MA Thesis and Project Policies

Degree Requirements

Various MA degrees and concentrations require either a Thesis or a Project component. Please carefully examine the course requirements for your degree to see if you are required to complete either of the following.

THEO 6960: Master’s Project (3 cr.):

The Master’s Project is an integrative project allowing students to synthesize various aspects of their academic studies and to give them practical application in a concrete ministry setting. Components of the project can include but are not limited to: contextual studies of major theologians, movements, and teachings, past and present; an exploration of the spiritual practices that bring together theology, prayer, and ministry in a particular context; and a qualitative study that facilitates a deep understanding of a particular ministry. The Master’s Project is to be guided and monitored, from beginning to end, by an SOT faculty member or designate.

THEO 6995: Master’s Thesis (6 cr.):

Provides the opportunity for students to utilize the competencies developed in their coursework by engaging in a sustained research project on a carefully framed topic. This course is an optional course for several MA concentrations as well as requirement for students who apply to the Research MDiv. The topic and research methodology must be approved in advance by the faculty supervisor. 

Distinguishing between a MA Project and an MA Thesis:

A Master’s Project is different from a Master’s Thesis in several ways. As a 3 credit class, it should represent less work than a thesis. Furthermore, the most important aspect of a Master’s Project is its situation in a particular ministry setting. A Master’s Project is the appropriate conclusion of our contextually focused degree programs (the MA [RIS] and the MA [AAM]). Therefore, the purpose of the Master’s Project is to enable students to apply what they have learned in SPU coursework to the particulars of a specified ministry setting.

While a Master’s Project can be constructed in a variety of ways, depending on the students’ interests and skills, the project must accomplish the following (based on the student learning outcomes for the degree programs):

  • The project will show that the student can write effectively.
  • The project will demonstrate that the student can apply knowledge of Christian theology (Scripture, history, doctrine, and ethics), racial, ethnic, and gender reconciliation theory, intercultural relations, and family systems to a particular ministry context.
  • If the project is pursued as part of the MA (AAM), the project will apply knowledge of Asian-American experience, culture, and identity to a particular ministry context.

While all projects need to be focused towards a particular ministry context, projects do not need to be detailed qualitative or quantitative human subject research of that context. If, however, students desire to do such research and are equipped with these skills, they are welcome to work with a faculty supervisor to design such a project. If the project includes any human subject research (i.e., asking questions in a specific context to then draw generalizable statements from them), the student must seek IRB approval for the project. Students should note that this application process can take several months, and SPS faculty does not provide assistance with it beyond what is posted on the website. IRB approval for such a project is required to protect the researcher and the subjects who participate in the research.

An MDiv student may also wish to complete a Thesis component for their degree. This requires applying to a specialize program known as the Research MDiv. 

Research MDiv (with Thesis)

If MDiv students are interested in doing a pursuing a thesis, they need to apply for the research-focused Master of Divinity (MDiv) degree. This degree is for students of exceptional academic ability. Admission into this program requires that a student achieve at least a 3.85 cumulative grade point average after completing 40 credits of coursework, and receive the approval of the ADGS and the Graduate Curriculum Committee. Students accepted to this research-focused MDiv degree will be required to complete a master’s thesis, following the standard protocol for THEO 6995, described below. For students who matriculated before Autumn 2017, the 6 credits of THEO 6995 will normally replace the 6 credits of Approved Interdisciplinary Courses which MDiv students are required to take. For students who matriculated after Autumn 2017, the 6 credits of THEO 6995 will normally replace 3 credits of Approved Interdisciplinary Courses and 3 credits of the 21 required elective credits. Thus, the research-focused MDiv has the same minimum credit count as the ministry-focused MDiv. The student’s official transcript will indicate completion of the thesis, but her/his university diploma will read no differently from that of other MDiv students.

To apply for the research MDiv, an interested student contacts the Associate Director for an initial conversation, and then emails the Associate Director and Associate Dean of Academic Programs with a rationale for why the research-MDiv is a good fit for them vocationally, as well as why they are qualified to pursue this degree. This email should also include a brief summary of the chosen topic to study. This should be submitted to the AD and ADAP at least a year before the student hopes to finish the degree and taken to the GSC for final approval.

