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Honors Thesis

If you are an Honors Student, you are strongly encouraged to do your Honors Thesis in the Religion Department! The small size of our department, and our commitment to mentoring, makes the process simple: decide on a professor you would like to work with, and meet with them to settle on a topic.  You must take TWO semesters of RELI 193 Honors Thesis.

Topics can vary widely. Some samples:

Steven Hartman (Spring 2015) [PDF]
Philosopher and social critic Michel Foucault distinguished two modes by which people are governed in modern democracies: discipline and market liberalization. Steve Hartman’s thesis uses this distinction by Foucault to analyze and evaluate two health insurance schemes in the modern state of Karnataka in India.

Paige Meserve (Fall 2013) [PDF]
In her thesis, entitled "Undoing Racial Identification and Redoing Ethical Cultivation: Passing as a Performance of Identity and an Ethics of Self-Making," Paige Meserve uses contemporary affect theory and queer theory to explore how racial identities are performed (and taken apart) in novels from the 1920s Harlem Renaissance.  Drawing on Foucault's notion of ethics as a practice of self-cultivation, Paige reads racial passing as one way that African-American women negotiate a world that refuses to sustain and feed them but which they cannot simply leave. Paige shows how such strangely performed identities constitute an ethics of dis-identification. By its means, these women hope to create cross-temporal communities that go beyond fixed racial identities of white and black, and therefore also go beyond existing moral codes of right and wrong – all in favor of imagining new styles of living that are not complicit with a racist world.

Rebecca Gianarkis (Spring 2013) [PDF]
Polls indicate that 18% of Americans identity as “spiritual but not religious.” Rebecca Gianarkis’ thesis gets behind the numbers! She conducted fifteen in-depth interviews, mostly with Hofstra students. Rebecca brings their different (and perhaps deliberately amorphous) experiences into focus by analyzing them as spiritual collectors: dissatisfied with established religion, they collect different ways of believing (for example, ways that include doubt), different places of encountering the sacred (from hiking in nature to the internet), and different practices. Rebecca took the lens of spiritual collectors from sixteenth century Wunderkammers or cabinets of curiosity. Just as these older collections were made possible by colonialism, so Rebecca ponders how today’s practices of “spiritual” collection might also depend on injustice.

Kaylee Platt (Spring 2013) [PDF]
In her thesis, Kaylee grapples with the complex meanings (or semiotics) of veiling in Islam. Why is it that when Westerners see a woman wearing a veil, we think we automatically know what wearing a veil means to her? Looking comparatively across four different contexts – Iran, France, Canada, and the United States, Kaylee explores the power of this symbol:  how Western discourses use the veil to not-see and not-hear Muslim women: to assume Islam is backward and oppressive of women, regardless of what women actually say, think, and feel about the veil. She asks: how can we be so sure we know how to read her – when we do not even know how to see her?