In general Do a deep dive into any subject we’ve covered during the semester, e.g., a specific religion, a religious ritual or sacrament, religious dress, dietary laws, holidays, etc. Comparative study of marriage rites or burial customs in several
PAPER TOPICS—RLST 306
In general: Do a deep dive into any subject we’ve covered during the semester, e.g., a specific religion, a religious ritual or sacrament, religious dress, dietary laws, holidays, etc.
Comparative study of marriage rites or burial customs in several
Non-violence in Jainism & Buddhism
Choose a topic in consultation with the prof, and write a paper of about 2,000 words plus a bibliography. Begin by consulting the bibliographies in the textbook, and the prof will provide additional suggestions, including Internet sites. During the final two class periods (May 11 & 13), you will present a very brief oral, summary of your paper to your classmates.
A TERM PAPER SURVIVAL GUIDE (B.J. Hubbard, Dept. of Religious Studies)
1. Why do professors inflict term/research papers on students in the first place?
The paper is meant as a window into the whole subject being studied in a course. By looking at one topic in depth, you get a feeling for the richness of the subject as a whole. The paper is also intended to improve writing skills—and that means thinking skills. Finally, researching a given topic teaches you about research in general, i.e., how to find in-depth information on any complex topic you might need to explore in the real world.
2. To whom is the term paper actually written?
You are writing to your peers, your classmates, as well as to the teacher. Because you’ll present an oral summary of the paper to the entire class, you are writing for them, too (just as you will in the post-university world).
3. How do I go about choosing a topic?
(a) Choose a general topic from my suggestions or from your own interests.
(b) Do preliminary research on it by consulting class notes and textbooks, Wikipedia, Google, Bing, library’s amazing “One Search,” encyclopedia entries, journal or magazine articles, websites, etc. Note: Use Wikipedia as an introduction to in-depth research, not a conclusion.
(c) See me (or we’ll discuss in class) with a brief status report and I’ll make further suggestions on how to narrow your topic and on bibliographical resources.
(d) Narrow your topic to a specific area or issue that you’ve really found interesting. For example, you began with the general topic “The Dead Sea Scrolls.” After preliminary research, you decide to zero in on a specific document, the “Community Rule.” After reading and reflecting on it, you then decide to compare its rules and worldview to that of Judaism in general during this period (first century B.C.E. to first century C.E.) Now you have a more manageable project.
(e) At this point you’re ready for in-depth research. This consists of: [i] reading books and articles about your topic which you’ve found on line (e.g., good ol’ Google/Bing), “One Search,” and bibliographies at the end of books; and [ii], most importantly, reading so-called primary source documents. To take the Dead Sea Scrolls example, you can’t do an adequate paper on the “Community Rule” simply by reading books about it. You must read the Rule itself or excerpts from it so that you can better judge whether the books about it are factual, well reasoned, and balanced. The same is true of writing a paper on the First Amendment where your primary text is the Constitution and Supreme Court decisions, & books about them secondary.
NOTE: Don’t be overly impressed by everything you read in books or articles or, especially, on line. These materials/authors are only as good as the arguments they make & the data they provide. some books are woefully out-of-date. As a rule of thumb, be wary of books/articles that are more than about 40 years old. All fields of research have advanced dramatically since 1980.
4. How do I make sure that I say what I want to?
(a) Draw up a short outline in which you list, in a logical order, the points to be covered.
(b) At the beginning of the paper, you may state very briefly your reasons for writing about this topic. For example, “This paper will examine the importance of the ‘Community Rule’ to the Dead-Sea-Scroll community by discussing its contents, variations from traditional Jewish practices and implications for the life of this unique Jewish sect.” In a shorter paper, the title of your paper may be enough to make your objective clear.
(c) At the end of the paper, summarize its contents and draw your ideas together into a conclusion.
NOTE: In a research paper of this kind, state the facts about the subject as various authorities present them. Sometimes, though, they will disagree and you will have to decide which experts’ arguments are the most convincing. however, the final conclusions on THE topic are, of course, your own.
5. How do I deal with the mean mechanics of footnoting and assembling a bibliography?
(a) Footnotes/endnotes are used for the following reasons:
(i) to provide the source of a direct quote; (ii) to provide the source of a principal point or argument in your paper, even though you haven’t quoted directly; (iii) to mention an interesting point that would interrupt the flow of the paper but is worth bringing to the reader’s attention.
(b) There are actually three ways to cite your sources: (1) conventional footnotes at the bottom of the page, (2) a series of endnotes grouped together at the end of the paper on a separate page, and (3) parenthetical references. With footnotes and endnotes, provide the following information: author’s name, title of book/article, publisher & city, page number. With parenthetical references, simply provide in parentheses (right in the body of the paper) the author’s last name, date of book cited, and the page number if you quote him/her directly. Otherwise, just put the author’s name & the date in parentheses (Jones, 2008). For example: “The 1947 discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls has revolutionized our understanding of early Judaism” (Jones, 2008, 21). In the bibliography, your reader will find the details on Jones: the name of her book, when published, by whom, etc. Remember that—even with the parenthetical system—you will still have to add a conventional foot/endnote if you want to mention a side point which interrupts the flow of the essay (see “a” above).