Policies and Registration

Registration Information and Requirements for MA Projects and Theses

For students to complete a Master’s Project (THEO 6960) or Master’s Thesis (THEO 6995). Unless otherwise noted, the following instructions apply to both projects and theses:

  • Contact a faculty member well in advance (by spring of the year before) of the quarter you want to do your project or thesis and discuss your topic. Students aren’t responsible for having all of the details worked out about their particular topic, but they should approach their prospective supervisor either the general topic or question they are interested in for their thesis, or the specific ministry context and questions for their project. To determine an appropriate faculty supervisor, students should consult the SOT faculty website which includes descriptions of faculty teaching and research interests. Faculty supervisors must be determined at the point by which students submit their registration form; however, to ensure an on-time graduation students need to consult with faculty much earlier in the process.
  • When the student finds a faculty member to advise their project or thesis, both student and faculty member will fill out the Thesis Registration form. This registration form must have the faculty member’s signature and the theology librarian’s signature and must be submitted electronically (as a scanned PDF) to the Associate Director of Graduate Programs.
  • This registration form will determine the timeline for the project/thesis, individualized for the student and supervisor. Students and supervisors are responsible for determining their schedule, including the number of meetings needed for the successful completion of the thesis or project.

Registration deadlines for both projects and theses:

For registration in the following quarter:

Submit registration form by*

Fall Quarter

September 1

Winter Quarter

December 15

Spring Quarter

February 15

Summer Quarter

May 15

*In extenuating circumstances, if the Associate Director is consulted in advance, this registration deadline may be extended up until the third day of classes of the quarter in which the student wants to register. The AD must be alerted of this by the final day of classes of the quarter prior to the desired registration (e.g., alert on the last day of fall quarter classes in order to register for winter quarter THEO 6960/6995). If a student misses this deadline, they will need to register for the following quarter.

Thesis and Project Processes

  • Students writing master’s theses should read W. C. Booth, et. al., The Craft of Research, 4th (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2016), available digitally through SPU’s Library, in preparation for and prior to submission of a thesis proposal.
  • Once students have secured a faculty supervisor and begun work on their initial proposal, they should be in conversation with the theology librarian in order to ensure that the sources they need are accessible. The registration form for the class requires the signature of the theology librarian.
  • After the initial conversation and registration, students should have a clear idea of their responsibilities, along with the intermediate steps of the process. Students are responsible for following all standard academic protocols with respect to originality, content, format, and the documentation of sources. All sources cited or consulted, both print and electronic, shall be referenced in the bibliography, in strict accordance with the latest edition of the SOT Style Guide (which itself follows The SBL Handbook of Style). Students should be aware that citations generated by software (e.g., RefWorks, Zotero, Endnote) generally need to be proofread to ensure conformation to the SOT Style Guide. This proofreading is the student’s responsibility.
  • As students approach the end of the process, they should be aware that their faculty supervisor should see the penultimate draft of their project or thesis no later than six weeks before the last day of the quarter in which the student intends to graduate. At this point, the student and faculty supervisor should invite a second reader’s input (applicable for MA Theses only). Students should submit a revised, final draft no later than two weeks before the conclusion of the quarter in which they intend to graduate.
  • Formatting and length requirements (faculty supervisors may modify these requirements as necessary for a student’s particular project or thesis):

    1. Length:
      1. MA Theses: between 12,000 and 18,000 words of text (excluding notes and bibliography)
      2. MA Projects: no formal length requirements, but approximately 7000-9000 words (excluding notes, charts/diagrams [if applicable], and bibliography).
    2. Margins (theses and projects): Left margins, 1.5”. Right, top, and bottom margins, 1”.
    3. Font: 12-point font (Century Schoolbook, Palatino Linotype, Times New Roman, or Verdana).
    4. Title page and signature page completed and formatted in accordance with example (see below—note, first example is for MA theses, second is for MA projects).
  • If, at any point in the process, a student has trouble communicating with the faculty supervisor or second reader, or the supervisor/reader has difficulty communicating with the student, the concerned party should contact the Academic Dean.

