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Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty of Arts
September 25, 2016
Canadian Excellence

Core Course Information

The course-stream M.A. program normally takes one calender year, or three academic terms to complete. The thesis-stream MA program normally requires two years, or five terms, to complete. Most students opt for the course-stream.

A full-time course load is usually 2 to 3 courses per term. Students who register part time take no more than 2 courses per term.

Course-stream students are required to complete 5 one-term courses, plus RE693 and RE698. Thesis-stream students are required to complete 5 one-term courses (including RE693), and the thesis. Thesis-stream students are permitted to audit, but not take RE698 for credit.

RE693: Comprehensive Examination

This course has three areas of focus: the history and current expressions of the world’s religions, the academic study of religion, and selected noteworthy books. It is grounded in a reading list provided by the Department each year. Students will meet regularly with the course supervisor to discuss the books and related topics. The course goal is for students to emerge from this experience with a basic knowledge of the worlds religions and the ways in which they have been studied, and with more finely-tuned discussion and interpretive skills.

RE693 culminates in a “comprehensive examination,” based on the set reading list. The details and format of the examination will be determined by the course supervisor. At least two faculty members will assess the results.

The course will usually be offered each year during the Fall term; the examination will be offered at the end of the Fall. Normally, students will study for it in the Fall, taking the exam at the end of that term. Students are granted credit only after successfully passing the exam with a B or better, and may only repeat the examination once.

RE698: Research Project (course weight is one credit)

Students in this course will focus on an area of study of their choice, in consultation with the course supervisor, prepare an essay of superior quality, and present that work, or a distillation of it, orally to a public audience. By public, the Department understands a variety of possibilities (e.g., a lecture at a university colloquium or in an undergraduate class, at an academic conference, or other off-campus venues, such as high school classes and talks at a public library). The assessment of the project includes both the written work and the public presentation, with details to be determined by the course supervisor in consultation with the students and other faculty members.

There are several course goals. One is for students to prepare a finely-wrought piece of writing. This writing component may take one of several forms: an article written, edited, and revised as if it were being submitted to a specified scholarly journal; journalistic articles written for magazines and newspapers; review essays; critical introductions; exegeses; or papers written for oral delivery. A second goal is for students to learn ways to share their research with a public audience. A third goal is for students to work together on both the written and oral components.

RE698 will normally be offered each year during the Spring term, and students will meet regularly as a group with the course supervisor throughout the term.

RE699: Thesis

The Religion and Culture program allows students to pursue a thesis option. The thesis takes the place of three courses in order to complete degree requirements. While most of our students opt for a coursework M.A. there is no question that the thesis can be a deeply rewarding academic experience. However it usually extends the degree by one or two terms and requires significant writing, research, and organizational skills. It also requires the determination needed to follow through with necessary, sometimes repeated revisions. If you are considering writing a thesis it is imperative that you meet with the Graduate Officer sometime in the middle of the Fall term to discuss this.

Preliminary Stage
To assess the viability of the topic and the student’s academic background, a student considering writing a thesis should consult during the first term with a faculty member who is an expert in the area. This potential supervisor should be in Religion and Culture, but one committee member may be from outside the department.


Thesis Proposal
Once the student and faculty member agree that the thesis topic appears viable, the two will consult with other faculty members and with the Graduate Officer in order to propose a Thesis Advisory Committee. This committee is made up of three faculty members who are appointed to the Graduate Faculty at WLU or hold comparable status at another university, and who provide direction for the research. The Committee will then work closely with the student in order to help hone the topic.

After this initial consultation, the student prepares a thesis proposal using the outline below and submits it to the Graduate Committee by way of the Graduate Officer. The approximate length of proposals is 8 to 10 pages. The Committee considers not only the proposal but also the needs, direction, and scope of the department; faculty loads and interests; a student’s ability to write, work with others, and do independent research; and the relation of a student’s background to the proposed topic. If accepted, the thesis proposal is sent to the Dean of Graduate Studies for his or her approval.

The R&C thesis proposal should adhere to the following outline:

PERSONAL DATA: List your name, address, phone, e-mail, and degree(s).

TITLE: should be accurate and descriptive; may also include a subtitle. Note that the title may be revised later to be more precise.

TOPIC: a one‑paragraph statement of what you propose to study.

BACKGROUND & MOTIVATION: How is the topic related to your own background, training, and interests? To what extent are you entering territory new to yourself or covering old ground? List courses taken and papers written in the area. What are your reasons for formulating this project? What will it contribute to your education?

OUTLINE: Provide a tentative but coherent outline of the entire project.

SCHEDULE: Offer a tentative, but realistic schedule for your project. You must allow time for readers to make comments and for you to make revisions.

FIELD: Explain how your topic is related to the field of religious studies. What is its relation to the course offerings of the Department? How is it related to other academic disciplines?

HUNCHES & HYPOTHESES: What do you expect to find or conclude? What do you hope to show? What do you want to convey to your readers? What is your main thesis or controlling question?

THEORIES & METHODS: How will you approach your topic? What methods will you use? What theories and theorists will you draw upon? What questions will you be asking?

BIBLIOGRAPHY, THE LITERATURE: What is the state of research on your topic? Can you show that you will not be duplicating work that has already been done? List the indexes, data bases, abstracts, and periodicals you have searched or will search. What are the major resources for your research? How many of them are accessible? What are the key words and Library of Congress headings under which a bibliographer would search for materials on the topic?

CONTRIBUTION: What might your thesis contribute to our understanding of religion and culture? What might be unique about it? What does it do that has not been done before? What might be some of the limitations of your paper?

ADVISING: In your opinion what persons in this department or related departments are best suited to advise your research? How are their interests and expertise related to your topic? Have you discussed your project with them?

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS: Are there any special concerns you have about the project? For example, field study with human subjects require clearance of the ethics committee, and textual study of primary sources usually requires an ability to read those sources in their original languages. The use of art or sources in other languages may require special consideration.

The Thesis
Once the proposal is accepted by the Dean of Graduate Studies, a student may register for RE699: Thesis. While researching and writing, the student is strongly encouraged to consult regularly with all his or her committee members in order to ensure higher quality work and prevent surprises at the defense.

The thesis must adhere to university style and format guidelines; following these guidelines from the beginning will save time. They are outlined clearly in the Graduate Studies Calendar under “General Program Regulations.” Notes and references should also follow an acceptable style from the departmental style sheet.

The Thesis Defence
When the Thesis Advisory Committee considers the thesis complete and sound, it will notify the Graduate Officer that the work is ready to proceed to defence. The Graduate Officer will consult with the thesis supervisor and the Graduate Studies Office to ensure that the necessary paperwork is completed and that an outside reader is chosen for this examination. The student is responsible for printing 5 copies the thesis. The Graduate Studies Office will distribute the copies to the Examination Committee, which is made up of the members of the Thesis Advisory Committee, one outside reader, and the chair of the thesis defence. The student should also be in close communication with the faculty office to ensure that everything is in order. It usually takes three to four weeks between submission of the thesis to the committee members and the defence.

The thesis defence is open to the public. It offers the opportunity for the student to present the major findings of his or her work, and to receive critical feedback. It is normal for students to have revisions to complete once the thesis is defended. When revisions are complete, they are verified by the supervisor, who takes four copies to the Graduate Studies office for approval and forwarding to the University Library. One bound copy will later be returned to the student.