1. Overview
  2. Evaluation of the MRE
  3. Choosing a Supervisor
  4. Choosing a Second Reader
  5. The Role of the Supervisor
  6. The Role of the Second Reader
  7. Choosing (and Changing) a Topic
  8. Formatting the MRE
  9. Deadlines
    2. MAY
    3. AUGUST


The Major Research Essay (MRE) is a 65-80 page academic essay that may engage in empirical, theoretical or archival research. The MRE should engage in original research and/or analysis. The subject matter for the MRE is open to any historical or contemporary subject, but it must be focused on the theme of religion and public life, and must demonstrate an appropriate and sophisticated use of theoretical and methodological approaches to the discipline. All MREs will employ the Chicago Manual of Style (Humanities) for citation and all MREs must include a 100 to 150 word abstract.

Students are encouraged to build on and develop aspects of their completed course work for the MRE, but the MRE will differ demonstrably from course work already submitted for credit.

The MRE will be examined by the supervisor and a second reader, normally a Religion faculty member. A second reader is to be named by no later than the end of May in order for MREs to be submitted during the first week of August. The Second Reader Approval form is to be filled out once a second reader has been selected. The selection of a second reader is done by the supervisor and graduate coordinator in consultation with the student.

Individual faculty members are available to consult with students on their MRE even if that faculty member is not the student’s primary supervisor or second reader. Students and supervisors are encouraged to work closely together to produce a strong final document.

The expectations of an exceptional MRE are that it, or parts of it, will be of publishable quality in an academic peer-reviewed journal.

Evaluation of the MRE

The MRE will be assigned a letter grade once both readers have read the document and assigned a grade independently. In the event that the supervisor and second reader’s grades are in disagreement, the coordinator will ask them to consult and see if an agreement can be reached.  If agreement cannot be reached the Graduate Coordinator becomes a third reader and determines the final grade. If the Graduate Coordinator feels unable to adequately assess the quality of the MRE due to a lack of expertise in the topic he/she may seek out a qualified third reader who will advise the Coordinator on the final grade. Once a final grade has been agreed upon, the student will make any required changes to the document and submit one clean electronic copy to the Graduate Administrator.

Choosing a Supervisor

  • You will have a chance to meet potential supervisors in RELI 5801, Seminar in the Discipline, where Religion faculty will present their research.
  • Supervisors must be Religion faculty or have rights to supervise in Religion according to University regulations
  • Supervisor and MRE topic are submitted to the MA Coordinator for approval through the MRE Approval Form  (In the second week of November, due on the day that RELI 5801 meets, to be handed in in class.)
  • Students may approach any Religion faculty member to request that they serve as Supervisor.
  • Faculty may accept or decline at their discretion and are discouraged from accepting too many students in any given year.

Choosing a Second Reader

  • The second reader must be chosen with the approval of the MRE Supervisor and the Program Coordinator. Second Reader form to be submitted by the last week of May.
  • S/he should be a Carleton faculty member, preferably in the Religion program or, if a Religion faculty member is not available, from a cognate discipline at Carleton University with expertise in the MRE topic.
  • 2nd Readers may, exceptionally, be chosen from outside of Carleton.
  • While students are responsible for requesting that a faculty member serve as Second Reader, this request should only be extended with the prior approval of the Supervisor and Program Coordinator.

The Role of the Supervisor

  • Supervisors actively facilitate the student’s task of producing a well conceived, rigorously researched, thoughtfully argued,  clearly articulated Major Research Essay.
  • Faculty of the Religion program recognize that different supervisors and students may find different modes of working well together to assist the student in developing the MRE.
  • Students and supervisors are encouraged to speak frankly about what degree of structure a student would benefit from during the supervision process (weekly or monthly meetings, frequency and level of detail for feedback, assistance with writing or research methods, etc.)
  • All students and supervisors are encouraged to set up clear timelines with explicit expectations about how a student should meet those expectations.  It is suggested that this minimally includes deadlines for an outline, preliminary bibliography, first drafts of key sections, complete draft, final submission.

The Role of the Second Reader

  • There is some flexibility in the role of the second reader and expectations should be discussed early on between the Supervisor, potential Second Reader, and the student.
  • Minimally, the Second Reader assures the quality of the MRE meets University and disciplinary standards for a major research project at the graduate level by participating in the evaluation of that project.
  • Supervisors and Second Reader may agree that the Second Reader should participate in a more formative and collaborative fashion, including early consultations on bibliographies, theoretical approaches, methodological questions, project outlines, reading sections or an early draft and making recommendations on how to improve the project.

Choosing (and Changing) a Topic

  • The topic of the MRE must primarily and significantly engage the theoretical questions that frame the academic study of the theme of Religion and Public life.
  • Students propose a topic through the Letter of Intent submitted through their application to the program.  This choice is not binding but allows the admission committee insight as to whether the student understands the program and whether the program is well suited to the student’s interests.
  • It is expected that students will (especially in the course of their studies during their first semester) study with new faculty who introduce them to diverse topics and a wide array of theoretical and methodological questions. Students are therefore encouraged to modify, revise or even dramatically change their MRE topic from their original proposed topic.

Formatting the MRE

Please note:  The University is moving to the electronic deposit of theses and Major Research Essays will soon follow.  It is recommended that students observe the formatting requirements outlined for theses.



  • MAJOR RESEARCH ESSAY APPROVAL FORM:  The MRE Form must be submitted by the second week of November of each year and requires the signatures of the Supervisor and Student.  It will then be approved by the Coordinator and signed.


  • SECOND READER FORM:  The Second Reader Form must be submitted by the last week of May and requires the signatures of the Supervisor, Second Reader and student.  It will then be approved by the Coordinator and signed.


  • SUBMISSION:  By the end of the first week of August in each year – submission of the final draft to the supervisor and second reader.  This is provided by the student and may be electronic or printed as requested by the supervisor and second reader.  Do not submit a copy at this time to the department.
    The final draft of your MRE is the version that will be graded by your supervisor and your second reader.
  • GRADE BY SUPERVISOR AND SECOND READER:  By the end of the third week of August in each year – independent submission of final grade by the supervisor and second reader to the graduate coordinator and the return of the final drafts to the student for minor corrections
    The supervisor and second reader submit the grade independently to the program Coordinator.
  • SUBMIT CLEAN ELECTRONIC COPY:  By the end of August in each year – submission by the student of one final electronic copy to the Religion Graduate Administrator.
    A student’s supervisor and second reader may request minor changes to the final draft such as the correction of typos, minor syntax errors and so on. These corrections should be made by the student so that the final electronic copy of the MRE kept by the Religion Program represents a ‘clean’ version of it.
  • GRADE ENTERED BY COORDINATOR:   By the end of August in each year – submission of grades for the summer term by the Graduate Coordinator