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In: English and Literature

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COMPREHENSIVE ESSAY
Graduate Program
Approved October 15, 1997
Revised November 9, 2004

As part of the requirements for graduation, all M.A. students in theology must write and “defend” (within one year from the date of completion of course work) a comprehensive theological essay, unless they have chosen to write a Master’s thesis. The comprehensive essay is usually written toward the end of one’s graduate course work. Students must write one essay (approximately 30 pages). Ordinarily, students should discuss possible topics with the department chairperson shortly after completing one-half of their coursework. The guidelines to be followed in preparing the essay include the following:

Content of Essay:

• The essay should synthesize several themes encountered in one’s coursework or should focus on one theme, exploring that theme with resources drawn from courses in several theological disciplines, such as scripture studies, history, systematic theology, etc. Example: A student wrote a thirty-page paper on “christology from below,” using information and insights drawn from scripture, contemporary systematic theology, spirituality, and ethics.

• The topic of the essay must be approved by the faculty adviser for the essay.

• The essay should state its thesis clearly and develop it in a coherent and appropriately comprehensive fashion. The thesis must be supported by solid research. At least five pertinent, theological references must be incorporated into the essay. References drawn from the WorldWideWeb do not count as part of the five references.

• The essay should demonstrate critical analysis, articulate expression, and the ability to make theological connections in a creative way. It is desirable for students to develop their own theological position on the themes explored in the essay.

Format of the Essay:

• The essay must be typewritten or produced on a word processor. The text should be double-spaced with one-inch margins on top, bottom, and the right; the left-hand margin should be one-and-a-half inches. The print must be dark and legible. The pages of the essay must be stapled or bound together.

• The essay must follow a standard format. Kate Turabian's A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, The Chicago Manual of Style, and the MLA Handbook are all acceptable. In all cases, the style of the essay must be consistent. Students are expected to use gender-inclusive language.

• The pages of the essay must be numbered.

• The cover page must include the name of the author, the title of the essay, the name of the faculty adviser, and the date.

• A bibliography must be included.

over

Timeline:

• The student must inform the department chairperson of the name of the faculty adviser at least one semester prior to the submission of the essay. At this time the student should also discuss with the chairperson the other two professors who will serve on the oral examination board for the essay. The student should choose as an adviser the professor whose interests closely match the chosen themes.

• The faculty adviser and the student agree to a timetable for the creation of the first draft of the essay. A first draft should be submitted no later than 60 days before expected date of graduation.

• Once the essay has attained a form acceptable to the faculty adviser, the adviser will ask the student to deliver three copies of the essay to the departmental secretary, who will distribute the copies to the examiners. At this time, the faculty adviser sets the time and location for the oral exam. The oral exam should be scheduled no later than three weeks before the date of expected graduation.

Oral Exam Procedures:

• The oral exam focuses on the comprehensive essay, but other related topics may also be raised.

• The board of examiners consists of three professors; the chairperson of the board will be the faculty adviser of the student’s essay. The chairperson of the board sets the order of examiners and watches that time limits are observed.

• The exam lasts one hour. Each examiner has fifteen minutes for his or her questions. In the last five minutes of the first three fifteen-minute periods, the other examiners may add a question or remark if it is pertinent to the question raised by the original examiner.

• The final fifteen-minute period is an open discussion between all examiners and the student.

• At the conclusion of the exam, the student will be asked to leave the examining room. The examiners will then discuss among themselves how the student performed in the exam. After this discussion, the examiners will write down their marks in secret ballot. The ballots will then be read and the “grade” determined. Grades will be fail, pass, or pass with distinction. A unanimous vote is necessary for pass with distinction, but the simple majority determines the grade of pass or fail.

• The student is informed immediately of his or her grade. The chairperson of the oral board fills out the proper form for reporting the grade and returns it to the departmental chairperson as soon as possible.

• If the oral examination reveals that revisions in the essay are necessary, the student will make the revisions promptly and submit a final, corrected copy of the essay to the departmental chairperson before graduation.

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