Religious Ethics

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: Raissa de Rande, Sarah E. Fredericks, Richard B. MillerWilliam SchweikerLaurie Zoloth

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

The Religious Ethics 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.  

Guidelines for the Doctoral Dissertation

Dissertation Guidelines can be found here (pdf)

Sample Courses

  • History of Religious and Theological Ethics I
  • History of Religious and Theological Ethics II
  • Contemporary Religious Ethics I: History and Method
  • Contemporary Religious Ethics II: Identity and Difference
  • The Ethics of War: Foundational Texts
  • Feminist Philosophy
  • Introduction to Environmental Ethics
  • Religion, Society, and Culture
  • Jewish Ethics: Arendt, Susman, Rand, Peixotto
  • Collective Agency and Responsibility
  • Methods and Theories in Comparative Religious Ethics
  • Contemporary Social and Political Ethics
  • Contagion: Plague, Power, and Epidemics
  • Religion and the Political Order
  • Veracity: The Ethics of Truth and Truthtelling
  • Self, World, Other: The Thought of Paul Tillich
  • Sustainability
  • Good and Evil: Reading Levinas and Arendt
  • God and Morality
  • Climate Change Ethics
  • Augustine, Kierkegaard, and the Problem of Love