Senior Essay

The senior essay is the capstone project of a Relgious Studies major. This paper is a 25-30 page essay on a topic chosen by the student and approved by the adviser upon receipt of a student's proposal by the end of the third quarter prior to expected graduation. The character and content of the essay, which is meant to allow the student to call into play knowledge and skills learned in the course of the major, may take several forms. For example, a student may return to a subject studied earlier but now pursued in more depth or from a new perspective, research a recent or new topic of interest in the field, or offer a carefully framed critical assessment of what has been learned in the major based on review of influential sources, theories, and methods of studying religion. The senior essay is read and graded by the student's adviser and one other member of the Religious Studies faculty.

Examples of previous essay titles are below:

God in Public School? Student Experience at a Christian Learning Center

We Choose the More Pleasant Thing! Comprehending Relgion and the Secular in the Films Life of Pi and Sausage Party

Confronting Gender Exclusion in the Catholic Church Through Iconography of the Virgin Mary

Three Accounts of Zhuangzi's Ideal Action

Evolving Perspectives on the Land of Israel in Bnei Akiva 1960

Mute Sign of Life: Rosenzweig and Heidegger on Mathematics and the Void

The Faces of God: A Source Critical Study of the Spies of Canaan Story

An Invisible Leader and Friend: Negotiating Expectations of the Dead Holy Man through Saint Martin and Medieval Tours

What do our students say about their capstone project?

I received a grant to travel to my home town and write a thesis about religious released time learning in public schools. It was an amazing experience to write about something that so few people know about and something that had such an impact on my high school. I greatly enjoyed working with Professors Ari Kelman and Kathryn Gin Lum. Professor Kelman and I published my paper the year following my graduation.
In my thesis "'Finding That Right Place Where I Fit': Hybrid Identities of Young American Muslim Women," I explored what it means to be a young, American, Muslim woman, interviewing 11 women about their experiences with this identity. It helped me get a deep dive into one particular population that many people have stereotypes and assumptions about without actually understanding.
"Confronting Gender Exclusion in the Catholic Church with Iconography of the Virgin Mary" - With this essay I investigated how religions, even the most deeply rooted beliefs and traditions, are subject to their living visual culture.
I researched the aesthetics of a form of Khmer Buddhist chant ("Quaking and Clarity: Saṃvega and Pasāda in Cambodian Dharma Songs"). This project, begun the year before I arrived at Stanford, took five years to complete and was always in the back of my mind throughout the other classes I took.