Senior Capstone in Religious Studies

The Senior Capstone in Religious Studies consists of two components:

I. Senior Paper

II. Senior Conference

I. Senior Paper
Each senior is required to write a 15-20 page paper on a topic of their particular interest. A draft of the senior paper will be written during the course of the fall semester in the Senior Seminar course (RLST 490). A final version of the paper will be submitted early in the spring semester. The Senior Paper should be a revised version of the essay submitted in the Senior Seminar.

The student will work in tandem with a faculty mentor, chosen because of their relevant expertise and knowledge of the topic, and the Senior Seminar professor. A student may elect, where appropriate, to have two faculty mentors for the Senior Paper. In this case, the student must decide early in the fall semester which mentor will be considered the primary mentor. The faculty mentor(s) for the Senior Paper does not have to be the student's faculty advisor. Students must have completed course work that prepares them to write on the topic they propose.

After the conclusion of the Senior Seminar in the fall semester, the mentor(s) continues to work with students on revisions, but the Senior Seminar instructor (having completed the course and having assigned a grade) does not. In the event that the Senior Seminar instructor is also a student’s faculty mentor on the Senior Paper, that person will continue to serve in the role of mentor for the paper, even after the Senior Seminar has ended. In January, all faculty members will have access to the paper drafts and are invited to comment on the papers produced for the senior seminar. Students are obliged to be responsive to all feedback. In the event that students receive conflicting feedback, it will be the responsibility of the mentor to help the student integrate the feedback.

The mentor decides whether the paper passes. In the event that a student has two faculty mentors for the paper, the primary mentor decides whether the paper passes. All faculty will take their assessment of the quality of each paper into consideration when voting on who receives distinction on the capstone. Students should take into account the guidance and feedback received from the Senior Seminar instructor and from the faculty mentor(s).

All students are expected to use element(s) of theory and methodologies learned in religious studies courses to illuminate their topics. All members of the Religious Studies faculty will evaluate all senior papers on the basis of the following factors: 1) the clarity of the thesis, 2) demonstration of careful research, 3) organization and cohesive argument, including polished articulation of ideas and careful attention to English grammar and style, 4) proper citation, and 5) intellectual ambition.

Throughout the process, students must consult with their faculty mentor(s). The final version of the paper will be due in early February.

II. Senior Conference
In preparation for the Senior Conference, which is held in February, seniors will read the papers of their fellow majors and formulate questions and discussion points. The Conference consists of panels of three to five students. Panelists are encouraged to work together to prepare for their panel discussions. At the Conference, the panelists are expected to engage in a conversation focused, in succession, on each paper under discussion. Individual students will be given an opportunity to briefly introduce their topic. This is not intended to be a comprehensive summary of the senior paper, but, rather, a statement of the thesis and how the paper is either a culmination of or a contribution to the student’s work in Religious Studies. After the panelists complete their comments, other seniors and faculty members may join the discussion.

Evaluation of a student’s work in the Senior Conference is based on the following factors: 1) thorough preparation for critical discussion of all the papers treated on one’s panel; 2) competence in answering questions about one’s own work; 3) ability to address relevant connections between one’s own work and the work of other panelists and; 4) thoughtful reflection on the papers’ contributions to the study of religion. Senior majors are required to attend the panels. Attendance is highly encouraged for majors and minors in the department. Panelists are also encouraged to invite friends and fellow students to attend the Conference.

Given the incremental nature of the Senior Capstone project, in particular the work on the Senior Paper, the departmental faculty finds it highly unlikely that a student would fail the Senior Capstone. In the unlikely event that, after the Senior Conference, the faculty determines that a student has indeed failed the Capstone, the student may have one final opportunity to pass. The student will be offered the opportunity to either take an oral examination on topics related to their Senior Paper, or to present their Senior Paper in a conference format to the faculty and their fellow students and be prepared to answer questions about it. If the student performs satisfactorily on one of these options, they will be judged to have passed the Senior Capstone requirements.

DISTINCTION on the Senior Capstone is awarded based on the overall quality of the Senior Paper and by thoughtful and productive engagement in the Senior Conference as judged by all members of the department faculty.