Second Readers

  1. Students writing master’s theses are responsible for securing a second reader for their thesis. Faculty supervisors should assist with this request. Students should inquire with their choice of second reader no later than the beginning of the quarter in which they hope to finish the thesis. When the student has secured a second reader, the student is responsible for emailing the Academic Dean with this information, copying the faculty supervisor and the second reader on the email. Community members (non-SPS faculty) may be asked to be second readers. If a student desires a second reader who is not a member of the SOT faculty, the student should email this request to the Academic Dean, copying their faculty supervisor. This reader will be subject to Academic Dean approval and will be contacted by the Academic Dean for this work.
  2. The second reader should not be asked to read the thesis until the faculty supervisor has agreed to the consultation; usually, this would not be before the faculty supervisor has seen a second draft.
  3. A thesis is complete when both faculty supervisor and second reader sign off on the thesis and when both have completed the assessment for SPS degree program purposes.
  4. Second readers are not required for master’s projects.
Faculty and Staff Responsibilities
Responsibilities for the Associate Dean, Curriculum Coordinator, and Associate Director:

To provide general oversight of both courses. This shall be part of the administrator's regular duties, and shall not involve additional compensation. This oversight includes, but is not limited to:

  • To ensure that all MA (CSc), MA (CSt), MA (AAM), MA (RIS), and research-focused MDiv students who intend to graduate at the end of an academic year shall secure faculty supervisors for their thesis/project.
  • To monitor student process in accordance with the details on the individual student’s registration form.
  • To assure that overload contracts for faculty supervisors are properly prepared, signed, and submitted.
  • To prepare, sign, and file all necessary forms and other paperwork.
  • To arrange for the binding of a strip-bound copy for the SOT archives, for the uploading of electronic copies to the SPU electronic archives and to Digital Commons @ SPU in the SPU Library.
Responsibilities for the Faculty Supervisor

The faculty supervisor is responsible for overseeing the student’s work from the beginning, in identifying and narrowing down a topic, through the preparation of a proposal and intervening steps, to the completion of a final draft and bibliography.

  • The faculty supervisor will be approached by a student to supervise the thesis or project. No faculty member is required to undertake the supervision of a project or thesis.
  • The faculty supervisor is responsible for completing the registration form with the student, and marking down the intervening steps necessary for completion, along with required deadlines. These steps may be submitted only to the supervisor, or to the supervisor and the ADGS.
  • There are no specific requirements for the number of face-to-face meetings necessary for the completion of a project or thesis. However, students and supervisors are responsible for determining their schedule, including the number of meetings necessary for the completion of the thesis or project (e.g., once a quarter, once every two weeks, etc.).
  • The faculty supervisor must verify that all standard academic protocols are followed with respect to originality, content, format, and documentation of sources.
  • The faculty supervisor should grade and sign the finished project or thesis. Should a student not finish the project or thesis in the quarter in which they are registered for it, the faculty supervisor shall record a “G” (graduate-in-progress) grade. The faculty member is then responsible for changing that grade to a letter grade upon the work’s completion. ADGS approval is unnecessary for this grade change.
    1. A thesis is complete when both faculty supervisor and second reader sign off on the thesis and when both complete the assessment for SPS degree program purposes. A second reader is not responsible for the grade of the thesis.
    2. If there are significant discrepancies between the faculty supervisor and the second reader, the concerned party should bring the issue to the ADGS for mediation or adjudication.
  • Once the faculty supervisor and second reader have verified that the student has completed the thesis or project and the student has submitted to the ADGS an electronic copy with a signed signature sheet, the faculty supervisor will be paid an honorarium for his or her work, at the rate of $500/project and $750/thesis.
Responsibilities for the Second Reader (only for Theses)

The purpose of the second reader is to provide an independent assessment of the penultimate draft of the thesis.

  • If a member of the SOT faculty, the second reader will be approached by a student, in consultation with the faculty supervisor, to be a consultant and reader for the thesis. A second reader is not required to be a member of the SOT faculty, though he or she should have graduate training in theology and/or a secondary field pertaining to the thesis (e.g., Marriage and Family Therapy). If the second reader is not a member of the SOT faculty, he or she will be approved and contacted by the ADGS to serve this purpose.
  • The second reader is responsible for serving as an additional resource for the student at the end of the thesis, both positively suggesting ways in which the student could develop the thesis, and correctively indicating any problems.
  • A thesis is complete when both faculty supervisor and second reader sign off on the thesis and when both complete the assessment for SPS degree program purposes. A second reader is not responsible for the grade of the thesis. If there are significant discrepancies between the faculty supervisor and the second reader, the concerned party should bring the issue to the ADGS for mediation or adjudication.
  • No faculty member shall be required to serve as a second reader for an thesis.
  • The honorarium for a second reader is $250 per thesis.