Research Paper, an independent block of research paper composition and revision offered to senior Religion majors each spring.  By the first Friday of Block 7 of their junior year, students who wish to register for RE407 must submit a Senior Research Paper proposal to the Religion faculty for their approval. Once approved, the Senior Research Paper proposal becomes the basis for a well-researched 6000-word essay that synthesizes, describes, and evaluates how scholars in the field of Religious Studies address various facets of the student’s chosen topic. Students enrolled in RE407 will produce their essays under the direction of a faculty research paper advisor during their dedicated spring block. In the block that immediately follows, they will present the results of their research before the Religion faculty.

Summer before Senior Year.  Preliminary reading from initial bibliography; annotated record of research; formulation of questions, possible directions.

 

2. Formulating a formal proposal

Block 1.  2nd Friday, Lunch, 12:30-2:30.  Collective meeting for all seniors and department faculty, during which we will review the schedule, discuss guidelines for the formal proposal, and entertain questions.  Students will give a brief report on their summer research.

Block 2.
  Date and Time TBA.  Required meeting with Tutt Library Humanities Liaison Steve Lawson on research resources available through Tutt for your individual projects.  Sometime in Block 2, students should also meet with their advisors as they define projects more clearly, narrow approaches, and begin to formulate the formal proposal.  

Block 3.
  Submission of a draft proposal to your senior project advisor (see below, on content and format); revision and continued research.

 

3. The presentation of revised proposals

Block 4.  2nd Friday, Lunch, 12:30-3:00.  Collective meeting for all seniors and department faculty.  All attendees, students and faculty alike, will have read all proposals in advance and will offer comments, questions, and suggestions. After this meeting, you should consider the suggestions of the group as you progress toward your Block in the spring for the Thesis or Research Paper.  Formal proposals should be submitted to the department Chair by the second Monday at noon in order to allow sufficient time for distribution and preparation.

 

4. Project Outline, Bibliography, and Writing Sample

Winter Break and Half-Block. Continue research and writing.

End of Half-Block.  Submission (by Thursday at noon) of three things:  1) an outline of the entire project; 2) a bibliography in a standard format; 3) a five-page sample of your writing on the topic.  For the writing sample, you can select an excerpt of the paper in progress that represents, for example, the central claim or argument, a crucial piece of interpretation based on a primary source, or the key to the whole that you see emerging (you should not necessarily try to write the introduction to your project first).  Submit these materials to your senior project advisor.

 

5. Spring Block for Thesis or Research Paper

Submission of 1) a complete draft, and 2) a final and fully revised paper, with high standards of proofreading and clear writing, as well as effective argumentation and well executed analysis of primary sources.  During the block you will be expected to meet regularly with your advisor and to present portions of your work in progress.

Second Week
.  A full draft is due to your advisor by Friday of the second week of your Thesis or Research Paper Block.  Your advisor will read this draft and quickly return it with comments.  You will be expected to take those comments into account as you revise the work before the final due date, which at the latest will be the last day of your dedicated Block.  Submit a 200-300 word abstract with the final version.  Failure to complete the senior project by the stated deadline may result in your not fulfilling the requirements of the major, which may prevent you from graduating on time.

 

6. Oral Defense or Presentation

An oral defense following RE406 or a presentation following RE407 will be scheduled in the block immediately following your senior project block.  Each student will have a defense or presentation, with department faculty present and other Religion majors welcome, unless the writer requests a closed session.


Credits and Grading

Your senior project will count for 1.5 credits: one unit for RE406 or RE407, and one-half unit for RE405. You will receive a single grade. In determining your grade, your advisor will consider your participation in the entire process (including prepared, engaged attendance at required events, and regular meetings with your advisor), your final written work, and your performance in the oral examination.


Writing Requirements

RE406 Senior Thesis

The thesis should be submitted as a single document, including title page, abstract, and bibliography.  The total length of the work should be between 10,000 and 11,000 words, including notes and bibliography.  Proper citation (Chicago style) is essential, including a complete bibliography of sources consulted; use footnotes rather than endnotes.  The work should be double-spaced, 12 point, in Times, Times New Roman, or Arial font, with 1” margins.  After approval by Religion faculty, all theses should be submitted electronically to Tutt Library following the instructions on the Library’s homepage.

RE407 Senior Research Paper

The research paper should be submitted as a single document, including title page, abstract, and bibliography.  The total length of the work should be between 6000 and 6500 words, including notes and bibliography.  The senior research paper is an essay that synthesizes, describes, and evaluates how scholars in the field of Religious Studies address various facets of the student’s chosen topic.  Proper citation (Chicago style) is essential, including a complete bibliography of sources consulted; use footnotes rather than endnotes.  The work should be double-spaced, 12 point, in Times, Times New Roman, or Arial font, with 1” margins.  After approval by Religion faculty, all theses should be submitted electronically to Tutt Library following the instructions on the Library’s homepage.

 


Summary of the Schedule

Junior Year

  • Block 7:  Topic submission, collective meeting, advisor assignment
  • Preregistration: Register for RE405 in the fall and save a block for RE406 or RE407 in the spring

Summer

  • Preliminary research

Senior Year

  • Block 1: Collective lunch meeting with all senior writers and faculty 
  • Block 2: Meeting with Steve Lawson in Tutt Library
  • Block 3: Draft proposals due to senior project advisors
  • Block 4: Submission of formal, revised proposals; collective lunch meeting
  • End of Half-Block: Submit to senior project advisor: 1) outline, 2) bibliography, and 3) short writing sample from draft
  • Thesis or Research Paper Block: Submit completed essay, and its revision, including abstract
  • Following Block: Oral defense or presentation

Preparing the Senior Project Proposal

The first draft of your formal proposal, submitted in Block 3, should reflect your current thinking and research on your project. We do not require you to have a fully defined argument or plan at this point, but we do expect your proposal to identify a reasonable topic, a body of primary and secondary source material, and a set of research questions. It is important to define your topic more narrowly than you might be inclined to do. Remember that at this preliminary stage less is often more, and it is always possible to broaden an area of research, but it is hard to get started on an impossibly broad topic.

Format of the Proposal

(2-3 double-spaced pages + bibliography)

The project proposal should identify: 1) the topic of your thesis or research paper and the question/s you will ask; 2) the theoretical approach or method you hope to apply to the material in answering your questions, if relevant; 3) any preliminary conclusions; and 4) a bibliography of primary and secondary sources.

  • Your proposal should indicate what your research question/s are and what evidence you will investigate. You should include enough context about your subject so that a general audience can understand you.
  • You should tell us something about others who have investigated this subject, what they’ve said, and how you understand your project contributing to the ongoing scholarly conversation.
  • You should also tell us why you are exploring this topic and what you hope to demonstrate or prove. In other words, answer the “so what” question (at least as much as you can for now). Why does your project matter?
  • Your project proposal should also include a properly formatted bibliography of your reading on the topic to date.

In order to compose an effective, successful proposal, you need to demonstrate that sufficient data or evidence is available for the project; you need to engage key sources; and you need to ask good questions. Good research questions are manageable; they are also contestable and do not simply seek right or wrong answers or factual recounting of information. The answers to a good set of questions will require interpretive work, leading you to take a position among conflicting or possible interpretations as you respond to previous scholarship. 

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