Senior Honors Thesis

The option of writing an honors thesis is offered to qualifying majors in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies who wish to conduct in-depth research under the guidance of a faculty member.  To qualify, the students must have achieved, by the end of their fifth semester, a 3.5 grade-point average or better, both in Theology/Religious Studies courses and as a general GPA.

Students pursue the thesis project during their final three semesters, usually but not always the spring of the student’s third year and the fall and spring of their fourth year.  Students who plan to graduate early or whose education extends beyond four semesters should adjust the text below to match the three semesters that will culminate in their graduation.  Students who are studying abroad during the spring semester of their third year should consult the information in the associated FAQ sheet.

In the first semester, the student seeks an adviser, develops a prospectus (general description of the project), and secures the requisite permissions; no academic credit is earned for this preliminary work.  In the second semester enrolls in a 3-credit tutorial reading course, carries out research, and writes a preliminary draft of the thesis.  In the third semester, the student enrolls in a 1.5 credit thesis completion tutorial, during which the student revises, completes, submits, and defends the thesis.  After the thesis is accepted and defended, an honors thesis notation is placed on the student’s transcript.  To facilitate depth of inquiry, students are encouraged to choose topics that will enable them to draw upon established skills and previous coursework.

Responsibilities of the student:

  • The student initiates conversation with one or more faculty in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies about the possibility of writing an honors thesis. In order for a thesis proposal to be approved, the student must secure the full support of one faculty member who agrees to act as a mentor for the project. This faculty member will oversee the research tutorial (THEO 4998), as well as the thesis completion tutorial (THEO 4999), and will read and evaluate the thesis that is submitted.
  • In consultation with this faculty member, the student develops a prospectus or general description of the project. This will normally include (a) the question or thesis to be investigated, (b) the significance of the issue, (c) a general research plan, and (d) a preliminary bibliography.
  • Once the faculty mentor has approved the prospectus, the student submits the prospectus to the student’s concentration advisor and to the Director of Undergraduate Studies to notify them of the student’s intent to compose an honors thesis. No formal departmental approval of the project is required beyond that of the faculty mentor, but notice of intent does need to be given to the concentration advisor and the Director of Undergraduate Studies.
  • The student registers for a three-credit tutorial reading course (THEO 4998) to be taken with their mentor in the following semester.
  • As soon after registration as possible, the student files a “Tutorial Registration Form” with the dean’s office. Normally, this form will be filed no later than the end of spring semester finals; where there are extenuating circumstances, it can be filed later, but in all cases must be on record before the start of fall classes. The course description and bibliography can be drawn from the prospectus; the student will work out answers to questions about the structure of the tutorial with the faculty mentor.  Note that the Dean’s office requires the signature of both the faculty mentor and the department chair.  The Tutorial Registration form can be obtained here.

Responsibilities of the faculty mentor:

  • To notify the Director of Undergraduate Studies that they are willing to supervise the student’s tutorial, receive and evaluate the thesis, and appear at the thesis defense meeting.
  • To assist the student in developing the thesis prospectus and to approve the prospectus as an adequate research plan for developing and composing an honors thesis.
  • To work out the structure of the tutorial (THEO 4998) with the student.
  • To review and sign the Tutorial Registration Form and follow up with the student to ensure that it has been signed by the Department Chair and submitted to the Dean’s office.
  • At the discretion of the faculty mentor, a second reader may be secured for the thesis.  This second reader must be a faculty member but may be from another department.  If there is to be a second reader, that individual would normally receive a copy of the prospectus for comment, prior to approval

Although the student conducts independent research during this semester, close collaboration between student and mentor is expected.

  • In the first week, the student meets with the faculty mentor to review (and, if necessary, adjust) the prospectus and the structure set out in the Tutorial Registration Form. 
  • Throughout the semester, the student and mentor will hold regular meetings to discuss the readings and research that the student is conducting independently.  Mentors may, at their discretion, require periodic submission of written work.  At or before the end of fall semester finals, the student should submit a coherent and comprehensive first draft.
  • The mentor will offer detailed comments and suggestions concerning this draft.  This assessment and guidance will provide the framework within which the student will revise and complete the thesis the following semester.
  • The mentor will usually enter a grade of incomplete at the end of the fall term, replacing that incomplete with a letter grade when the thesis has been submitted in the spring.  (For the rare case in which a student decides not to complete the thesis, consult the FAQ sheet.)
  • If the mentor regards the student’s progress as satisfactory when registration period opens in November, the student will enroll, for the spring semester, in a 1.5-credit thesis completion tutorial (THEO 4999), which will also be under the direction of the mentor.

Research for the thesis having been completed in the fall, the thesis completion tutorial (THEO 4999) provides the context for reviewing and refining the argument, developing appropriately supportive documentation, and revising the text in light of continuing dialogue and critique. The student normally submits three drafts as the thesis project moves to completion. The decision to accept or not to accept the final draft is made by the mentor, though the mentor may consult as needed with the Director of Undergraduate Studies, the Department Chair, and/or a second reader.

