The Religious Ethics Area is concerned with the meaning, merits, and validity of religion for the lives of human and non-human animals and the ordering of societies and ecosystems

Faculty: Sarah E. Fredericks, Richard B. MillerWilliam SchweikerLaurie Zoloth

Associated Faculty: Stephen C. Meredith, Martha C. Nussbaum

The Area addresses problems of the good life, justice, and the common good. Study in the history, methods, and theories of religious and non-religious ethics is essential to work in the area. All students are encouraged to pursue work in pertinent areas of the University outside of the Divinity School.  For example, the examination of specific moral problems and the study of comparative religious ethics require work in the relevant languages as well as in the social, natural, and historical sciences or in the professions.

NB: Information pertains to all students accepted in 2017 and forward. Current doctoral students may opt to take the exams listed below. 

Students admitted prior to 2017 may take Comprehensive Exams from the previous RETH reading lists and instructions, which can be found here (pdf).

Second-year Progress Conference

The second-year progress conference is normally held in the spring quarter of the second year. Students must register for the conference by the first Friday of the quarter in which the conference is to be held, using a form available on the Dean of Students webpage.  For general guidelines, please consult the PhD Handbook. 

Conferences include a review of the student’s course of study petition, assessment of coursework to date, assessment of the student’s readiness for qualifying examinations, development of the dissertation project, and a review of the student’s career plans.  Students are required to submit a substantive research paper for discussion at the conference.  The research paper may be one that a student has submitted in a course or a revision thereof.  The paper should provide the faculty with a clear idea of the student’s intellectual profile and possible trajectory of future research.  The paper should state a thesis and advance a clear line of argument in twenty to twenty-five pages, not including bibliography, and document the primary and secondary sources on which the student has relied. 

Statement of Written and Oral Qualifying Examinations

A student concentrating in Religious Ethics will take three written examinations in the Area, one outside of the Area, and write a paper, all of which are to be defended at the oral examination.   Students are required to take Religious Ethics I: Religious and Theological Ethics, and Religious Ethics II: Moral Theory and Philosophical Ethics. Students are to choose one examination among the remaining four examinations and one elective examination outside the Area.  The elective examination may be selected from outside the Divinity School with the approval of the Area faculty. 

A student concentrating in Religious Ethics will submit for the Oral Examination a twenty-five to forty page paper, which typically engages at least one major thinker, relevant primary materials, and also important secondary scholarship with respect to a question pertinent to the student’s scholarly aspirations. This paper should have a thesis in light of which the student explicates and assesses the thinker(s) chosen and should advance, through that engagement, a defense of the thesis. The paper should be distributed to examiners at least two weeks prior to the oral examination.

The distinctive business of the oral examination is to engage the written examinations, the research paper, and other related lines of inquiry.  


Each written examination is four hours long, closed book.   The oral examination is two hours long.   Successful completion of the Qualifying Examinations requires passing grades on the written examinations, the research paper, and the oral examination. 

Qualifying Examinations in Religious Ethics and Faculty Supervisors

Each exam will be drafted by two members of the Religious Ethics faculty and will be read by all full-time faculty members in the Religious Ethics area for the student’s oral defense.   Students applying to the Area through an internal petition and students who are drafting their program of study are to have the relevant faculty supervisors overseeing each examination sign off on their forms.   Faculty who oversee the drafting of the Qualifying Examinations are:

Guidelines for the Doctoral Dissertation

Dissertation Guidelines can be found here (pdf)

Sample Courses

  • RETH 30600 Introduction to Theological Ethics.
  • RETH 30802 Contemporary Religious Ethics I and 30803, II.  
  • RETH 31100 History of Theological Ethics I and 31200, Part II. 
  • RETH 31500 The Letters of Cicero and Seneca. 
  • RETH 32000 Religion and Political Liberalism. 
  • RETH 36002 The Ethics of War: Foundational Texts. 
  • RETH 40200 Beyond Morality: Nietzsche and Kierkegaard. 
  • RETH 41000 Feminist Philosophy.
  • RETH 41300 Modern Roman Catholic Moral Theology. 
  • RETH 41500 Decision Making: Principles and Foundations. 
  • RETH 42500 Anger and Hatred in the Western Philosophic Tradition. 
  • RETH 42604 Collective Guilt, Shame, and Responsibility. 
  • RETH 42802 Rights and Justice.  
  • RETH 43302 The Ethics of Belief. 
  • RETH 44000 Methods and Theories in Comparative Religious Ethics. 
  • RETH 44802 Contemporary Social and Political Ethics. 
  • RETH 45102 Religion, Medicine, and Ethics. 
  • RETH 45502 Religion and the Political Order. 
  • RETH 46600 Self, World, Other: The Thought of Paul Tillich. 
  • RETH 50315 Amartya Sen’s Philosophical Work. 
  • RETH 51204 Sustainability. 
  • RETH 51802 Climate Change Ethics. 
  • RETH 52104 Augustine, Kierkegaard, and the Problem of Love.