Religion Major Requirements

This major allows students to achieve an understanding of diverse religions, the methods employed in their study, and a measure of competence within a specific tradition or area. 

Seminars, reading courses, study abroad options, and the senior tutorial allow intensive study of particular topics. Students also may enroll in selected courses at Colgate Rochester Divinity School/Bexley Hall/Crozer Theological Seminary and take advantage of its distinguished theological library.

Below is information on:

General Major Requirements

Required Courses

One of the following:

  • REL 101: Introduction to the Old Testament
  • REL 102: Introduction to the New Testament

One of the following:

  • REL 103: History of Judaism
  • REL 104: History of Christianity
  • REL 105: Asian Search for Self
  • REL 106: From Confucius to Zen
  • REL 107: History of Islam

Theory requirement:

  • REL 293: Theories of Religion*

One of the following:

  • REL 389: Senior Seminar
  • REL 393: Senior Tutorial

Elective course:
Six other courses, three of which may concentrate in a single religious tradition.

Additional Information:
A major in religion typically includes no more than three courses numbered below 110.

*REL 293 is normally taken in the junior year.

Honors in Religion

This program is open only to students who have a superior academic record, are prepared to pursue an advanced research project, and are capable of high quality independent work.

The honors sequence culminates in the successful completion and defense of a senior thesis. Typically, students undertake the senior thesis for honors after completing an independent study as preparation in a previous semester.

The following example illustrates the different between an independent study or senior project in religion, and the honors-level senior project:

  • REL 391: Independent Study—"Islamic Mysticism and the Arts," "Readings in Liberation Theology," "Sephardic Judaism"
  • REL 393: Senior Project—"The Poetry of Rumi," "Catholics on A.I.D.S.," "Iranian Jewry"
  • REL 392: Honors Research + REL 393: Senior Project—"Rumi's Concept of Hell," "Pavlo Frere and the Literacy of Liberation," "Iranian Jewry in New York"

Criteria for Honors in Religion

  • An overall GPA of at least 3.0 (B)
  • A departmental GPA of at least 3.7 (A-) by the start of the seventh semester or senior year
  • Eight credits of honors coursework* with a grade of B+ or higher
  • REL 391: Independent Study or REL 392: Honors Research (with a B+ or higher)
  • REL 393: Senior Project
  • A successful oral defense of the thesis

*Honors courses: REL 293: Theories of Religion, REL 391: Independent Study, and REL 392: Honors Research

Requirements and Deadlines

Steps for completing REL 391: Independent Study/REL 392: Honors Research:

  1. Find a faculty member who is willing to serve as the adviser for course
  2. Enroll in REL 391: Independent Study or REL 392: Honors Research, usually in the fall semester of senior year.
  3. As part of REL 391 or 392, prepared an outline of research for the thesis and complete a substantial bibliographical essay in consultation with the thesis adviser.
  4. Write a brief proposal describing the thesis project.
  5. Secure the recommendation and signature of a thesis adviser, indicating his or her endorsement of the project.
  6. Submit: 1) the proposal; 2) the bibliographical essay, and 3) the advisor’s recommendation to the chair of the department.
  7. The chair will forward this material to the Honors Review Board, which will approve it, approve it subject to modification, or reject it. 
  8. After approval, the chair will appoint a second reader.
  9. Enroll in REL 393: Senior Project for the next semester.

The deadline for application to the Honors program is December 15 for students who plan to graduate at the end of the following spring semester.

Steps for completing REL 393: Senior Project:

  1. Arrange a meeting with the second reader to discuss the proposed project.
  2. Prepared a substantial outline of research for the thesis in consultation with and approved by the thesis adviser (complete by the end of the second week of the spring semester).
  3. Complete the final draft of the thesis by the end of the twelfth week of classes (normally the second week in April).
  4. The student should complete the thesis under the supervision of both readers.
  5. Students must provide both readers with drafts of the thesis and subsequent suggestions by the readers must be taken into account.
  6. The student will schedule an oral defense with the two readers. This must be held before the end of the reading period at the end of the semester.
  7. The readers will make a recommendation to the chair as to whether honors should be awarded.
  8. The chair will contact students prior to graduation to inform them if the degree will be awarded with honors.
  9. Student will receive a grade and credit for the Senior Project if the honors designation is denied.
  10. Students should provide each reader and the department office with a copy of the final accepted version of the thesis within 48 hours after the defense.

Senior Project in Religion

REL 393: Senior Project

Students who choose to take REL 393 conduct advanced or specialized work, in close consultation with a faculty member.

In the Senior Project, students:

  • Design a research proposal
  • Assemble a bibliography of the relevant literature
  • Read, think, and consult with a faculty adviser
  • Write a senior thesis paper

This course provides students an opportunity to pursue independent research on a topic of their choosing. In their senior year, these students develop and defend answers to a question in their chosen topic.


The senior thesis is not an honors thesis; it is an assignment required of all religion majors who do not take REL 389.

It may be helpful to think of the senior thesis as an independent study during which a paper is written. The main difference between these courses is that the senior thesis requires more preparation in previous coursework and a paper.

The following examples should help to distinguish between the two courses in terms of their increasing specificity or depth:

  • REL 391: Independent Study—"Islamic Mysticism and the Arts," "Readings in Liberation Theology," "Health and Medicine in India," "Sephardic Judaism"
  • REL 393: Senior Project—"The Poetry of Rumi," "Catholics on A.I.D.S" "Ayurveda Medicine Within Hinduism," "Iranian Jewry"

The senior thesis will be graded by the student's adviser. There is no requirement concerning the length of the senior thesis; some have been as short as fifteen or twenty pages.

The Two-Semester Option

Students can devote two semesters to researching and writing their senior thesis. In this case, students should register for REL 392: Honors Research in the fall of the senior year and REL 393 in the spring.

Since the two-semester option is an elective, students can choose to register for REL 393 without first taking REL 392.

Schedule and Mechanics

Steps for completing REL 393: Senior Project:

  • Find a faculty member to serve as the adviser of your senior thesis
  • Prepare a brief, written, preliminary proposal* of your thesis project, and get permission from your adviser to proceed (due December 15, senior year)
  • In consultation with your adviser, prepare a bibliography for your project and a revised version of your proposal (due second week of the spring semester)
  • Submit two typed copies of your completed thesis to your adviser (due the Friday before the last day of classes)

*Students will likely need to revise this proposal as work on the thesis proceeds.

Your adviser may set other deadlines throughout the semester for a more developed proposal, expanded bibliography, outline, first draft, etc.