(c) The entries in your bibliography should look like this:
Jones, Mary The Significance of the Dead Scrolls. New York:
1996 Hudson Publishers.
2006 “Parallels between the Community Rule and Gospel of John.” Journal of Biblical Literature 100:65-77.
Smith, John The Dead Sea Scrolls in Modern English. Philadelphia:
1998 Fortress Press
2002 “The Mystery of the Scrolls.” In William Johnson (ed.), The Scrolls in Recent Scholarship, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 126-55.
Thomas, Ann “Dead Sea Scrolls.” In Geoffrey Wilson (ed.), Encyclopedia Britannica. Chicago: Britannica
1991 Vol. 4, pp. 235-89.
When you cite an article from an edited book with several contributors or from an encyclopedia with numerous contributors, you should first enter (in your bibliography) the name of the author of the book chapter/article—not the editor. (See examples above.)
REMEMBER, THE IMPORTANT AIMS IN NOTES AND BIBLIOGRAPHIES ARE TO: (a) AUTHENTICATE YOUR WORK (b) PROVIDE ENOUGH INFORMATION THAT SOMEONE ELSE CAN FIND THE SOURCE & (c) BE CONSISTENT.
6. When should direct quotations be used?
The best rule is to use them sparingly and only when the direct words of your source are really important and memorable. Otherwise, your essay may end up looking like a “cut and paste” job that doesn’t read well and leaves us wondering whether you have actually understood the material quoted. So put the ideas in your own words whenever possible.
7. How much “in your own words” does an author’s thought have to be to avoid plagiarism?
You cannot avoid the charge of copying or plagiarism by simply changing a few words from the author’s original statement. You need to change it substantially so that it sounds like you and not the expert. An example, using a quote from Gary Wills’ book Under God, should help:
“Journalists miss the point when they keep asking, after each new church scandal, if a preacher’s fall has shaken the believer’s faith.” (Wills, 1994, 29)
It would still be considered a form of copying if Wills’ statement were rendered as follows:
Journalists are missing the point if they ask, after each new religious scandal, if a preacher’s fall has shaken the faith of believers.
This is closer to what you should aim for:
Journalists are mistaken who think the faith of believers is going to be undermined every time a preacher falls from grace.
8. In a research term paper of this kind, is there a rule of thumb as to how many books/articles/websites ought to be consulted and listed?
There is no magic number—it depends on the nature of the topic and the sweat of the researcher. However, in a paper of six pages, for example, you should have consulted at least six sources. As to footnotes, 12 to 14 of them in a six-page paper would usually be adequate.
9. Are interviews an acceptable source in this kind of paper?
If the subject of the paper is a contemporary issue, e.g., “How do American Muslims view the State of Israel?” an interview with an expert on the subject might be appropriate. This could also be the case with a paper on the Dead Sea Scrolls, but it’s a good idea to check with your prof for guidance on whom he/she would accept as an expert. You would list interviews as follows in your bibliography: Ibrahim, Prof. Zakyi. Interview conducted on April 26, 2021.
10. How should I use and cite material obtained from the Internet?
The Web can be a valuable source of information, but remember that—like a large fishing net with everything in it from salmon to plastic bags—it contains unedited comments by amateurs in a particular field, magazine articles, data banks, scholarly pieces, etc. Use it judiciously and cite your sources as you would any other article. Here is an example of a Web citation: www.pewforum.org/2010/02/17/religion-among-the-millenials/ accessed April 16, 2021. If there is no author listed (as in this case), just supply the name of the web site.
A FURTHER WORD ABOUT WIKIPEDIA: It may be good place to start your research but not to finish it. Somewhat like Google, it can get you going and usually provides accurate information.
11. How can I get feedback before submitting the paper and avoid typos, grammatical errors & lack of clarity?
With any research paper, you should always have someone else (classmate, friend, significant other, or parent) read it to check for such problems.
12. What are four of the English-speaking world’s most common grammatical errors?
(a) Mixing up it’s (=it is, as in, “It’s cold today.”) and its (=of it, as in, “Its meaning is not clear.”)
(b) Mixing up there (=an impersonal noun, as in “There is [there’s] no place to hide.”); their (=of them, as in, “Their ideas are strange,” or “The strange ideas are theirs.”); and they’re=they are, as in, “They’re great friends.”
(c) Using an apostrophe to indicate a plural form, as in: The Scroll’s are a treasure (should just be Scrolls). Apostrophe s (‘s) indicates possession: John’s book or the students’ books.
(d) Using “would of” instead of “would’ve” (i.e., would have).
13. What items should I check before submitting the paper?
(a) Does the paper fall within the prescribed number of words/pages (and did I paginate it)?____
(b) Have I carefully proof-read the paper at least twice?____
(c) Have I included a bibliography?____
(d) Did I use footnotes or parenthetical references to document my sources?____
(e) Have I written the one-page summary for fellow students & the prof?____
(f) Have I saved my essay electronically and made a photocopy of it? (Professors’ offices have been known to burn down!) ____
14. What is a run-on sentence? It is a sentence which runs into another sentence the readers are not able to follow your argument they end up frustrated.