Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies

Writing a Senior Thesis

To Write or not to Write a NEJS Senior Honors Thesis - by Bard C. Freeze
That is the question!
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings
and arrows of an outrageously high GPA
Or to take arms against a sea of tsores (oy vey!)
And by opposing end them. To sleep (knowing that I will
graduate with Honors), to die (of shame knowing that
I'll deprive my parents of their desire to kvell about
my Summa)... perchance to dream. Ay, there's the rub.

All students who complete their junior year with a cumulative index of 3.25 or higher in NEJS (including Hebrew courses) are eligible for writing a senior thesis. Students must enroll in NEJS 99d in their senior year, which is a year-long course, and pick a thesis advisor. Writing a thesis requires intensive research in primary sources and culminates in a major piece of writing (typically 75 to 100 pages).

Reminder: Students with a general cumulative index above 3.8 can graduate with summa cum laude only if they have received departmental honors, i.e., an accepted senior honors thesis.

Why Write a Senior Thesis

  1. It provides an essential experience for those planning to do graduate work, especially in NEJS. A senior thesis means "doing" NEJS, not just learning it; it helps you to discover how the scholar conducts research and transforms that raw information into a coherent story and analysis.
  2. You can explore, in great depth, a subject that is of great interest to you, but only tangentially (if at all) broached in the general curriculum.
  3. If your research requires the use of non-English sources, you can improve your foreign language reading skills to the level expected in graduate work.
  4. The thesis is a major writing experience: With the help of your advisor, you will learn how to structure a large piece of writing and, in the process of writing, have an opportunity to refine your style and to internalize the conventions and mechanics of academic prose.
  5. You can graduate, depending on your success in the thesis, with honors, high honors, or highest honors in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies, which will be acknowledged at Commencement. (At the very worst, you will graduate without departmental honors.)

If you are interested, you should seek out a thesis advisor, go through the mechanics of formal registration, and begin designing a strategy to choose an important, feasible topic. You should aim to complete most of your research by the beginning of the second semester, and then use February and March to write and revise. The thesis must follow the conventions described in the Undergraduate Honors Thesis Guidelines.

What kinds of topics are appropriate?  This list of recent theses suggests a broad range of possibilities. It should be a subject in which you have a particular interest; it should also be one for which there exists a substantial and accessible base of primary documentation.  Your advisor can help you link your interests to a set of primary sources.

The office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Collaborations offers several opportunities for research funding.  Up to $250 is available for Senior Theses with an application due in early fall. See this website for exact details and dates.