Senior Thesis Guidelines
Your senior thesis proposal will be presented to the Religion department in two stages. A first draft is due on November 14, 2011 by 3 p.m. Please submit your proposal together with the revised Religion Major Worksheet and a narrative statement of how you came up with your topic and how your work in the major has prepared you to write on this topic. Send both documents electronically by email attachment in Word to Andrea Pergolese (Administrative Assistant in Gest). A revised version of the proposal will be due at the first meetings of the Senior Seminar in January 2012. Both versions of the thesis proposal should be one-page, single-spaced plus bibliography.
The first draft of your thesis proposal should reflect your current thinking and research on the topic of your thesis project. We do not expect your project to have a fully defined argument at this point, but we do expect your proposal to identify a thesis topic, a body of primary source material, and a set of research questions. It is important to define your topic more narrowly than you might be inclined to do. Remember that at this preliminary stage less is often more, and it is always possible to broaden an area of research, but it is hard to get started on an impossibly broad problem.
In order to ask good research questions, you will need to do some research into the primary and secondary sources on your topic. Good research questions are manageable; there should be data or evidence available to answer the questions you are posing. Good questions are also contestable, but do not simply seek right or wrong answers or factual recounting of information. The answer to a good set of questions will require interpretive work, leading you to take a position among conflicting or possible interpretations. Your questions should be driven by the research and reading you’ve done thus far, and may involve responding to a problem in the way your topic has been studied or extending another scholar’s work on the topic.
Department faculty will review and discuss all of the proposals and assign advisors by the end of classes this semester. Your thesis advisor will communicate before winter break the department’s advice on revising the proposal. In the meantime, all of you should meet with James Gulick in Magill Library about scholarly resources relating to your thesis topic as soon as possible, but no later than the end of the first semester.
Format of the proposal (one typed single-spaced page + bibliography)
The thesis proposal should identity: 1) the topic of your thesis and the question(s) you will ask; 2) the primary source material; 3) the theoretical approach or method you hope to apply to the material in answering your question, if relevant; 4) any preliminary conclusions; and 5) a bibliography of primary and secondary sources you plan to use.
- The first paragraph of your proposal should indicate what your research question is and what evidence you will investigate. You should include enough context about your subject matter that interested non-specialists, such as your peers in senior seminar, can understand what you’re talking about.
- The second paragraph should tell us something about who else has investigated this subject, what they’ve said, and how you understand your project contributing to the ongoing scholarly conversation.
- The final paragraph should tell us why you are exploring this topic and what you hope to prove. In other words, answer the “so what” question (at least as much as you can for now).
- Your thesis proposal should also include a properly formatted bibliography of your reading on the topic to date. We expect the bibliography submitted in January to be more substantial than that prepared for the first draft. But even the first draft should include the bibliographical information on the editions of your primary sources, as well as a preliminary list of secondary sources you expect to engage.