Senior Thesis Guidelines

Please note that these guidelines are intended to complement “The Jellybean Papers” available from the Registrar’s Office.  This document represents the University requirements for all Honors candidates, including those in the Department of Religion.

A thesis at Wesleyan represents a very serious endeavor that will produce an original work of scholarship based on extensive independent research and fashioned through deliberate methodological and theoretical choices.  Sources might include media, textual, and ethnographic, and other materials.  It will be evaluated with the rigor reserved for this level of scholarship.

The advisor works to guide the writer, but not direct her or him.  The writer bears responsibility for determining the pace of the research and writing, although she or he may ask the advisor for help in establishing milestones throughout the project.  The writer and advisor will determine how they will structure their interactions, although the writer bears ultimate responsibility for maintaining the pace of the project’s progress.

A senior thesis differs from a senior essay in the matters of length and honors.  Essays have tended to be 30 to 50 pages long.  Theses ideally range from 80 to 150 pages in length.  Only senior theses, not essays, are eligible for departmental honors.

Proposing a Thesis

Candidates must declare their interest in writing a thesis and a general idea of their topic in a 2-3 page proposal and a bibliography, to be turned in to the department chair by the last Friday in April.  The proposal should be a description of the intellectual problem of the thesis and the method to be used (whether it will be historical, ethnographic, etc.).  Students should list three faculty members who would make good thesis tutors, in order of preference.  Ideally students will meet with potential advisors so as to get feedback on the project.  The department will determine which theses will move forward with which faculty, and may possibly reject some proposals (for reasons such as feasibility).  Students will be notified of the department’s decision before classes end in May.  

Please note that some faculty require or strongly prefer to work with candidates who have taken at least one course with them.  Others may require coursework in the religious tradition to be investigated.

The student must have a minimum of a B+ ­­­(88.3) GPA in the department’s courses by the end of their junior year to proceed with the project.

First stage General Education requirements need to be completed by graduation in order for Honors or High Honors to be awarded.  In order to qualify for High Honors the thesis should include significant theoretical and/or methodological reflections and not be limited to description alone. 

Proposal writers might like to examine Senior Thesis Guidelines, part 2.  Writers are recommended to examine previous theses completed in the department to discern some of what the work entails. These can be found in the department’s seminar room.


Writers are encouraged to pursue research during the summer, although this is not mandatory so long as the writer has significant background in their topic already.

Summer research money may be available for your project.  Please consult with your Dean of Students.


Upon registration for the senior thesis, the writer will receive “The Jellybean Papers” from the Registrar’s Office.  The writer should read these guidelines thoroughly for important information regarding all steps of their project.

All thesis and essay writers must either schedule a meeting with a research librarian or attend one of the workshops provided by Olin Library in late Spring of Junior year or early Fall of Senior year at the latest.

Presentations of initial findings will occur in the first week of November in a thesis writers’ workshop.  This intends to provide each writer with feedback and suggestions early in their project.  Each writer will be asked to give a ten-minute presentation on her or his project and answer questions.


At least one completed chapter must be handed in by the first day of classes in spring semester, or at an earlier date if the supervisor deems it appropriate. This will be evaluated to determine whether the project should continue as a thesis or end as an essay.  If it ends as an essay then the student will add a 4th class instead of taking a second thesis tutorial.

The completed thesis is due no later than the date given for thesis submission in “The Jellybean Papers.”  Please follow carefully the directions there governing submission.  The advisor will communicate the result of the evaluation to the writer within two weeks of the deadline for submission.

Within three weeks after the thesis' submission, writers will gather with faculty and interested students to present their findings and engage in conversation.  Each presentation is expected to be 10 to 15 minutes long.  A presentation is required in order to be eligible for High Honors.


The thesis will be evaluated by the advisor and two readers – one of whom comes from outside the department, both of whom the advisor chooses – to determine its grade and whether it should be awarded no honors, Honors, or High Honors.

High Honors is reserved usually for theses that include significant theoretical and/or methodological reflections and are not limited to description alone.


Writing a thesis can be the culmination of the liberal arts experience.  All members of the department enjoy working with students in this endeavor because of the intellectual insights and growth the thesis affords.  It is an opportunity to draw together strands of earlier work and/or explore entirely new horizons.  Please let us know how we can help you to make the most of this experience.