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College of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences

Department of Religious Studies

Other 7

Graduate Degrees

MA Degree Completion Options

The Department of Religious Studies offers students four possible options for completing the MA in religious studies, depending on the student's GPA and future career goals. Students must complete the MA during the regular academic year; degree completion cannot take place during the summer.

The four MA program completion options are:

  • revision of major term paper as publishable journal article
  • master's thesis
  • special research project
  • comprehensive examinations

Students must formally apply for the completion option they have selected by the end of the second week of the first quarter of their second year. There are no exceptions.

Please see the graduate advisor for more detailed instructions and a copy of the degree-completion application form.

Students planning to enroll in doctoral programs in religious studies or related fields should aim for the journal article or thesis option. Students planning to move directly to the professional sphere should aim for the project or comprehensive exams options. No option is "better" than another, but some will fit students' career goals more appropriately.

Revision of major term paper as journal article

Journal article

The journal article completion option is the most rigorous and is recommended for advanced students who wish to apply to highly competitive doctoral programs. Only students who have maintained a 3.5 GPA are eligible to apply for this completion option. The journal option requires students to take a religious studies course paper involving original research, on which the student received a minimum grade of A-, and to revise and expand it into a publishable journal article.

Students selecting this option will research religious studies journals and will select an appropriate target journal with the approval of their advisor. They will shape their article in accordance with the aims and mission of the selected journal, and will format it in accordance with the journal's submission guidelines.   It should be noted that the student is not expected actually to publish the article, or to have it accepted for publication, in that journal.  However, it must be the decision of the department advisor as well as the examining committee that the article meets the standards of the chosen journal.

The student must choose as their first reader the instructor for whose course the paper was actually written.   Students must submit a full rough draft to their first and second reader by the third week of the quarter before the last term in which they are expected to graduate. There are no exceptions. Students who do not submit their draft on time will delay their graduation by at least one quarter.

Students will submit the final version of their journal article to their advisor and second reader by the sixth week of the quarter in which they intend to graduate.  Students will present their article in a 15-20 minute presentation in front of their advisor and second reader followed by a 30-40 minute discussion, to be scheduled no later than the eighth week of the quarter, in order to leave time for revisions. It is department policy that no degree completion presentation will be allowed during the summer quarter except under unusual circumstances.  In absolutely no case can any presentation be scheduled during the summer after June 15.

Master's Thesis

The thesis option is a rigorous option recommended for students who wish to apply to competitive doctoral programs. Only students who have maintained a 3.3 GPA are eligible to apply for this completion option.   The thesis option is for students who have a fairly clear idea early on in the program on what they want to write about, and requires careful planning, time management, and scheduling that should be undertaken no later than the beginning of the fourth quarter of the student's program.   The department reserves the right to refuse to allow a student to do a thesis if the faculty believe the student has not allotted sufficient time to complete it on schedule.

The thesis option requires students to take a religious studies course paper including original research, on which the student received a minimum grade of A-, and revise and expand it into a graduate thesis of approximately 50-60 pages.  The thesis involves a substantive undertaking that allows the student to make an original contribution to the field of scholarly religious studies, as well as to demonstrate a mastery of the relevant theories and background literature. It should involve serious engagement with primary sources, as well as sources in the student's research language, if appropriate.

In order to be eligible to write a thesis, a student must agree on a topic as well as a tentative thesis title with the project's first reader no later than the end of the quarter in which the student will have completed 24 hours of credit toward the degree. Normally, that means the end of the spring quarter during the academic year when the student entered the program. In addition, students must have completed all their core requirements for the degree by that time.

The first reader must confirm the tentative thesis title as well as their agreement to supervise the research in writing to the director of the MA program and the assistant to the chair no later than the last day of the same quarter.   NOTE: The Office of Graduate Studies requires that the first and second readers must be full-time, tenured or tenure-track members of the Department of Religious Studies.   The student may, however, invite a third member from outside the department with appropriate expertise in the topic of the thesis to serve on the examining committee.

Following approval of the thesis topic and title by the director of the MA program, the student must submit a detailed thesis proposal no later than the third week of the quarter in which the student is expected to complete 32 hours of credit toward the degree.  Normally, that means the end of the fall quarter of the second academic year in which the student is enrolled in the MA program.  It is expected that the student will take the summer between the spring quarter of their first year and the fall quarter of their second year to write the thesis proposal.  The thesis proposal must be no less than 1500 words and no more than 3000 words.  It must articulate 1) an actual thesis statement (not just a description of the topic) along with an explanation of why the student believes they will be able to demonstrate what they believe to be the case 2)  a specification and outline of the methodology by which they will attempt to make their case.  The proposal must include a bibliography of at least 20 academic books or articles which will be consulted in the course of the research for the thesis.

Students must submit a full rough draft to their advisor and second reader by the last week of the quarter prior to the one in which they expect to graduate.  There are no exceptions. Students who do not submit their draft on time will delay their graduation by at least one quarter.

