Religion Department

Senior Thesis in Religion

The senior thesis is a year-long project that allows seniors to study a specific topic of their choosing in the study of religion. By doing so, seniors learn how to construct a persuasive and coherent document that is substantially longer than a traditional research paper or project and conduct independent research, and faculty advisers support this process from the beginning ideas to the submission of the thesis at Eliot Hall.

Before the academic year commences, the department chair solicits tentative topics from the new seniors who can choose their own trajectories (within reason), and seniors are assigned to an appropriate faculty supervisor, keeping in mind equitable distribution of advising responsibilities. The project begins as a proposal submitted after the first month, moves to drafting initial backgrounding chapters that review the existing literature by the end of the first semester, crystallizes as an original thesis early in the second semester, comes together as a full draft shortly after the mid-semester break, and concludes with a formal document to be defended before four faculty at the end of the academic year. All this is backboned by weekly, one-on-one, hourlong meetings between student and supervisor, each supervisor independently guiding the seniors as he or she sees fit.

Unlike other departments, Religion does not have “second readers” or “mini-orals,” but it does host a Religion symposium consisting of regular group meetings that begin with presentations by research librarians and computer staff. In the middle of the year, seniors present their ongoing projects to the faculty and their fellow Religion students. All seniors are required to participate in symposia as part of their senior thesis coursework.

The final religion thesis tends to be around 70 pages in length, and the orals board during its 90-minute defense looks for a fully contextualized discourse, proper research techniques, an original contribution to the “conversation,” and an awareness of religious theory and problems in the field.

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