Religion Department

Junior Qualifying Exam in Religion

group photo of Junior Seminar 2018Rel 402: Junior Seminar on "Religion in Situ"

The junior qualification examination in Religion is designed to assess whether juniors in the Religion department are adequately prepared to undertake the senior thesis. They are tested on their understanding of foundational theories in the study of religion and on their application of this knowledge to design a research proposal.

The junior qual consists of two parts. The first half presents the student with an academic piece – usually an article or chapter of recent publication – on some aspect regarding the study of religion. It might be a new theory, a unique methodology, or a list of problems in the field. Students are asked to analyze and interpret the piece, and to demonstrate their ability to participate in religious studies discourse in a short essay.  The second half of the qual looks forward to the senior year and its yearlong thesis project. Giving juniors a specific religious phenomenon, we ask them to craft a research program to explore it. Students are expected to conduct a small amount of independent research to get a basic understanding of the chosen phenomenon, including the historic and current academic conversations surrounding it. We ask them to develop savvy questions about it and to speculate on methods of research one might employ in its study. They are then to produce a formal research proposal that defines their database, establishes their trajectory, and frames their initial question.

In terms of logistics, the qual is an open-book examination, each question to be answered with an essay of up to ten pages, double-spaced and properly annotated. Juniors are usually given ten weekdays in the middle of their second semester (immediately before or after spring break), but we draft special quals to accommodate students who are spending their junior years abroad or commencing their theses in the spring rather than fall.

In terms of evaluation, all Religion faculty read both the theory and the application halves of the qual. When reading them, we ask ourselves if we see evidence of a savvy scholar of religion having written it (as opposed to, for example, a competent student of the humanities in general), and we approach the process as a diagnostic tool to see where gaps remain.

For more information about the junior qual at Reed, see the College Catalog.