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.

Students must enroll in RELST 4995 in their first semester of their Honors Program, and RELST 4996 in their second semester.


Candidates must have a minimum grade point average of 3.5 in the Religious Studies major and a 3.3 GPA overall.

Application Process

Students should submit an honors proposal by April 15 of their junior year. If accepted into the program, students should enroll in RELST 4995 in their first semester of the program, and RELST 4996 in their second. The application process consists of the following:

Identify a topic

At the beginning of the spring semester of their junior year, students should identify 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.

Select Thesis Committee Chair

Once students have a thesis topic in mind, they should approach a faculty member to supervise their work on the honors thesis (Chair of committee). The student's major advisor or the Director of Religious Studies can help identify a potential Chair appropriate to the topic. The student and the Chair will then review the student's transcript to make sure that the student is eligible for admission to the Honors Program (see admission requirements above). The Chair should also ensure that the student has appropriate and sufficient language skills for the proposed topic. Note: the student’s RELST advisor may serve as the Chair, but this is not a requirement; the RELST advisor must at least serve as one of the committee members.

Select Thesis Committee

The student and the Chair will together identify one to 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 thesis committee members should be:

  1. The professor who has agreed to supervise the student’s work (Chair of committee)
  2. Religious Studies major advisor, if the advisor is not the Chair (Required)
  3. Another relevant RELST faculty member (Optional)

Thesis proposal

After consulting with the prospective Committee Chair, the student must prepare a formal, well-conceived proposal for honors research. The proposal must include:

  • a statement of the research question
  • discussion of the relevant methodology and evidence
  • a preliminary bibliography of primary and secondary sources
  • a cover sheet

Submit the Honors Proposal Cover Sheet and proposal, by April 15 of the student’s junior year, to all identified committee members, Director of Religious Studies, and Religious Studies Undergraduate Coordinator (located in 409 White Hall).

Admission to candidacy

At the end of the spring semester, the committee in consultation with the Director of Religious Studies will notify students about whether they have been admitted as candidates in the Honors Program.

Note to students studying abroad

Students who are not in residence during their junior year (e.g., because of participation in a Cornell Abroad Program) should correspond with their prospective Chair as well as 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 prospective Chair and the Director of Religious Studies if this is the case.

Program Requirements

During pre-enrollment for next semester's classes, be sure to request RELST 4995 permission number from the Undergraduate Coordinator in order to add the class to your schedule.

Summer before senior year

  • Begin to gather research materials or supplies
  • Identify and approach contacts
  • If possible, begin actual research on project
  • Undertake any relevant research travel

First semester of program

  • Undertake necessary research and begin writing
  • Consult with committee members as needed throughout the semester (be sure to clarify with each member of the committee a schedule of meetings and due dates)
  • During pre-enrollment for next semester's classes, be sure to request RELST 4996 permission number from the Undergraduate Coordinator in order to add the class to your schedule
  • At end of semester submit, to the Committee Chair for evaluation, 15-20 pages of the thesis along with an outline of the whole project

Second semester of program

  • Intensive writing and editing, including additional research if necessary
  • The thesis draft, normally between 60-100 pages in length, is due to the Committee Chair by March 15
  • 2-4 weeks of thesis revision
  • Thesis defense in early to mid-May

Thesis Evaluation

After submitting the thesis draft, no later than March 15, students will receive feedback from committee members about required revisions; students will generally have two to 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, a 'thesis defense' will be held with all committee members. The defense is a conversation between the honors candidate and all committee members, providing the candidate with the opportunity formally to present research in oral form and to address the substantive concerns of the committee. In deciding on the specific level of Latin honors, the committee will consider a candidate's complete academic record, not merely the thesis. Accordinly, students should plan to bring a copy of their transcript to the thesis defense.

The committee will determine final evaluation of the thesis after the thesis defense. Grades given for RELST 4996 are based on the student's quality and effort. Your thesis 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, after the defense, with any revisions required by the committee to the Religious Studies Undergraduate Coordinator, located in 409 White Hall.

Determination of honors

In evaluating a thesis, committee 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 meretorious, 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.

Past Honors Theses

Below is a sampling of some theses, some of which are available to view at our Administrative Office, 409 White Hall. 

Past Theses
Name, Class Year Thesis Title Committee Chair
William Collazo, 1994 When Religious Worlds and Social Systems Collide: Religious Conceptions and the Formulation of Japanese Social Organization Professor Jane Marie Law
Holly Lebowitz, 1996 Archetypal Man, Archetypal God: A Jungian Analysis of "The Last Temptation of Christ" Professor Don Frederickson
Steven Gump, 1996 Can You Walk on Water?: The Meanings of Jesus’ Miracles in Christianity Professor Jane Marie Law
Jon Ryoo Miller, 1996 In the Shadow of the Lotus: Mandalas, Body Definition, and Early Tendai Esoteric Buddhism Professor Jane Marie Law
Danielle M. Brugs, 2004 Buddhism in Spain: The Seeds of a Buddhist Movement in a Predominately Catholic Society Professor Jane Marie Law
Hamsa Stainton, 2004 Flowing into the Ocean: Merging Philosophy and Practice in Non-Dual Kashmir Saivism Professor Jane Marie Law
Kevin Lowe, 2005 “Ain’t I a Woman?” The Gender Bending Eve in the Genesis Commentaries of Augustine and Martin Luther Kim Haines-Eitzen
Jonathan Barry Schmidt-Swartz, 2015 The Feasibility of a Nonpartisan “Biblical Archaeology”: A Case Study of Contemporary Religious Zionists’ Utilization of “Joshua’s Altar” on Mount Ebal/El – Burnat Professor Lauren Monroe
Phoebe Hering, 2016 Nous Sommes Qui? : Jewish  and Muslim French Narratives and the Politics of Identity in Modern France Professor Jane Marie Law
Lisa Marie Malloy, 2017 Compassionate Cinema:
No Color, No Sound, No Smell, No Taste,
No Touch, No Phenomena
Professor Jane Marie Law
Edward Dreyer, 2019 The Evolution of a Sovereign Buddhist Sangha: An Examination of the History and Development of Buddhism in the Russian Republic of Buryatia Professor Jane Marie Law