Rel. 399b
Spring 2010

Senior Seminar, Spring 2010

Information for Senior Religion Majors


The work of the Senior Seminar in Religion consists of five stages: I) the formulation of a thesis proposal; II) presentation of the proposal; III) presentation of a portion of work in progress; IV) the writing and submission of first and final drafts; V) oral discussion with department faculty. This information sheet summarizes the seminar's activities, meeting times, and due dates. Attendance at all sessions, careful preparation, and active participation are required.


I. Formulation of a Thesis Proposal:

During the first semester, all seniors will meet with the convener of the Senior Seminar and receive instructions about the preparation of the thesis proposal and the various activities of the Senior SEminar in Religion.. All seniors should arrange to meet with a faculty member in the Department who can advise you on defining your topic, narrowing its focus, and formulating your proposal: see guidelines on preparing the thesis proposal.

Every senior's thesis topic should be linked directly to his or her work in the major. The thesis proposal should state the question(s) you wish to explore and the material (texts, music, art, architecture, etc.) to which you will put the question(s) or upon which you will draw in order to address the question(s). This proposal should not exceed one, double-spaced typewritten page. You will be able to adjust your topic as work proceeds, but the proposal should represent your most precise and explicit formulation of the topic at the time you submit it. You should also prepare a revised Religion Major Worksheet (originally prepared for Junior Colloquium), together with a clear narrative statement of how you came up with this topic and how your work in the major has prepared you to write on this topic.

Please submit your proposal together with the revised Religion Major Worksheet and narrative statement by 3 p.m. on Monday, November 23, 2009. Send one copy electronically of both documents by email attachment in Word to Andrea Pergolese (Administrative Assistant in Gest)


Library meeting. All of you should meet with James Gulick about scholarly resources relating to your thesis topic. If you have not yet scheduled this meeting, please do so as soon as possible. Before you leave for semester break, you should begin to compile a list of the basic works (primary and secondary) you will need for your research.


Departmental Response. Department faculty participating in the seminar will review and discuss all of the draft proposals and clarify the assignment of thesis advisor(s) for each project. Your thesis advisor(s) will send you a memo by campus mail or e-mail with the department’s advice by December 18. If you have not received the memo by the time you leave for break, please let Anne McGuire ( know where to send it.


Break. Over break you should revise your thesis proposal in light of comments from your faculty advisor and continue to compile a list of the basic works (primary and secondary) you will need for your research, especially those texts that will be included in your initial annotated bibliography. Upon your return to campus in January, you should be able to present a revised thesis proposal as well as a detailed annotated bibliography of several key texts for your research.


General Advice for Second Semester: The department expects all of you to use a computer for your thesis, and strongly encourages you to keep back-ups of all thesis materials. In the spring semester, you should set aside a minimum of fifteen hours per week for work on your thesis, in addition to weekly meetings with your advisor. Remember to allow additional time for any typing, revising, printing, or photocopying that may be required--and build in even more time for unforeseen emergencies.


Spring Semester: Senior Seminar usually meets on Tuesday evenings 7:30-10:00 pm in the Gest Lounge. We will announce in the near future whether we will be meeting on Tuesday evenings or another evening in 2010.


II. Presentation of the Revised Thesis Proposal: Senior Seminar will meet as a group five times during the Spring semester. All of these meetings will be held in the Gest Lounge. Dates are based on the assumption that Senior Seminar will meet on Tuesday, 7:30-10 p.m. in the Gest lounge. This is still subject to change, but should be confirmed soon.


Weeks I and II: Gest lounge: Tuesday, 7:30 p.m., January 19 and 26, 2010

Bring 23 copies of your revised proposal and annotated bibliography. Each student will present her/his proposal and discuss briefly the current state of her/his thinking about the project. All should come prepared to raise questions to help clarify and refine the conception of the project. We usually allow 15-20 minutes for the presentation and discussion of each proposal.

The next step is to continue your research and to begin writing. Each of you must set up a schedule for meeting with your advisor every week to discuss your progress and questions, and to receive responses on the written material ("thesis draft") you’ll be handing in on a regular basis. In the first weeks, you should be preparing a portion of thesis draft for presentation and discussion at our February meetings.



III. Presentation of A Writing Sample Of Work In Progress: Meetings III and IV. Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. February 16 and 23, 2010

Prepare a writing sample of 4-5 pages and an outline of your project for presentation and discussion. Find a portion of your writing that best represents the central claim or argument of your thesis, its most crucial interpretation, or the key to the whole that you see emerging. Also prepare a brief outline that shows how you think this portion of writing will fit into the thesis as a whole.

