Graduation with Distinction

Program Overview

This program is intended for the outstanding Religious Studies major whose grade point average is at least 3.5 in Religious Studies (and 3.3 overall) and who has demonstrated the desire and talent to pursue independent research. The student, under the supervision of an advisor, will produce an honors thesis or project (e.g., documentary, play, exhibition) of exceptional quality. The main advisor is normally a faculty member in the department already familiar with the student’s work.

Procedure for Selection of Students

Religious Studies majors with a GPA of at least 3.5 in Religious Studies and 3.3 overall may apply for the "Graduation with Distinction" program. The required GPA must be maintained to graduation. Before the end of the junior year (preferably before pre-registration for the first semester of the senior year), the prospective candidate is to complete the application form.

The completed form—along with a one-page summary of the proposed project signed by the professor who has agreed to serve as the main advisor, two letters of recommendation from professors in the Department of Religious Studies with whom the student has studied (one of whom should be the main advisor), and a current transcript—is to be taken to the Department main office (118 Gray Building). 

The Director of Undergraduate Studies will review the application. If it is approved, the normal procedure is for the student to enroll in Religion 493-494 for the senior year. This is "Honors Research," under the guidance of the main faculty advisor. Upon successful completion of the courses, the student receives two course credits. Continuance in the program beyond the first term is contingent upon satisfactory progress assessed by the student's committee at the end of the first semester. The committee will consist of the main advisor and two other professors—a secondary advisor (who may be from outside the department), and a reader (who is not necessarily an expert in the area of the student’s project). The committee must be agreed upon by the DUS, the advisor, and the student.


Students generally carry out reading and research in the first semester, during which they are expected to meet regularly (weekly or biweekly) with their main advisor. A draft of a significant part of the thesis or evidence of significant progress on a project must be presented to the advisor by the end of the first semester.

The second semester is devoted to the completion and revision of the honors thesis or project. It is recommended that all committee members be consulted before the final draft is submitted; this will enable students to have their input as they revise their work.

A copy of the completed thesis is to be submitted to each member of the committee by March 31. An hour-long oral defense before the committee will take place before April 10.

Expected Product

The thesis should be an original research paper, usually 40-70 pages in length, investigating a subject or problem in religious studies. The project should represent an equivalent amount of finished work and will have a written component if appropriate.

The student's work is the result of a full year of research and writing, so high expectations are justified. Honors thesis or project must be outstanding in each of the following aspects: 

  • Conception of a significant research problem or issue to be  addressed
  • Thoroughness of research and effective use of appropriate sources or  materials
  • Originality and interest
  • Excellence in organization, cogency of arguments or presentation, clarity of expression

Evaluation Procedure 

Following the oral defense, the three committee members decide whether the thesis or project meets honors standards and merits distinction. The committee’s judgment will be based on the conduct of the research, the quality of the thesis or project, and the oral examination. The committee will award distinction at one of three levels: Distinction, High Distinction, and Highest Distinction. Students who have done satisfactory work but whose thesis or project does not merit distinction will receive graded credit for their work.