The thesis is an 80 to 120 page sustained argument based on original research that represents a scholarly contribution to current topics in philosophy, theology, or history. In the last year of a student's work at the GST, they work with their advisor to develop a thesis topic. Once an area of research is decided, students write a thesis prospectus that outlines their project and then put together a thesis committee of professors from the GST and (often) from other institutions as well. Scholars from outside ACU who have been members of thesis committees include: William Abraham (SMU), Stanley Hauerwas (Duke), and Paul Moser (Loyola-Chicago). Students work closely with their advisor and other committee members as they write the thesis, culminating with an oral thesis defense where students respond to oral critiques from their thesis committee members.
Essentially, the thesis at the GST resembles a Ph.D. dissertation but on a much smaller scale. Students are expected to utilize research methods and sources to develop an original argument that both prepares the student for future work in a Ph.D. program as well as representing a sample of writing that displays students' capabilities.
Working with Faculty
Students work on their thesis in partnership with their faculty advisor. As such, this provides an opportunity that rivals any degree program in the United States. An experience like this is often reserved for doctoral students at other schools, leaving master level students much on their own. However, at ACU students work closely with their advisor in working through drafts of the project, learning how to interpret primary sources, and adopting a methodology that allows for constructive proposals. As such, students learn how to be contributors to the academy rather than be mere observers.
"Doctoral Level" Research
The Thesis project involves doing original work with primary sources. As such, it is the most important part of the degree for preparing students to go on to do doctoral work. Further, many students use parts of their thesis as a "writing sample" when they apply to doctoral programs. Additionally, some students turn chapters into published articles in peer-reviewed journals.
For the History track the interaction with primary sources has included the study of often-ignored texts that lay the groundwork for original contributions to areas of study. For example, Jeremy Hegi wrote his thesis about Don Carlos Jones, an early 20th-century Churches of Christ missions advocate. Hegi discovered this topic through his research of countless periodicals, books, debates, biographies and even rare correspondence he found through the Center for Restoration Studies in the Brown Library. Also, recent graduate Jamey Walters wrote his thesis about Aphrahat, a Syriac Church Father. Jamey learned the ancient language of Syriac under Dr. Jeff Childers and used this knowledge to translate one of Aphrahat's writings that had not previously been translated into English (which he later published while still working on his Ph.D.). These are only two examples of how students were equipped with the ability to work on original projects from learning how to use (and where to find) primary research sources.
The theology track teaches students to interact with both ancient and contemporary sources in the field of theological and religious studies. The course readings in classes teach students to understand a field by reading the primary texts. Though secondary literature is not neglected, the main focus is on primary literature. Instead of reading about figures like Maximus, Augustine, Aquinas, or Barth, students actually read these key figures. In fact, professors of Ph.D. classes are often surprised at the quality of the assigned readings in these master level courses. In addition to the classics of Christian theology, important contemporary sources are also engaged so that students have an understanding of the current issues in Philosophy (for example, epistemology), Ethics, Systematic Theology, Philosophy of Religion, and Religious Studies. All of these classes lay the groundwork for developing a thesis project. Recent graduate David Mahfood's thesis combined recent work in epistemology with the soteriological works of Athanasius and Anselm as a way of arguing that "understanding" as an epistemic aim makes more sense of how soteriological theorizing was done in the Christian tradition before the modern period. David is now continuing his exploration of this topic in doctoral studies at SMU.
Some Recent Thesis Projects
- Jeremy Hegi, "Don Carlos Jones: One Man Missionary Society," 2012.
- David Mahfood, "Understanding Salvation : A Canonical-Theistic Approach to Soteriological Theories Applied to the Work of Anathasius and Anselm," 2010.
- Walter Lamont Taylor, "An Analysis of Reinhold Niebuhr's Theological Anthropology," 2010.
- Nicolas Acosta, "Eucharist and Deconstruction: Toward a Sacramental Theology of Weakness," 2010.
- James Edward Walters, "The Philoxenian Gospels as Reconstructed from the Exegetical Writings of Philoxenus of Mabbug," 2009.
- Mark Edward Wylie, "A Christological Option for Clayton's Emergent Panentheism," 2007.
- Christopher Dowdy, "Democracy and Incarnation : Christian Theology in Conversation with Jeffrey Stout," 2006.
- James R. Hooten, "St. Thomas Aquinas and Virtue Epistemology," 2006.
- Jennifer Thweatt-Bates, "Chaos Theory and the Problem of Evil," 2002.