Skip to main content

Religious Ethics

Organizing faculty: Nichole Flores, Willis Jenkins, Chuck Mathewes

Participating faculty: Liz Alexander, Michael Allen, Jessica Andruss, Asher Biemann, Ashon Crawley, Jennifer Geddes, David Germano, Natasha Heller, Shankar Nair, Ahmed al-Rahim, Noah Salomon


As an academic discipline, “ethics” is, broadly speaking, the scrutiny and self-critical analysis of how people live, and the critical construction of proposals for how they might live better. Scholarship in religious ethics investigates sources, ideas, archives, and practices that shape understandings of moral life. It may focus on specific traditions conventionally known as religious or may bring tools of religious studies to illuminate moral dimensions of culture more broadly. Study in this area seeks to foster deep understanding of some moral world(s) and critical reflection on normativity.

Course Requirements

There are no required courses in this research area, except for RELG 7360 (“Theories and Methods in the Study of Religion,” required of all PhD students. Faculty do regularly offer a seminar or tutorial in methods of religious ethics, which is generally advisable for students to take. As always, students should discuss their course plan with their advisor.

Comprehensive Exams

PhD candidates in religious ethics take five comprehensive exams. Normally these include:

  1. A primary tradition 
  2. A secondary tradition
  3. Moral, social, and political thought
  4. Applied ethics (bioethics, ethics and war, ethics and colonialism, ethics and the environment, business ethics, law and ethics, etc.)
  5. Topical or thematic, related to dissertation proposal.

In consultation with their advisor and when approved in the exam plan filed in their first year, individual students may have research reasons to take a different pattern of exams. Exams may be taken in any order within the six-month period allotted for exams, although the prospectus-related topic is often helpful to take last. The format of the exam is set by its first reader; usually they are single-day essay responses to questions.  

There are currently no fixed reading lists; the bibliography for each exam is developed by the PhD student in consultation with their advisor. There are, however, previous lists in circulation among students and advisors which are often the best place to start in developing a new one.