Skip to main content

Honors in Religious Studies

Honors Program

The Honors thesis provides an opportunity for highly motivated and exceptionally capable students to engage in independent work on a topic in Religious Studies. Honors theses require original research with primary sources and extensive use of relevant secondary scholarship, both with regard to the narrowly defined topic of the thesis and on the larger theoretical and methodological issues in the academic study of religion. A 3.3 GPA in courses toward the major and cumulative 3.3 GPA is required for entry and must be maintained for completion of Honors. Students discuss and coordinate with faculty members in designing, researching, and writing a thesis beginning in the second semester of their junior year in order to present the thesis at the end of the second semester of their senior year, culminating in a final oral examination on the thesis.

Students planning to write an honors thesis should consult with their intended thesis advisor and the Director of Undergraduate Studies in Religious Studies by the beginning of the spring semester of their junior year. It is recommended that students have previously taken at least one class with their intended advisor prior to initiating the thesis. Potential candidates must submit a one-page letter of application outlining the intended project with a preliminary bibliography to their thesis advisor and the Director of Undergraduate Studies. 

Course Component

A. Research and Writing (6 credit hours). RLST 4998 - RLST 4999, "Senior Honors Thesis." RLST 4998 and RLST 4999 satisfy 6 of the 9 credit hours required for the elective component of the major.

B. Majors Colloquium (1-3 credit hours). RLST 4970, "Majors Colloquium." RLST 4970 is to be taken in the second semester of the senior year, and candidates must present results of their research. The Majors Colloquium provides initiation into the range of professional activities in the study of religion from the craft of research to the production of papers, articles, and theses, coupled with targeted theoretical concerns relevant to the research of the students enrolled in that particular course. Honors program candidates shall take RLST 4970 co-requisite with RLST 4999.  

Researching and Writing

As a part of RLST 4998 and RLST 4999, students should meet regularly with their thesis advisor at a minimum of once every two weeks to assess progress in research and writing. Thesis writers submit drafts of each chapter to their advisor at regular intervals for initial comments and revisions. A completed initial draft of the entire thesis must be delivered to the advisor at least one month in advance of the proposed defense date. Students are expected to make further revisions prior to submitting a final copy to their advisor and committee members two weeks in advance of the oral examination. The committee will be composed of the advisor, an additional reader chosen by the candidate in consultation with the thesis advisor, and the director of undergraduate studies. All theses must incorporate primary sources either in the original language or in translation and include a methodological and theoretical component. Theses must be a minimum of fifty pages and include a bibliography that follows a recognized style (Chicago, MLA, etc.).

Oral Examination

The advisor determines whether to recommend a thesis for examination after reading the final draft. A .pdf copy of the thesis should be sent to the department administrator for circulation to the entire faculty of the department one week prior to the defense. During the oral defense, the honors program candidate should deliver introductory remarks about the origins and significance of the project, followed by an examination by the entire committee. The committee will determine whether the thesis passes or fails and offer a recommendation of honors or highest honors. Highest honors is reserved for outstanding theses that display original thinking, careful research, and polished prose. Final approval for honors and highest honors is only granted to students who meet the GPA requirements outlined by the College of Arts and Science. Students whose theses fail to be recommended for honors or high honors may still receive credit for independent research at the discretion of the advisor.


Thesis writers should prepare two copies for submission. One should be bound and submitted to the department. The other is to be handed to the advisor. The bound copy should be delivered to the department the same day as the defense. It must include a title page to be signed by all committee members. A sample title page can be found here.