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Religious Studies Department

Senior Thesis Guidelines

for Students in Religious Studies  
at Skidmore College

A senior thesis is an ambitious, yearlong undertaking that can be an amazing and intellectually rewarding experience. The process of writing a thesis is an opportunity to take further control over your own learning and to work more independently while being closely mentored by a faculty member. During one’s senior year, the fall is occupied with reading and research, and then the spring is devoted to writing and rewriting. Students elect to produce a multi-chapter paper, with each chapter being approximately as long as regular research papers.

Why write a thesis?

Because you want to challenge yourself. By digging deeper into an area of religious studies, you can advance your research skills and extend your analytical rigor. While developing a sustained and complex argument is certainly good preparation for graduate work, we think it a worthy endeavor on its own merits, and a satisfying culmination to your undergraduate career.  

Who may write a senior thesis?

Students who have a reasonable expectation to graduate from Skidmore College with an overall GPA of 3.0 or higher and who anticipate achieving at least a 3.5 GPA in their major meet the minimum requirements.

However, not all students who meet these minimum requirements are allowed to write a thesis. Towards the end of fall semester, one must apply to complete the second semester. The decision to proceed with writing does not rest with the thesis advisor alone, but results from the deliberations of the department as a whole, collectively evaluating the merits of the proposed project.
Please note that thesis writers still need to fulfill all the requirements of RE 375, our senior seminar, which includes its own capstone project.

How do I do this?

Often, but not always, students choose to revisit a topic from an earlier religion course or from a previous independent study, having laid some foundation upon which build, rather than starting out entirely from scratch. But whether one is capitalizing on previous studies or striking out into newer areas, consultation with faculty is key for identifying a viable topic.

Below, we lay out the process of writing a senior thesis, from start to finish.

Phase One: Planning
Spring of Junior Year

RE 371 is an independent study, the topic of which provides you with an initial focus and which will be fine-tuned as you proceed.  You do not have to start out with a thesis statement in hand. Instead, you commence with curiosity about your topic and delineate a viable set of concerns. Rather than have answers up front, one begins with some good, directed questions.\

Phase Two: Research
Fall of Senior Year

Here the research process begins in earnest: The librarian helps you compile a strong bibliography, and your thesis advisor works with you to sculpt your interests and questions into a workable thesis. You read a great deal, and you define the method and theorists you will employ in your analysis.

Phase Three: Writing & Rewriting
Spring of Senior Year

If your proposal has been approved, you are now enrolled in RE 376.