Independent Work


One unusual feature of the concentration in religion is the plan for independent work in the junior year. First semester juniors do not write a junior paper. Instead they participate in a required colloquium that culminates in a workshop on research and writing and a 10-page research paper. The colloquium is a non-credit fifth course. The grade for the colloquium is factored into the final grade for the junior independent work, counting for 40 percent of that grade. In addition to the intellectual experience of the colloquium, most students find that it prepares them for future independent work and fosters a strong sense of group identity and support among the junior majors.

Second semester juniors write a 30-40 page junior paper, which constitutes 60 percent of the grade for the junior independent work, under the supervision of a faculty advisor.


In senior year students write a 70-90-page thesis under the supervision of a faculty adviser. At the end of the year students take a 1 1/2 hour oral comprehensive examination that is divided into two parts. The first part is a defense of your thesis; the second part is a discussion of the logic and development of your work in the department generally. Some recent thesis titles include “Whose Values? Whose Morality? Sex Education in the Presbyterian Church since 1960,” “The Religious Dimensions of Dance,” “Forms of Islamic Piety among the Mamluk Elite: 1250-1517,” “‘God’ as a Word: A Wittgenstein-Informed Picture of Religious Language,” “Speaking as Men, Thinking as Women: Spirit Possession and Femininity in Three Japanese New Religions,” “The Demise of the Temple and the Rise of the Torah: Rabbinic Views of the Temple in Lamentations Rabbah,” “Made in God’s Image?: Inconsistency in the Roman Catholic Church’s Modern Teaching on Sexual Morality,” “The Final Appeal: Death Row Conversions.”

Funding for Independent Work

Majors who require research funding for independent work are encouraged to apply to the Dean of the College, the Center for the Study of Religion, and to the Religion Department for support. Contact Kerry Smith in the department office for additional information.