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Haverford College
Department of Religion

Senior Thesis Seminar, Spring 2014

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.

Formulation of a Thesis Proposal

During the first semester, all seniors will meet with Prof. Anne McGuire, the convener of the Senior Seminar this year, on Monday, October 21st or Tuesday, October 22nd at 4:15 pm in Gest (second floor lounge) to receive instructions and ask questions about the preparation of the thesis proposal and the various activities of the Senior Seminar in Religion. After this meeting, all seniors should meet with a department faculty member 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, interviews, 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 printed 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—please list course work by course number and title), 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 noon on Monday, November 11th, 2013. Send one copy electronically of all 3 documents (narrative, worksheet, proposal) by email attachment in Word to Prof. Anne McGuire (Convener of Senior Seminar 2014).

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. Department faculty participating in advising senior theses this year are: Profs. E. Beretz, T. Hucks, K. Koltun-Fromm, N. Koltun-Fromm, A. McGuire, S. Sears, and J. Velji. Your thesis advisor(s) will send you a memo by campus mail or e-mail with the department’s advice by November 29th.

Before you leave for Winter break. You should revise your thesis proposal in light of comments from your faculty advisor and begin 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.

Upon your return from Winter break. Each of you should submit by email attachment your thesis proposal and bibliography in MS Word to Anne McGuire (amcguire@haverford.edu) by 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday, January 21st, 2014. Be prepared to present a brief summary of your thesis topic at the first meeting of the Senior Seminar on Thursday, January 23rd. The seminar will meet initially as a single group for this set of general presentations and we will then break into smaller groups of 6-7 seniors and 2-3 faculty advisors for more detailed discussion of thesis proposals.

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.

Length: Your completed thesis should be no more than 40 pages (excluding bibliography and end notes).

Spring Semester: Senior Seminar will meet on Thursday afternoon 1:30-4:00 p.m. Please make sure to pre-register for Religion 399b!

Presentation of the Revised Thesis Proposal

Senior Seminar will meet as a group five times during the Spring semester: January 23 and 30, February 13 and 20, and April 25, 2014.

Weeks I and II: Thursday, 1:30 p.m., January 23rd and 30th, 2014. Bring 26 copies of your revised proposal and annotated bibliography. Half of you present on January 23 and half on January 30, but you should all be prepared to present the first week. Each student will present a brief summary of her/his thesis topic to the entire seminar. We will then break into smaller groups for more detailed discussion of the proposals. All presenters should be prepared to discuss the current state of her/his thinking about the project, and all should come prepared to help each other clarify and refine the conception of each project. We usually allow at least 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 submit new written material ("thesis draft") and to discuss your progress and questions. You can expect to receive responses on this written material at each meeting with your faculty advisor. During these 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. Thursday, 1:30 p.m. February 13th and 20th, 2014.

Prepare a writing sample of 4-5 pages and an outline of your project for presentation and discussion. Select 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 Moodle. Please place one electronic version (Microsoft Word) inside the Moodle course web page by 5 p.m. of the Saturday preceding your presentation (Saturday, February 8th for those who went the first week; Saturday, February 15th 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 the convener, Anne McGuire (amcguire@haverford.edu), and she will place it on Moodle. Each of you will be expected to read and comment on all of these documents before the Thursday seminar. You should download and/or print your own copies from the Moodle site.

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 (MS Word) of each response to Anne McGuire (amcguire@haverford.edu). In addition, send or bring a copy of each of your responses 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. At the February seminar meetings, we will initially meet as a large group and then break into smaller groups. 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.

The Writing and Submission of the First and Final Drafts

Friday, March 21st, 12 noon, FIRST DRAFT OF THESIS DUE. Each of you should 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.

Thursday, April 17th, 12 noon, SENIOR THESIS DUE.
By 12 noon, submit 8 hard copies of your thesis of about 40 pages, 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 must be delivered to the second floor of Gest and your electronic copy submitted online before you can sign up for your oral discussion. 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.

Thursday, April 24th, 1:30pm - Senior Party and Discussion. We will all meet informally with food and drink to celebrate the completion of your theses and to share insights on the thesis-writing experience. Each student will share a brief summary of his or her thesis so that all can hear and learn.

May 5, 6, 7, Oral Discussion. You will sign up for your oral discussion online when you hand in the electronic copy of your thesis and complete the online forms. All orals will take place on Monday (May 5th), Tuesday (May 6th), and Wednesday (May 7th). 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:

  1. your participation in the seminar process outlined above
  2. the quality of your thesis
  3. the effectiveness of your oral
  1. "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.
  2. "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.
  3. "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 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). You 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

First Semester

  • November 11, 2013. Submit one electronic copy of your thesis proposal (first draft) along with a revised major worksheet and personal narrative to Anne McGuire by noon.

Second Semester:

  • Two January meetings: January 23 and 30, 2014. Presentation of Revised Thesis Proposals Bring 26 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.
  • Two February meeting: February 13 and 20, 2014. Preparation and Presentation of Writing Sample. By 5 p.m. on the Saturday before you are scheduled to present, place one copy of your writing selection on the Moodle web site. 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 (amcguire@haverford.edu).
  • Friday, March 21 AT NOON, FIRST DRAFT DUE (1 copy to advisor).
  • Thursday, April 17 AT NOON, SENIOR THESIS DUE (8 hard copies delivered to Gest and one electronic copy submitted online by 12 noon.
  • Thursday, April 24, AT 1:30, POST-THESIS GATHERING AND PARTY.
  • Monday-Wednesday May 5-7 – SENIOR ORALS: (Sign up for times when you submit thesis online).