  • As indicated above, the first draft is submitted to the mentor at the end of the fall semester and receives a detailed response that provides the basis for revision and for any additional research that may be required. If for any reason the student is not able to submit a full draft by the end of the fall semester, such a draft must be supplied to the faculty mentor no later than January 15 so that the mentor can provide timely comments to guide the final stages of the project.
  • The second (and potentially final) full draft of the thesis is due to the mentor no later than February 28. This draft is normally expected to be 40 to 55 double-spaced pages (or between 10,000 and 14,000 words), including notes, bibliography, and an abstract. The mentor may either accept this draft or return it to the student for further revision. In the latter case, the mentor will state specific reservations or concerns and will provide clear expectations for the final revision.
  • If the manuscript is returned for further revision, a third and final draft is due no later than March 31. Normally, no further changes to the text can be made after this submission. Extensions of this deadline are not feasible and should not be requested.
  • In April (or earlier, if an acceptable draft is submitted before March 31), the manuscript will be circulated to a second reader (if one has been identified), the Director of Undergraduate Studies, the Department Chair, and any other interested faculty members. The mentor, in consultation with any other readers, will determine whether or not to accept the manuscript as a completed honors thesis.  In rare cases, at the discretion of the mentor, further specific revisions may be required in order for the thesis to be accepted by graduation.
  • When the faculty mentor formally accepts the final draft of the thesis, the mentor, in consultation with the student and the Director of Undergraduate Studies, will schedule a thesis defense at which the student will present their findings to other majors and faculty who are able to attend. If more than one student completes a thesis in a given term, the usual practice is to coordinate the defenses in one assembly.
  • Upon acceptance of the thesis, the mentor will submit a grade change form substituting a letter grade for the incomplete earlier submitted for THEO 4998. This will normally be the same grade that the mentor records at the end of the spring semester for the thesis completion tutorial (THEO 4999), although it lies within the discretion of the mentor to record different final marks for the two tutorials if there are persuasive reasons for doing so.

Upon being notified by the mentor of acceptance of the thesis and of a successful thesis defense, the Director of Undergraduate Studies will notify the College Dean’s office that a notation of “Honors Thesis” is to be added to the student’s transcript.

Frequently Asked Questions regarding the Senior Honors Thesis in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies

No. Only those who are majoring in Theology and Religious Studies and have achieved the requisite GPA are eligible to write an honors thesis in this department.

No. Students in all the concentrations, if they have a qualifying GPA, are eligible to write an honors thesis, and the procedures are the same in all concentrations.

Some faculty with primary appointments in other units of the university have a secondary or affiliate appointment in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies. A faculty member who has affiliate status would be eligible to supervise a senior honors thesis. To determine the eligibility of a faculty member, consult with the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

In such a case, the student may petition the Director of Undergraduate Studies for consideration in the 30 days after final grades for that semester are released. If the DUS determines the student to be eligible to write an honors thesis, all of the arrangements that normally happen during Semester #1 would need to be completed before the beginning of the semester in which the student registers for THEO 4999.

Ideally, students who will be away from the campus during the spring semester of their third year would make all of the necessary arrangements in the fall semester before they depart. This is especially true if they will be studying abroad, since working out the prospectus early would allow the student to discuss with their mentor how they might use opportunities abroad to enrich their research. However, it is also possible for students who are away during the spring semester, to have the consultations and make the arrangements remotely—or to do so during the summer after they return. In any case, the mentor must be identified and the requisite permissions must be secured before the beginning of the fall semester of the year in which the student plans to graduate.

If the student comes to this realization while the fall semester research tutorial (THEO 4998) is in progress, the student and the mentor should discuss whether the student should withdraw from THEO 4998 or whether the tutorial should simply be converted to a reading course with an appropriate finishing written assignment for an earned grade. If the student comes to this realization in the final semester while enrolled in the thesis completion tutorial (THEO 4999), after the research tutorial has been taken and still carries a grade of incomplete, the student will withdraw from the thesis completion tutorial. The mentor will then determine an appropriate retrospective grade for THEO 4998 which will accordingly appear on the transcript as a three-credit reading tutorial. If no written work was submitted during the research tutorial, the mentor may determine a grade that reflects the absence of written work or may provide the student the opportunity to submit the equivalent of a seminar paper based on the student’s independent research. No notation of any kind is made on the student’s transcript regarding an honors thesis.

If the student submits a manuscript by March 31 that is not acceptable as a senior honors thesis, the mentor will determine an appropriate letter grade for each of the two tutorials on the basis of the work that has been submitted. No notation of any kind is made on the student’s transcript (apart from the record of the two tutorials taken for credit) regarding an honors thesis.

At the discretion of the concentration advisor, the thesis research tutorial (THEO 4998) can be incorporated into the student’s major program as an advanced course. Because the thesis completion tutorial (THEO 4999) carries only 1.5 credits, it cannot be counted as one of the students nine required courses toward the major.