Skip to main content

Honors Program

The Study of Religion program offers an honors program for students who have demonstrated excellence in the major. The honors program consists of a two-quarter sequence of individualized, directed-research courses in which majors learn first hand the processes and practices of scholarly research in the study of religion, culminating in the completion of a thesis and an oral presentation.

The honors program is recommended for majors who 1) have a strong interest in doing original research, 2) intend to pursue graduate study in religion or other academic fields, or 3) intend to pursue other work that will entail independent intellectual inquiry. By participating in the program you will develop research skills and habits of intellectual independence that are valuable for every professional career.

Successful completion of the honors program requires that a student—

  • Maintain a GPA of 3.5 in upper-division major courses and 3.3 overall.
  • Enroll in 8 units of Honors Thesis (RELI 196AH and BH) over two quarters, typically Winter and Spring of the senior year.
  • Research and write an honors thesis, at least 20 pages in length (typically between 30 and 50 pages).
  • Make timely progress toward the completion of the thesis (progress to be certified by faculty directors by the end of the first term).
  • Have the completed thesis approved by the faculty adviser and the program director.
  • Present the honors research orally, in a public seminar arranged by the program office.


1. Meet eligibility requirements

  • GPA of 3.5 in upper-division major courses and 3.3 overall.
  • Completion of at least six upper division courses within the major.
  • Completion of the RELI 101 core requirement (may be completed concurrently with the honors project).
  • Completion of at least 90 units (usually a student will have senior status and will graduate during the second quarter of the honors program).

2. Formulate a topic

You are responsible for choosing a research topic. At this stage, you should have a general idea of what you wish to research. As a prospective honors student you are not expected to have a full conception of your project, nor are you expected to have a complete written proposal. It is the role of the faculty adviser to assist you in determining the feasibility of the project, to help you locate sources, to suggest research methods, to read drafts of proposals and chapters, and to help with theoretical and conceptual problems.

3. Obtain a faculty adviser

Once you begin to formulate your honors topic, you should meet with core or affiliate faculty members to secure an adviser.The role of the faculty adviser is to determine the feasibility of the project, to help locate sources, to suggest research methods, to read drafts of proposals and chapters, and to help with theoretical and conceptual problems. Finding an appropriate faculty adviser is very important. You must ensure that the faculty member’s research and teaching interests are appropriate to your chosen project. 

All Study of Religion affiliate faculty are available to assist students in their honors theses, but not every faculty member will be available every year. Thus, professors should be contacted as early as possible. For instance, if you are planning on taking honors in Winter/Spring of your senior year, it is proper for you to begin making inquiries in the Spring quarter of your junior year. If you know early on that you are likely to enroll in the honors program, try to establish a relationship with a likely adviser as soon as possible.

Although the faculty adviser will provide direction and feedback, you are responsible for eliciting this feedback. It is up to you to set up regular meetings with the adviser, to generate bibliography and a research plan, to propose a timetable for the submission of written work (allowing a reasonable time for the adviser to read and offer feedback on your work), and generally to maintain a productive pace for the project.

Participation in the honors program requires a great deal of motivation and self-discipline on the part of a student. If you are unable to work independently you should probably not pursue honors. If you are having problems with your adviser, you can discuss them with the Study of Religion program director.

4. Prepare the honors proposal

The proposal should be 4-5 pages in length and must include the following:

HONORS PROPOSAL "[tentative title]"

  1. Summary of the topic.
    • Approximately one paragraph, include the question of your research and why you are studying it
  2. Background to the topic
    • Scholarship on the topic...put your research question into a larger scholarly context
  3. Elaborate on the topic
    • Use your own terms to describe why you are doing the research and what contributions can be anticipated from it
  4. Research plans and methodology
    • Identify research sources you will use and how you will use them
  5. Bibliography
    • Short list

Download Honors-proposal-criteria.docx (optional)

5. Submit the application packet

To be admitted to the honors program you must be nominated by a faculty adviser and the nomination must be approved by the Study of Religion director. The faculty adviser ensures that the student’s research meets professional standards; the director ensures that the student satisfies the program’s requirements and that the research is appropriate for the program.

To apply, submit the following to Study of Religion by the application deadline:

  • Application form
  • Honors proposal
  • Other materials or information you would like the director to review

The deadline to submit the application packet to the Study of Religion office is the 10th week of the quarter before you intend to begin your project. This is a final deadline. You are advised to submit your application and proposal as early as possible. Final approval (admission to the program) must take place before the first day of the quarter in which you plan to start the program.

