Thesis and Capstone Requirements for Theology Programs

The culmination of your college career as a theology student is usually marked by a capstone project or a thesis, each of which has a common purpose: demonstrating student knowledge. Capstone projects are a common component of a bachelor's program, and theses are part of a master's. That being said, capstone and thesis projects are not required in all theology programs. And some bachelor's and master's programs offer non-thesis program tracks.

Capstone projects are a common component of a bachelor's program, and theses are part of a master's

On average, a thesis or capstone is worth between four to six credit hours, and research often takes place in academic or religious settings. Faculty guide both project types, and students submit their work to a committee. Deadlines vary for each project, but a thesis typically must be completed within a set time frame after graduation. For example, it is not uncommon for students to be required to finish a thesis one to two years after graduation.

What's the Difference Between a Capstone and a Thesis in Theology Programs?

When choosing a theology program, read the degree requirements to determine if you will need to complete a thesis or a capstone project -- or both. What's the difference? Typically, theses are written by master's students in their final year, and capstones are undergraduate projects completed in the senior year. Both a capstone and a thesis have the same general purpose of summing up the degree program, but there are differences in the format.

A thesis is a written research paper of roughly 60 pages that poses an argument backed by research. Students must submit a thesis proposal and have it approved. A capstone project, especially in theology, takes many different forms: a written paper, portfolio, sermon, oral or written exam, or video. A practicum or internship requirement is similar to a capstone course.

Theology Capstone Format

Through your research of theology programs, you will find different types of capstone projects. While there is no one-size-fits-all format for the capstone, most are designed to be a summation of a student's educational experience. An adviser or faculty member may provide guidance, but students work on the project independently.

The capstone is usually completed under a one- to three-credit course. However, is not uncommon to see a capstone spread out over two semesters, taught in two courses. In some cases, the capstone is a research paper, but it can also be an oral presentation or a portfolio of the student's work. Part of the project may include an oral presentation and/or an exam.

Choosing Your Theology Thesis Topic

The process of choosing a capstone topic can be overwhelming. Consequently, capstone projects are often broken down into phases, including the proposal phase. Proposals for capstones are created in preliminary capstone courses to help students brainstorm theology thesis topics. At this point, students are teamed with a mentor to guide them through the project and to pick theology essay topics on anything from church history to music and liturgy. More often than not, your adviser is a faculty member.

For many theology programs, the capstone gives students work experience. The project is also an opportunity to network with professionals in ministry, academia, religious schools, and other sectors where theology graduates typically find work.

Completing Your Theology Capstone

Capstones vary from college to college, but again, the first step is usually the proposal phase. This is where students -- under the guidance of a faculty member -- design their paper, project, or practicum experience.

Capstones vary from college to college, but again, the first step is usually the proposal phase

Sometimes, the proposal phase takes place in a separate course, wherein the student may present an annotated bibliography and conduct preliminary interviews with a consultant like a clergy member.

Others times, the capstone is a practicum where students use their theological education to work in the church. If the capstone involves working in religious setting or community, students are instructed how to log their experiences and hours; they may also be required to show evidence of their work through video clips. On occasion, students may complete a written essay, an exam, or a visual presentation. There is usually a deadline shortly after graduation or at the end of a course to finish the capstone.

Presenting Your Theology Capstone

A core element of every capstone project is the presentation portion, which is submitted or presented to a panel. After you have completed your capstone project -- no matter the format (i.e., written, oral, or visual) -- you will likely have to present it to a committee.

The panel may be composed of a small section of faculty members and theology students. Sometimes, the presentation is live-streamed, published online, and open to the public. A visual component is often part of the presentation, including a web page, a video, or a PowerPoint.

How Is a Theology Capstone Graded?

Theology departments may give letter or pass/fail grades for capstone projects. Students are made aware of grading rubrics. Should a student fail, the department often allows her to retake the capstone course or file an appeal and request to have her work reassessed. The capstone grade may account for anywhere between two to nine credit hours of the theology degree.

Theology Thesis Format

Unlike a capstone, the master of theology thesis has a standard format. First, during their final year, students register for thesis courses, within which they create proposals. Then, an adviser reviews the proposals and provides feedback. Finally, students make necessary corrections to their projects.

A thesis is almost always a formal written paper completed independently by the master's student. Oral components are often part of the thesis as well. Deadlines vary, but most are set between two weeks to one year after graduation.

Choosing Your Theology Thesis Topic

A thesis project is often divided into two courses. The first course is generally the designing or proposal phase, where students come up with theology thesis examples. This is when students create a proposal with a topic that must be approved by their faculty adviser or academic dean.

Throughout the project, students continue working with their thesis adviser. Field research, including interviewing people in religious settings, is often an element of the thesis. Theology thesis topics including anything from the challenges of Christian youth in America to feminism and Islam.

Completing Your Master of Theology Thesis

Students may be required to conduct interviews and do fieldwork in religious communities

In the thesis class, students pick a topic, discuss the methodology, proposed research, and create a formal proposal to be presented to their adviser. Each student has a mentor who helps them pick topics and write a proposal, a bibliography, a thesis statement, and an outline. After receiving approval from an adviser, students write the thesis.

An orientation for thesis writing -- where students work through the process of writing a thesis and come up with various research strategies -- may be available. Here, students receive formatting instructions, including 15,000- to 25,000-word count limitations. Throughout the program, consultants or advisers continue to review drafts in-person or via email. Students may be required to conduct interviews and do fieldwork in religious communities. Specifics on logging fieldwork hours, if needed, are explained.

Presenting Your Theology Thesis

Master's students prepare thesis presentations in the final phase of their project. If students are required to do an oral presentation, they will go before a panel of at least two people, the adviser and a reader. Guests of the student may also be invited. This is often called the oral defense, where students present a summary of their research process and topic. During the presentation, the reader and faculty adviser pose questions.

Before the scheduled oral presentation, master's students submit unbound copies of their theses to those on the panel (at their own cost). An additional hard copy of the thesis is usually required on the day of the presentation.

How Is a Theology Capstone Graded?

The common grading system for a thesis is either pass or fail (an "A" or an "F" grade). Students usually receive rubrics early in the process. If the student passes, he gets three credits, or however many are assigned to the thesis.

Advisers generally allow students to revise their thesis if they fail. In that case, a student pays a fee to have his amended thesis re-read. Also, should the student not complete the thesis, he fails.