***Please note that at this point we expect you to have written more than 5 pages, but we want you to present only 4-5 pages of that work.


Submission of Your Excerpt: 1 Electronic Copy in MS Word to Blackboard

Please place one electronic version (Microsoft Word) inside the Blackboard course web page by 12 noon of the Friday preceding your presentation (Friday, February 12 for those who went the first week; Friday, February 19 for those who went the second week). If you need assistance in submitting your electronic copy, send your Word document as an email attachment to Anne McGuire ( and she will place it on the server. Each of you will be expected to read and comment on all of these documents before the Tuesday evening seminar. You should downloand and/or print your own copies from the Blackboard page.


Written responses to writing selections

Each response should be at least one paragraph in length and should consist of three things:

1) a concise summary of the basic point, question, or theme of the writing selection;

2) the single most important question the writing sample leaves you wondering about; and

3) the best advice you have for the author.


Send electronic versions (Microsoft Word) of each response to the convener, Anne McGuire ( In addition, bring a printed copy of each of your responses to deliver to the authors of the samples. Written responses will be assessed for the extent to which they demonstrate careful reading and thoughtful consideration of the writing samples.


Presentation of a portion of written work and outline.

Those presenting will be asked to comment briefly on their work and especially to identify questions they would like to have considered by the group. Everyone should come prepared to offer comments and raise questions in order to help each presenter make progress on his or her project.

After these sessions, you should continue to meet weekly with your thesis advisor(s). It is strongly recommended that you try to submit to your advisor at least 5 pages of thesis draft per week.


IV. The Writing and Submission of the First And Final Drafts


Friday, Mar. 26    First draft due.

By 12 noon, submit a complete computer-printed draft of your thesis to your advisor. By "complete" we mean a draft in which all principal sections are present and in proper order, and one in which a reader can follow your discussion from beginning to end. The precise state of the draft and the date when your advisor will return it to you with comments are to be worked out individually with your advisor.


Monday, Apr. 19    Final draft due.

By 12 noon, submit 8 hard copies of your thesis plus one electronic copy, complete with bibliography, notes (presented in conformity with the Chicago Manual of Style, 13th Edition, unless another standard style sheet is agreed upon with your advisor), and a one or two page Abstract that clearly and concisely summarizes your thesis (this should be included at the very beginning of your thesis, before your introduction). All theses will be read by all members of the department. The copies and electronic version must be delivered to Andrea Pergolese (Administrative Assistant) on the second floor of Gest. This deadline is non-negotiable, and failure to meet it will result instantly and automatically in a one-position change in the grade for the thesis (e.g., from 3.0 to 2.7); the grade reduction will increase one position for every subsequent 24 hours the thesis is late. Please note: neither your advisor nor the convener of the seminar can authorize any extension. Only the department as a whole, generally in consultation with the student's dean, can authorize any extensions, which must be requested in advance.


Tuesday, April 27, 7:30pm - Senior Party and Discussion

We will all meet informally in the Gest lounge with food and drink to recall our great thesis moments. Each student will share a brief summary of his or her thesis so that all can hear and learn.


May 3-5 Oral Discussion.

There will be a sign-up sheet for the oral discussion available when you hand in your thesis in Gest. All orals will take place on Monday, May 3, Tuesday, May 4 and Wednesday, May 5. Sign up will be in order of submission of theses--the earlier you turn in your thesis, the greater your choice of times. Allow 60 minutes for the oral and subsequent discussion with the department. Your final grade for senior seminar will be sent to you by mail shortly after the oral exam.


Grading Procedures

You will receive a regular course grade for Rel. 399b, which will appear on your transcript. This overall grade is comprised of three separate grades that evaluate:


(a) your participation in the seminar process outlined above

(b) the quality of your thesis

(c) the effectiveness of your oral


(a) "Participation" in the seminar means 1) punctual attendance at all seminar events, 2) careful preparation, especially the reading of your colleagues' work in progress, and 3) regular meetings with your advisor and submission of writing, according to the schedule mutually agreed upon.

(b) "Quality" of thesis (see attached description). Your thesis will be read by all members of the department, who will mutually agree upon a grade for the written thesis. This grade will be averaged and factored into your final grade for the thesis and seminar after the oral.

(c) "Effectiveness" of oral exam.

The effectiveness of your oral discussion will be factored into the final grade for the thesis and for the seminar as a whole. All members of the department will participate in your oral discussion, but your adviser will not participate in the process of the final evaluation and grading of your work.