Once you have submitted your application you must inform both the faculty adviser and the Study of Religion director in writing of any deviations from the project proposal and timeline.

6. Enroll for independent study credit

After you are admitted the Study of Religion office will give you WebReg preauthorization to enroll in RELI 196AH (4 units) during your first quarter in the program, and RELI 196BH (4 units) during the following quarter. The 8 units of independent study will count as two of your electives for the major. Both courses must be taken for a letter grade.

At the end of the first quarter your faculty adviser must notify the Study of Religion director that you are making timely progress and give you an "in progress" grade for RELI 196AH. The IP grade will be changed to a letter grade when you complete the program.

Students who fail to make satisfactory progress may be asked to withdraw from the honors program at any point during the two quarters of the program. If you think you may have to withdraw, be mindful of the enrollment deadlines and contact your faculty adviser and the Study of Religion office immediately to discuss options.

7. Complete the thesis

The thesis project is largely self-paced, requiring discipline and steady commitment. Students often find it helpful to break down the process into a series of stages, which allows for the steady development of the project and for regular feedback from the faculty adviser. The adviser should provide direction at each step, but once again, the student is responsible for turning in the work and for raising these issues.

The following list provides a suggested sequence of stages for completing the thesis, but the exact order and structure can be worked out between the adviser and the student.

  1. Prospectus: The first stage is to write a prospectus, which is a detailed description of your research project that includes a plan of action. The prospectus is meant to be a blueprint of and justification for your project. It should contain a working title, a brief introduction of your topic, a presentation of your thesis (i.e., your argument, or the central questions you will attempt to answer), an explanation of the significance of the project, a brief discussion of what has been written about the topic, a tentative outline, and a preliminary bibliography.
  2. Annotated Bibliography: This is a more extensive bibliography that requires a brief review of the most important sources. Consult the librarians about search methods and bibliographical tools. Once you identify likely sources, you will evaluate the usefulness of each source to your project by conducting a cursory overview of each source and describing the ways the source will contribute to your research; that is, to annotate each source.
  3. Formulate a Research Methodology: Describe your research design and methods. How will you conduct your research? What kinds of sources will you use? If primary sources are available, what are the problems or limitations with using them? Justify your research approach and how and why you chose your sources. Finally, discuss any potential methodology problems you foresee.
  4. Write an Outline: Break down the thesis into chapters or parts, and organize the progression of your material and your argument.
  5. Write Drafts of Chapters: For general formatting issues, such as footnote/endnote citations (full notes as opposed to parenthetical text citations are required), margins, the use of quotes, and so on, consult a style manual such as the Chicago Manual of Style. There is no required format, but each thesis must be internally consistent.
  6. Submit a rough draft of the thesis in a timely manner, leaving ample time for your adviser to read your work closely and offer a response.
  7. Revise in response to your adviser’s feedback and criticism. Remember that any advanced writing project requires multiple drafts and revisions in order to achieve a high level of internal consistency, clarity, stylistic elegance, and analytical incisiveness.
  8. Submit paper copies of the final thesis to your adviser and the Study of Religion program director, and a digital copy to the Study of Religion office (

8. Present the research

Approximately halfway through the second quarter you will present your research orally in a public seminar arranged by the program office. You will talk about your research (topic and questions, methodology, problems encountered, findings) before a friendly audience composed of program faculty, students, staff, and invited friends and family. Questions from the audience will follow.

Typically the event is held in a conference room and lasts 45 to 90 minutes, depending on how many honors students are presenting. 

To schedule the presentation, email the information requested below to the Study of Religion office early in the second quarter of your program:

  • 2-3 dates/times that work for you and your faculty adviser
  • Title of your talk
  • Image for inclusion on the program announcement/invitation (optional)
  • Audio-visual needs
  • Invitation list (names and emails of friends/family)

9. Receive grades and transcript notation

The two-quarter honors sequence is represented by two grades listed under RELI196AH-BH in different quarters on the transcript. Please note that the first quarter you will not receive a letter grade but an “In Progress” grade. The final grades for both quarters will not show up until the completion of the last quarter.

A transcript notation of “distinction,” “high distinction,” or “highest distinction” may be given based on the GPA in the major, the grade for the research paper, and the grade for the public presentation. When you meet with your college advisor about graduation be sure to mention that you are pursuing (or have completed) honors. Your college may want to annotate your name in the commencement booklet if you receive a departmental distinction.