Students will submit the final version of their thesis to their advisor, second reader, and outside chair by the fourth week of the quarter in which they intend to graduate. For students who submitted a rough draft during the Winter Quarter, this would mean submitting the final version in the Spring Quarter. Students will defend their thesis in an oral defense, to be scheduled no later than the eighth week of the quarter, in order to leave time for post-defense revisions.  Finally, students are strongly urge to arrange their course schedule and financial aid so that they are only enrolled in independent study, or independent research, during the final quarter when they are completing the thesis.

It is department policy that no MA thesis defense will be allowed during the summer quarter except under unusual circumstances.  In absolutely no case can any defense be scheduled during the summer after June 15. Please see https://www.du.edu/currentstudents/graduates/graduationinformation.html for a more detailed schedule of the Office of Graduate Studies Thesis deadlines.

Special Research Project

The project option is a rigorous option recommended for students planning to move or return to the professional sphere, including non-profit, government, and journalist work, as a means of showcasing the student's ability to make practical application of knowledge obtained from the M.A. program. The project involves a substantive undertaking that allows the student to make an original contribution to the field of applied religious studies. It may involve partnering with a community institution, a creative endeavor, a documentary, or any other work involving original research with appropriate analysis and interpretation.

In order to complete a special research project, the student needs to find an appropriate primary advisor within the Department of Religious Studies.  The student may seek additional advice or assistance from faculty outside the department, but the primary advisor must be a full-time, tenured or tenure-track, member of the department, while having some interest or competence in the topic chosen.   Students should work carefully with their advisors to develop a methodology, rationale, objectives, and assessment appropriate to the project, which should include a written component of at least thirty pages, excluding any tables, charts, appendices, or illustrations.

If the research involves any type of surveys, interviews, or the gathering of previously unpublished data about living human subjects, the student will be required to go through certain certification and compliance procedures mandated by the university's Institutional Review Board (IRB).  IRB approval of the research plan must be obtained prior to conducting any on-site research involving human subjects.  For more information, see https://www.du.edu/orsp/research-compliance/human-subjects/index.html.

The student should turn in to his or her primary advisor a 1000-1500 proposal no later than the third week of the quarter prior to when the student expects to complete the project.  The proposal should outline how or she will move forward in accordance with the aforementioned criteria.

Students must submit a full rough draft, with the exact form of the draft dependent on the precise nature of the project, to their advisor and second reader by the third week of the quarter prior to the one in which they expect to graduate.   There are no exceptions. Students who do not submit their draft on time will delay their graduation by at least one quarter. The final write-up should consist in a carefully constructed narrative describing the genesis and significance of the project, the issues it addresses, the methodology chosen, the theoretical context in which the research was pursued, its anticipated professional, or public, relevance for the student, problems or questions encountered along the way, and its final conclusions or recommendations.

Students will submit the final version of their project to their advisor and second reader by the fourth week of the quarter in which they intend to graduate. For students who submitted a rough draft during the Winter Quarter, this would mean submitting the final version in the Spring Quarter. Students will present their article in a 15-20 minute presentation in front of their advisor and second reader followed by a 30-40 minute discussion, to be scheduled no later than the eighth week of the quarter, in order to leave time for revisions. It is department policy that no degree completion presentation will be allowed during the summer quarter except under unusual circumstances.  In absolutely no case can any presentation be scheduled during the summer after June 15.

Comprehensive examinations

The comprehensive exam option is recommended for students for whom the MA is a terminal degree. It is also recommended for those who plan to teach at the secondary school or community college level, or who might otherwise benefit from the certification of competency in three fields of religious studies.

Students choosing this option will take ONE exam in the theory of religion; ONE in Judaism, Christianity, OR Islam; and ONE in Buddhism OR Hinduism. The department will provide the set reading lists for each exam – approximately 10-12 texts each. Students are expected to read, analyze, and reflect upon each text and its contribution to each field, as part of their preparation to demonstrate competency in the three fields.

Students must submit short essay reviews summarizing and analyzing four books from each reading list to their advisor and examiners by the third week of the second quarter of their second year. Students who apply for completion in the Fall Quarter of their second year would submit the essay reviews during the third week of the Winter Quarter. There are no exceptions.

Students planning to take comprehensive exams should meet for a final check-in with their advisor and examiners during the fourth week of the quarter before the one in which they intend to graduate. Students will normally take their exams during the fourth or fifth week of the quarter in which they intend to graduate.

Each of the three written examinations lasts three-hours. They are closed-book examinations and you may not use notes. The exams are taken on campus in a room provided by the department. In writing the exam you are allowed to use a departmental computer to produce word-processed essays. However, you may not consult internet resources. It is recommended that students reserve 15 minutes-1/2 hour to read and edit the manuscript carefully. You should supply your examiner with a printed copy of your essays.

A fourth, ORAL examination will be administered by at least two members of the department, or a committee that includes no more than one appropriate member of another department. This is usually conducted in the sixth or seventh week (no later) in the quarter. The oral examination will cover the entire range of the student's program with a special focus on the three written exams and the student's area of specialization.