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Honors Program

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The Honors Program is open to Religious Studies majors who have done superior work and who wish to devote a substantial part of their senior year to advanced, specialized, independent research and writing of a thesis. Successfully completing an honors thesis will require sustained interest, exceptional ability, diligence, and enthusiasm. While admissions to the Honors Program and completion of a thesis do not guarantee that students will be awarded honors in Religious Studies, most students find the experience as intellectually rewarding as it is rigorous.


In order to be considered for the Honors Program, candidates must have a minimum 3.0 cumulative grade point average and 3.5 average inside the major with no grade in the major below B–. 

Application Process

Application Deadline: April 15 of the student's junior year    APPLY

Application process consists of the following:

Identify a Topic: By the beginning of the spring semester of their junior year, students should have identified a topic or research question of abiding intellectual interest. Students should bear in mind that an honors thesis is far more than a research paper, and therefore should propose a topic based on original research using primary sources. Students should make sure that they have the appropriate language skills for their proposed thesis.

*note* Past religous studies Honors Theses are available for you to consult in 409 White Hall.

Select a Thesis Supervisor: Once students have a thesis topic in mind, they should approach a faculty member to supervise their work on the honors thesis. The student's major advisor or Director of Religious Studies can help identify a thesis advisor appropriate to the topic. The student and the thesis advisor will then review the student's transcript to make sure that they are eligible for admission to the Honors Program (see admission requirements above). The thesis advisor should also ensure that the student has appropriate and sufficient language skills for the proposed topic.

Select a Thesis Committee: The student and the thesis advisor will together identify two additional faculty members to serve on the thesis committee. It is the student's responsibility to contact (at least) one of these faculty members to request their participation on the committee before they submit their honors application. The three members should be:

  1. The professor who has agreed to work closely with you over the year and to be the supervisor/grader of your project (Chair of committee)
  2. Another knowledgeable person
  3. Religious Studies major advisor (Required)

Sometimes your advisor is the supervisor/chair. If that is the case, you need two additional knowledgeable professors for your committee of three.

You may have faculty outside the College of A&S on your committee or as the supervisor. Non-A&S faculty have no obligation to supervise projects for students not in their own college. Only professorial faculty and senior lecturers are eligible to supervise projects (and senior lecturers, like non A&S faculty, take on such work above and beyond their paid work). Of course, all committee members should be agreeable to one another for involvement in your project. 

Submit a Thesis Proposal: After consulting with the prospective thesis advisor, the student must prepare a formal, well-thought out proposal for honors research. The proposal must include a statement of the research question, discussion of the relevant methodology, and a preliminary bibliography of primary and secondary sources. Additional components of the proposal are outlined on the honors application cover sheet.

The proposal and this cover sheet should be submitted by April 15 of their junior year to the following people:

  • Thesis Committee members
  • Director of Religious Studies
  • Religious Studies Undergraduate Coordinator (located in 409 White Hall)

Admission to Candidacy: At the end of the student's junior year, the Director of Religious Studies will notify students whether or not they have been admitted as candidates in the Honors Program. 

**Note to Study Abroad Students: Students who are not in residence during their junior year (e.g., because of participation in a Cornell Abroad Program) should correspond with the Director of Religious Studies early in the spring semester regarding application to the Honors Program. Keeping in mind that being off campus prolongs the application process, students who are abroad should plan ahead and make sure they begin in a timely manner in order to meet the April 15 deadline.

**Note to January Graduates: If your final semester is the Fall semester, you will need to start the application process during the previous fall semester, to give yourself one full year to complete the program. That will put your deadline for the application in mid October of your junior year. Please consult with the Director of Religious Studies if this is the case.

First Semester Requirements

  • Enroll in RELST 4995 - Senior Honors Essay 
  • Select the third member of your thesis committee, if you haven't already
  • Regular meetings with the honors thesis advisor and committee member(s) throughout the year. Be sure you and each member of the committee are clear about how often you will meet, either individually or collectively.  Be clear about due dates for pieces of the project.
  • At the end of first semester, submission to the supervisor for evaluation 15-20 pages of the thesis along with an outline of the whole project.

