Independent Study and Honors in Religion

Procedures for Independent Studies

The Department encourages students to consider an independent study when they have a clear topic of interest to pursue and there are no courses being offered that treat the subject matter. Prior to meeting with the relevant member of the Department, the student should have a clear sense of the topic/project as well as what they envision as the intended outcome. Ideally, the student should be in touch with the faculty member the semester before the independent study would commence. All independent studies must be approved by the Chair of the Department, who will consult with the potential faculty supervisor about the viability of the project. Once the project has been approved by the Chair, the student and faculty member will agree upon a timeline and a set of expectations for the semester.  

Students should keep in mind that independent studies are self-directed projects. While members of the Department serve as interlocutors and guides, students are ultimately responsible for planning the contours of their inquiry. 

Preliminary Application for Independent Study or Honors Project 

Course Credit

The department will ordinarily approve one or two semesters of independent study. In a case where more than one semester's credit is sought for a project, the project will be subject upon review by the department at the end of the first semester. In special cases, the Recording Committee, upon recommendation of the department, may extend credit for additional semester courses beyond two.

There are two kinds of independent study and each should be registered for under the appropriate course number:

  1. A directed reading course designed to allow a student to explore a subject not currently offered within the curriculum shall be numbered 2291, 2292, 2293, or 2294.
  2. An independent study that will culminate in substantial and original research; or in fine arts, music, or creative writing project; or that is part of a departmental honors program shall be numbered 4001 or higher.


A regular grade shall be submitted at the end of each semester and shall become the grade for the individual semester of the course. In the case that an independent study and honors courses continues beyond one semester, instructors have the option of submitting at the end of each semester, except the last, a grade of S (for Satisfactory) in place of a regular grade. Regular grades shall be submitted at the end of the final semester and shall become the grades for the individual semesters of the course. Independent study may not be taken on a Credit/Fail basis.

Procedures for Honors

Students who have demonstrated exemplary skill and discipline in their coursework are encouraged to undertake an honors project. Such students must think carefully about their commitment to completing an intensive research project during their senior year. In addition, they must be able to articulate a particular question to research as well as contextualize their question within broader conversations in the discipline of religious studies. Students are expected to draw theoretical resources and methodological insights from Religion 3390 and to produce their own scholarly work. The faculty recommends that religion majors begin thinking about and discussing with a member of the department a possible project as early as their junior year so as to take advantage of summer research funding. 

To embark on research for an honors project in religion, students enroll  in an honors project in the fall semester of their senior year with a specific department member who has agreed to supervise the project. Students must also complete the online Independent Study/Honors Project Request Form. Please submit the request form well in advance of the deadline so the faculty member has time to review and respond. Further details on how to enroll in an honors project are available at the Office of the Registrar’s website.

**If the student and faculty members decide at a later date that the completion of the honors project is not tenable, the honors enrollment credit will transform into independent study credit, for one or two semesters.**

Once the fall semester begins, students consult with their advisor to determine a meeting and work schedule. This will generally include weekly check-in meetings that are shaped around reading, research, and writing assignments. Generally, the fall semester is devoted mostly to reading and research, while the spring semester is focused on writing. However, students may determine a schedule that works for them in consultation with their advisor, and in some cases (particularly undertaking ethnographic research or accessing archives) arrangements for research may begin in advance of the fall semester.

There are a series of deadlines observed for honors projects, meant to give students ongoing feedback and direction from their supervisor and the honors committee. First, students must submit a copy of their 1-2 page preliminary proposal to each thesis committee member (generally, every member of the department not on leave that year) by September 15. The committee members will discuss the proposal and the advisor will report back to the student. Based on feedback received, students submit to each member of the department a copy of a formal prospectus of 6-8 pages with an attached bibliography by November 1. A full chapter draft is due to the advisor at the start of reading week of the fall semester

Important Deadlines

September 15

Submit a preliminary proposal of 1-2 pages to each member of the thesis committee

November 1

Submit a formal prospectus of 6-8 pages and bibliography to each member of the thesis committee

End of the Fall Semester (star of reading week)

Submit a full draft of a chapter to the advisor

Proposing an Honors Project

Students contemplating a program of independent study leading to honors should be aware of the following expectations for each stage of the project:

Faculty members and students are at liberty to determine a writing schedule for the honors project; however, they are urged to adhere to the following guidelines: a second installment by the start of February; a third installment by the start of March and an entire first draft completed by the start of April. After students receive committee feedback on their full draft (within two weeks of its submission), a revised full draft is submitted in early May. The final thesis is due in mid-May, with the exact date determined by the Office of the Registrar each year.

Deadlines for successive writing submissions to honors advisors after the approval of the prospectus:

  • Draft of one chapter by the end of the fall semester
  • A second installment (typically a second chapter) by the start of February
  • A third installment by the start of March
  • An entire first draft is completed by the start of April
  • Feedback for these installments will be delivered in written form and in meetings with one’s advisor.
  • A final version of the thesis is submitted to the entire committee at the start of May
  • Committee feedback will be returned to the candidate within two weeks of the submission date
  • Any remaining concerns will be discussed between the candidate and their advisor, and must be addressed in the final honors thesis before its formal submission to the Library 


Toward the end of the spring semester, generally during the last week of classes, honors candidates will offer a presentation of their research to the religion faculty, as well as majors, minors, and other interested students. This is an opportunity for candidates to articulate the various components of their project, to anticipate possible limitations of their approach, and to consider questions and implications pertaining to their research. The department also regards it as an opportunity to showcase possibilities for honors projects to prospective majors and minors. 

Oral Examination

An oral examination will be scheduled during reading period at the conclusion of the spring semester. Conducted by all members of the honors committee, the examination will last for roughly one hour. At the outset, the candidate will summarize their thesis and research findings and then conversations will ensue on issues pertaining to the research paper and its wider implications for the study of religion. The oral examination provides an important opportunity for students to showcase the work they have completed and to clarify any points raised by faculty in relation to their written work.


On the basis of the research paper, the oral examination, and the student’s work throughout the year, the departmental faculty will determine whether or not the student is to be granted: (a) no honors; (b) honors; (c) high honors.* Candidates will be notified of their evaluation after all have completed their oral examinations.

*Criteria for Honors

  • Thesis is clear and does not duplicate existing literature
  • Argument is well-structured and persuasive
  • Sure grasp of relevant literature
  • Supplies rationales for method
  • Well prepared for oral exam 

*Criteria for High Honors

In addition to above:

  • Articulates a significant contribution to the study of religion
  • Evidences a clear understanding of the implications of the argument
  • Mastery of relevant literature
  • Strong performance in the oral exam
  • Displays exceptional skill and accomplishment in research (e.g., extensive ethnographic work, archival work internationally and/or in multiple languages)

Students should be aware that high honors is rarely awarded. It celebrates a student’s clear and consistent demonstration of going above and beyond both with respect to the process and the final product. 


The final version of one’s honors thesis is to be uploaded to the Bowdoin Library’s Digital Commons website no later than 5:00 p.m. on the date given by the Registrar's Office. Ensure that you follow the guidelines given for the specified form and accompanying materials, which are distributed to candidates in the weeks prior, and submit your paper well before this hard deadline.