What Should You Aim For In A Thesis?

Writing a thesis that you and the faculty will be proud of is a considerable challenge. Although you will draw on a variety of skills you have practiced in other courses, you will now be constructing a work that will be longer (40-60 pages) and far more complex than any paper you have previously written. The following description offers one way of looking at some of the various aspects of the challenge of thesis writing.


1. Thesis, Argument and Evidence. All presentations should make a specific claim (the thesis) and present an argument for that claim on the basis of evidence. The nature of the claim, the presentation and exposition of the argument, and the character of the supporting evidence will vary from field to field and from topic to topic. But a mere summary of a text is not a thesis; a simple recital of facts is not an argument; and the sheer assertion of opinion is not evidence. Your claim should be clear to any knowledgeable reader; the argument that articulates the claim should be easily discernible, and it should progress from point to point with precision and according to some sort of logical progression. Both claim and argument should be supported by clear and convincing evidence.


2. Use of Sources. Your project should be firmly grounded in your own analysis of the relevant primary sources. You should be able to come to independent judgments about the meaning and significance of these sources, and your analysis of them should be characterized by precision and attention to detail. Resist the temptation to summarize rather than analyze primary sources, or to use them as illustrations of general assertions of your own. We also expect you to draw on relevant secondary sources, and they should also be used analytically and critically. While you should not allow any secondary source to predetermine your own insights into the primary material, there are circumstances in which a judicious use of secondary sources can aid you early on in the formulation of your project. The best theses will bring their arguments into debate with some arguments of other scholars in the field. You should specify in the notes references to sources of all kinds, whether quoted directly, paraphrased, or summarized. Plagiarism is best avoided by coming to your own judgments on the basis of primary sources without prematurely filtering them through secondary sources. All sources to which you are indebted must, of course, be cited in the footnotes and bibliography.


3. Originality, Inventiveness, Creativity, Willingness to Explore. These terms characterize work that goes beyond mere summary (however careful, fair, complete and elegant) of an issue in order to explore new possibilities or offer insightful and original analyses. Hard to specify, but "we know it when we see it." These qualities most clearly set apart A papers from B papers; strive for them.


4. Organization and Coherence. This involves setting out the argument, evidence, sources, and insights in a clear, well-ordered way that any intelligent reader can follow. This is the transformation of heterogeneous materials into a cogent, persuasive essay. The way a paper is laid out is important: it should be the precise literary form that best articulates the progression of your argument (to be distinguished from the actual progression of your inner thought processes as you come to conceive of your argument). Your must transform the private progression of thoughts in your mind into an orderly public presentation written for a competent reader. It may be useful to imagine the reader of your thesis as an intelligent and well-educated person who has relatively little knowledge of your topic. Your job is not only to inform the reader about the topic, but to persuade her/him of your argument.


5. Presentation. Your thesis should attain the greatest degree of physical perfection possible: we are referring here to proofreading, spelling, page lay-out, illustrations (if any), table of contents, title, index (if any), etc. Writing an essay is a craft--like building a fine piece of furniture--and the physical presentation of your essay conveys a number of messages to your reader, including how you regard the thesis itself and how you want your readers to approach it.



Summary of Due Dates

This Semester

November 24   Submit one electronic copy of your thesis proposal (first draft) to Andrea Pergolese ( by 3 p.m.


Second Semester


I. Two January meetings: January 19 and 26, 2010. Presentation of Revised Thesis Proposals

Bring 23 copies of your proposal to the first seminar meeting

Only half of you will present at this meeting, but all of you should be prepared.


II. Two February meeting: February 16 and 23, 2010.   Preparation and Presentation of Writing Sample

By 12 noon on the Friday before you are scheduled to present, place one copy of your writing selection on the Blackboard web page. Please do not call your document "thesis sample" or "Relg 399b," but save it under your own name for easy identification.


All of you will write a one-page response to the samples being discussed at each meeting. Bring one copy of your responses to the meeting; send an electronic copy to Anne McGuire (


III. Friday, March 26,  First Draft Due (1 copy to advisor)


IV. Monday, April 19,  Thesis Due (8 hard copies, one diskette or electronic version delivered to Andrea Pergolese in Gest) by 12 noon


V. Tuesday, April 27 Post-Thesis Gathering, Gest Lounge, 7:30 p.m.


VI. Monday-Wednesday,  May 3-6 Orals: (sign up for times when you submit thesis)