The Senior Project in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies

Every Allegheny student completes a Senior Project, a significant piece of original research or creative work, designed by the student under the guidance of a faculty advisor, that demonstrates the ability to complete a major assignment, to work independently, to analyze and synthesize information, and to write and to speak persuasively.

Students will need to secure a project director in the department before beginning their project. When a faculty member agrees to direct a senior project, they will help the student through the topic proposal phase and oversee and mentor the student in the process of completing the senior project, which usually involves offering feedback on drafts.

General goals of the senior project

Students completing a senior project in Philosophy and Religious Studies should strive to:

  • Formulate a project of independent study that is appropriately ambitious and yet properly focused and, with the assistance of an advisor, draft a senior project proposal during the first semester of the senior project sequence.
  • Engage in comprehensive searches of contemporary research resources within the discipline and construct a comprehensive bibliography for research into the project.
  • Read and comprehend a significant body of primary research within the area of the project.
  • Engage in critical written analysis that reflects awareness of current work within the discipline.
  • Compose written work that reflects general standards of scholarship in the discipline (citations, bibliography, abstract, etc.) three to six chapters in length (40-75 pages).
  • Respond, in the course of development of the project, to criticism of written work offered by the project advisor and other readers.
  • Engage productively with the advisor in critical discussion of the project during development of the project, and engage productively in discussion with the advisor and other readers during the oral defense of the comprehensive project.
  • Speak about their subject in a poised and learned fashion
  • Produce clean copy without spelling, grammatical or other mechanical errors 

Comprehensive project guidelines

Once a director is secured, students must begin preliminary research. Through this research, students should be able to articulate clearly a planned topic and at this point begin writing the proposal. While the project may evolve, it is expected the final product will closely resemble its original outlines.

It is recommended that the topic should reflect in some degree work the student has already done within the major.  Some students find that an idea for the senior project originates in the junior seminar; however, this need not be the case.  Students may want to explore in more detail work done in another course or weave together ideas discussed in courses outside the department with material covered in philosophy or religious studies courses.

Philosophy/Religious Studies 600 and 610

These guidelines reflect expectations for work in Philosophy/Religious Studies 600 (2 credits, graded C/NC) and Philosophy/Religious Studies 610 (4 credits, letter grade). All the work listed is required for a credit grade in Philosophy/Religious Studies 600; all of it contributes toward a letter-grade in Philosophy/Religious Studies 610. Deviation from these standards of work should be discussed by student and instructor, and may be accepted at the discretion of the instructor.

For double-major students: Two separate comprehensive projects in two areas may be pursued towards a double major, with 600-level course sequences taken in each major. One comprehensive project may be pursued, with focus in both majors, if the instructor in each area finds a proposed project adequate to satisfy the work requirement in the relevant area. The registrar requires that double majors choose between first and second major areas of study, and for cases in which students intend to pursue one comprehensive project, the declared first major determines the sequence of courses taken. Students should follow the course sequence, deadlines, and guidelines for completion of the project laid out for the first major, but they may be expected to meet standards and complete further work with the instructor whose area is the second major. Student and advisor in the second major should discuss the likelihood of such further requirements at the beginning of the comprehensive project process and, in two-semester comprehensive projects, again at the start of the second semester.

The requirements below, then, are the standard for majors in religious studies or philosophy and double majors with a first major in philosophy or religious studies, and many of them may apply, as determined in conversation with the instructor, for double majors with a second major in philosophy or religious studies.

Philosophy/Religious Studies 600:

By the 4th week of the pre-comp semester the student should produce a single-page comprehensive project interest statement explaining a proposed area of research and questions or concerns to be addressed.  Attached should be a bibliography of at least five books or articles that are relevant to the research topic and have been read, or will be read before the 9th week.  The advisor will comment and make suggestions by the fifth week.

