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
- Talk with your professors about possible topics and identify a faculty member who
agrees to be your thesis advisor.
- In April, register for both RE 371 and (if you have not taken it previously) LI 371.
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.\
- Over the summer, you begin reading and hone your ideas.
Phase Two: Research
Fall of Senior Year
- Set up weekly or bi-weekly meetings with your thesis advisor (and with the Scribner bibliographer for LI 371) to develop your research agenda.
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.
- By around the third week of October, you should have a preliminary draft of your annotated
- By the first or second week in November, a proposal should be shown to the thesis
advisor. The proposal delineates one’s thesis and methodology, providing a chapter-by-chapter
outline and a timeline for completion, and to which the annotated bibliography is
- A finalized version of the proposal should be submitted to the full Religious Studies
Department faculty prior to Thanksgiving break. Approval to proceed to the next phase,
along with any feedback as to how you can improve your argument, will be communicated
before the end of the semester.
- Over winter break, you start writing.
Phase Three: Writing & Rewriting
Spring of Senior Year
If your proposal has been approved, you are now enrolled in RE 376.
- Weekly meetings with thesis advisor allow you to discuss your writing and rework drafts,
carefully crafting and refining your argument.
- The week after spring break, a completed draft of your entire thesis should be ready,
as revisions continue.
- Before the end of classes or during the exam period, you submit your finished thesis to the faculty and make a presentation, open to the public, in which you discuss what you have written.