After completing RELST 4995, the first semester, an R in the transcript indicates that this course is half of a yearlong course. When the project is completed at the end of the second semester, the grade applies to all credits earned.

Second Semester Requirements

  • Enroll in RELST 4996- Senior Honors Essay
  • The thesis draft, between 60-100 pages in length, is due no later than March of the students senior year. Unbound copies should be prepared for the thesis advisor, committee member(s), and Director.

Final Thesis Evaluation

  • Students must successfully complete the RELST major and must continue to maintain a minimum 3.5 GPA in the major and a minimum GPA of 3.0 overall.
  • After submitting the thesis draft, no later than March of the students senior year, students will receive feedback from their committee members about required revisions; students will generally have two-four weeks to submit a final draft of the thesis. Be sure to set a clear date for submitting the final copy of your project to your committee.
  • In early to mid-May of the students senior year, a 'thesis defense' will be held with all committee members. The defense is a conversation between the honors candidate and the thesis committee, providing the candidate with the opportunity formally to present their research in oral form and to address the substantive concerns of the committee.
  • Final evaluation of the thesis will be determined by the committee after the thesis defense:
    1. Students will be given a grade for RELST 4996 based on their effort.
    2. Your committee determines whether your project deserves Latin honors, and, if so, will recommend you to the members of the advisory board of the program. Students may be awarded Latin honors based on the board’s evaluation of the scholarly achievement represented in the thesis

Submit a final copy of your project to the Religious Studies Undergraduate Coordinator, located in 409 White Hall.

Determination of Latin Honors

In evaluating a thesis, faculty members take into consideration intellectual creativity, methodological innovation, scholarly rigor, and overall quality of presentation.  Students should therefore ensure that the thesis is also well-written, impeccably edited, and abides by the footnote format conventional for their discipline of choice (e.g., Chicago, MLA).

  • A student whose thesis is meritorious, well-argued, and relies on a methodologically sound use of primary sources may be awarded cum laude;
  • A student whose project shows considerable originality and scope, methodological sophistication, and uncommon quality may be awarded magna cum laude;
  • A student whose project is of truly exceptional quality, makes a real contribution to the field, and is deemed publishable may be awarded summa cum laude.

In deciding on the specific level of Latin honors, the committee may consider a candidate's complete academic record, not merely the thesis.

Past Honors Theses (a sampling)

Theses are available for students to review by request at 409 White Hall, the Administrative office of the Religious Studies Program.

2016 Phoebe Hering

Thesis Title: Nous Sommes Qui?: Jewish and Muslim French Narratives and the Politics of Identity in Modern France

Chair of Honors Committee: Professor Jane Marie Law


2015 Jonathan Barry Schmidt-Swartz

Thesis Title: The Feasibility of a Nonpartisan “Biblical Archaeology”: A Case Study of Contemporary Religious Zionists’ Utilization of “Joshua’s Altar” on Mount Ebal/El – Burnat

Chair of Honors Committee: Professor Lauren Monroe


2005, Kevin Lowe

Thesis Title: “Ain’t I a Woman?” The Gender Bending Eve in the Genesis Commentaries of Augustine and Martin Luther

Chair of Honors Committee: Professor Kim Haines-Eitzen


2004, Danielle M. Burgs

Thesis Title: Buddhism in Spain: The Seeds of a Buddhist Movement in a Predominately Catholic Society

Chair of Honors Committee: Professor Jane Marie Law


1996, Jon Ryoo Miller

Thesis Title: In the Shadow of the Lotus: Mandalas, Body Definition, and Early Tendai Esoteric Buddhism

Chair of Honors Committee: Professor Jane Marie Law


1996, Steven Gump

Thesis Title: Can You Walk on Water?: The Meanings of Jesus’ Miracles in Christianity

Chair of Honors Committee: Professor Jane Marie Law


1996, Holly Lebowitz

Thesis Title: Archetypal Man, Archetypal God: A Jungian Analysis of The Last Temptation of Christ

Chair of Honors Committee: Professor Don Frederickson


1994, William Collazo

Thesis Title: When Religious Worlds and Social Systems Collide: Religious Conceptions and the Formulation of Japanese Social Organization

Chair of Honors Committee: Professor Jane-Marie Law