Religion Department Guidelines for Honors Thesis Students

(with gratitude to Latina/o Studies Thesis Guidelines)


Goals and Description:

The Honors program in Religion gives students the opportunity to pursue and present original research on a specific topic of interest that falls within the broader framework of the study of religion. Students will work closely with a main advisor (first reader), who is appointed in or affiliated with the Religion department. They will also work with a second reader who does not have to be in the department. The final project, completed over one semester and including a winter study, will be a thesis of 75+ pages with a grade of B+ or better. A thesis may combine revised work done in other courses (including REL 401) with new material prepared while enrolled either in Religion 493-W31 or Religion W31-494. Up to two-thirds of the work in the thesis may be such revised work, but at least one-third must represent new work. The thesis must constitute a coherent whole either by its organizing theme or by a focus on a particular religious tradition. Candidates will also be expected to present the results of their thesis orally in a public presentation, and they will have a private defense with their readers.



  • Declared major
  • Grade point average generally of at least 3.5 in Religion courses
  • Approval of project proposal in spring of junior year
  • The Honors’ course and winter study are in addition to the nine courses required for the major



  • Students must submit a thesis proposal to the Chair of the Religion department by the last day of classes in the spring semesterof their junior year
  • The proposal should outline the overarching research questions and aims, describe prior work and proposed research methods, outline a strategy for completion including a summary of proposed contents, identify the student’s advisor for the project, and incorporate a preliminary bibliography
  • The proposal should also indicate courses that have prepared the student for the specific topic of and/or approach to thesis research
  • The proposal should be no longer than 5 pages, double-spaced
  • Students should also append a relevant writing sample (at least one paper, and if the thesis is expanding earlier work, students should include that earlier work)



  • After a proposal is approved, students should meet with their first reader to discuss their goals for the summer
  • After a proposal is approved, the first reader, in consultation with the Chair, will identify an additional reader for the project
  • If the thesis occurs during the fall semester, then, within the first two weeks of the semester, the student will submit to the readers a revised proposal with an annotated bibliography
  • If the thesis occurs during the spring semester, then, by the first Monday of Winter Study, the student will submit to the readers a revised proposal with an annotated bibliography
  • The first reader will set additional deadlines for a student to submit work, and the second reader may request specific deadlines and guidelines for what they receive
  • A strong draft of the finished thesis will be due to readers at least two weeks prior to the oral presentation
  • Oral presentations will take place in late February (for fall theses) OR late April/early May (for spring theses)
  • Further revisions to the thesis should be submitted within a week following the oral presentation but ahead of the defense with readers.
  • This defense will be scheduled in the two weeks prior to spring break (for fall theses) OR during the last week of spring classes or reading period (for spring theses)
  • A completely final and properly formatted draft is due to the Library and to readers by 5pm on the Friday before spring break (for fall theses) or the last day of spring final exams (for spring theses)
  • It is the student’s responsibility to be familiar with and to meet Williams College’s set expectations for submissions of Honors theses, and their other requirements, which are available on the Library web page


Reminders and Recommendations:

  • Time will go much more quickly than you anticipate. Figure out the deadlines and work backwards, making sure that you leave time for your readers to read and for you to revise
  • If you want to write a thesis, you should have taken Religion 200 before the end of your third (junior) year
  • Remember that you will be able to write one chapter of your thesis in the fall senior seminar, and that seminar will help you with your research
  • Just because you have been accepted into the Honors program does not mean that you will receive Honors. This is not automatic and on-going communication with your readers is critical. Whether or not to award Honors, as well as your semester and winter study grades, are determined by your readers
  • Missing deadlines may result in you not receiving Honors for your work.