By the 9th week of the semester the student should return work to the advisor that was produced in the 4th week, and produce a revised single-page comprehensive project interest statement explaining the proposed area of research and concerns to be addressed, plus a one-page explanation of investigation pursued and progress made since the 4th week, and a page reflecting upon methodology/approach to the topic (e.g., literary studies methodology, scriptural studies, or empirical social research [and if the last, an IRB proposal is a necessary addendum by this date]). The explanation should include an annotated bibliography of the previous five books, with annotation specifically pertinent to the proposed comprehensive project.  Attach a bibliography of at least three more books or articles relevant to the research topic that have been read or will be read before the 12th week.

All students taking Philosophy/Religious Studies 600 will meet as a group in week 10 and offer a presentation to their peers and faculty advisors of projects in progress. Students will provide a written abstract of 200 words summarizing their project to date. Students will explain the project in an opening presentation of 3-5 minutes’ length. Students should spend about three minutes explaining the project, one minute noting research methods and indicating the research sources, and one minute anticipating difficulties in the work ahead. Students ought to have their presentation in good order, practice it, and stick to the five-minute time limit. Other assembled students and faculty will discuss the project further with the student following the presentation, for a maximum of 15 minutes per project. The student ought to take notes during the discussion as these will be valuable for reducing effort and improving the project. Any student who cannot attend the meeting will write a 200-word abstract plus reading list and indication of anticipated research hurdles, due to the advisor by 11:30a.m. the day of the presentations.  That statement will be read aloud and the advisor can note ideas for improving the project and convey those to the student.

By the 12th week of the semester the student should return work to the advisor that was produced in the 9th week, and develop a one-page thesis statement explaining the problem to be investigated and the particular approach to the problem.  In addition, the student should write a one-page explanation of progress since the 9th week, including an annotated bibliography of the three books announced in week 9, with annotation specifically pertinent to the proposed comprehensive project. Attached should be a bibliography of at least two more books or articles relevant to the research topic that have been read or will be read before the 15th week.

By the 15th week of the semester the student should produce a revised 2-3 page thesis statement explaining the area of research and concerns to be addressed, a two-page outline of the argument of the comp with proposed chapters indicated, and, in addition, a full paragraph summary for the plan of argument within each of the chapters of the comp. At the end of each chapter summary there should be a list of the sources to be used for the relevant chapter; each entry in the list should also be included in an annotated bibliography of all materials used to date to prepare for the comp.  The bibliography should also include at least five more books or articles relevant to the research topic that have been read or will be read before the 3rd week of the next semester.

Philosophy/Religious Studies 610:

By the 4th week of the semester the student should produce a complete first draft of any chapter of the comp, excepting introduction or conclusion. Necessary references and footnotes to support the argument should be included within the draft.

By the 8th week of the semester the student should produce two more chapters, or however much is necessary to comprise half of the comp.

By the 11th week of the semester the student should present to advisor(s) and any other committee members a full draft of the comprehensive project, with bibliography.

*By the 12th week of the semester, the instructor should present the student with comments on the full draft, in a meeting. A defense date should tentatively be set at that time.

*By the 14th week of semester, revisions are due in a version formatted to college and department standards (see, and defense should occur that week or the next.

*Double majors should note that some other academic departments might require the comp to be due earlier than these dates.  Students pursuing double majors should check early in the semester with the other department, whether or not philosophy or religious studies is listed as the first major.

Oral examinations and submission of final copy

Each senior project will include an oral component, during which the student will meet with the director and second reader to discuss the completed project.  This oral examination will take approximately one hour, including about forty minutes of discussion, some time for deliberation about grading, and for signing the senior project if it receives a passing grade.

Students will leave the oral examination knowing only if they have passed or failed the senior project.  They will receive their letter grade for the project later, with their other grades at the end of the semester.

Once the student has been notified of a passing or failing grade and has been dismissed, the project director and second reader should deliberate and agree upon a letter grade for the student’s senior project, which the director will then submit to the Registrar.

It is the student’s responsibility to present a clean, signed, bound copy of the senior project to the department for archival purposes.  If applicable, it is also the student’s responsibility to electronically upload the senior project for archival purposes.