Graduate Theological Union
Ethics and Social Theory
The Ethics and Social Theory Area of the GTU requires an interdisciplinary approach to the fields of Christian Ethics and Social Theory. Students will concentrate in either Ethics or Social Theory, and select a secondary discipline from the theological, scientific or social scientific disciplines. It is distinctive of this program that ethicists will acquire grounding in social sciences, while social theorists will acquire grounding in moral theory. It is our conviction that while moral theory and social theory are distinctive fields of study, they are intrinsically related.
Core Doctoral Faculty
JEROME P. BAGGETT • JST (Religion and Society) • Sociology of religion; sociology of culture; religion, politics, and civil society; American Catholicism; Atheism and secularity.
JAMES A. DONAHUE • GTU (Ethics) • Virtues, practices and religious ethics; professional ethics; ethical perspectives in the media; institutional and organizational ethics; ethics and leadership; religion and social theory; religion and politics; comparative religious ethics.
LISA FULLAM • JST (Moral Theology) • Moral theology; virtue ethics; Ignatian spirituality; sexual ethics; medical and bioethics.
WILLIAM O’NEILL, S.J. • JST (Social Ethics) • Issues in human rights, the rhetoric of human rights; ethics of social reconciliation; Christian social ethics; international and domestic justice; theological inculturation of ethics; refugee and immigration policy.
CAROL S. ROBB • SFTS (Social Ethics) • Environmental ethics, particularly the ethics of climate change politics; economic justice, particularly in agriculture, gender justice, and the rights of first peoples; feminist and womanist ethics; the use of scripture in ethics.
DORSEY O. BLAKE • SKSM (Religion and Society) • Spirituality and prophetic justice; Dr. Howard Thurman; Gandhi and King; spiritual discipline and social change; mysticism and action.
MARIANNE FARINA, C.S.C. • DSPT (Philosophy and Theology) • Ethics; Islam; social justice; human rights; interreligious dialogue; human sexuality; philosophical ethics of East and West.
EDWARD KRASEVAC, O.P. • DSPT (Philosophy and Theology) • Theological implications of the Third Quest of the Historical Jesus; the natural law theory of Aquinas; the concept of the “indirectly voluntary”; the relations of “proportionalism” to the moral theology of Aquinas.
GABRIELLA LETTINI • SKSM (Public Ministry) • Feminist, womanist, and liberationist ethics and theologies; economic and racial justice, white privilege, grass-roots community organizing; moral injury and war; truth commissions; ethical imagination and the arts.
RANDALL MILLER • PSR (Ethics & Social Theory) • Theories of justice; faith and public policy; postmodern theories; Black and Womanist theologies; economic justice; political theologies.
JAMES NOEL • SFTS (American Religion) • American church history; Black church history; African-American religious experience; urban ministry.
ROBERT RUSSELL • GTU/CTNS (Theology and Science) • Resurrection, eschatology and physical cosmology; Trinitarian theologies of Pannenberg, Tillich, Rahner, and Peters in relation to the natural sciences; time and eternity in relation to physics; non-interventionist objective divine action (NIODA) and quantum mechanics; Christology and life in the universe; creation and physical cosmology; theological and scientific methodologies; inter-religious dialogue and natural science.
Offered at CDSP, DSPT, JST, PSR, SFTS, SKSM
Study in this area combines ethics and the social sciences. It includes a focus on theological and social ethics, with attention to ethical theory and history, analysis, and policy as related to politics, health care, feminist ethics, sexual ethics, professional ethics, or environmental ethics. The area can also include the study of religion as a cultural and social phenomenon, with attention to theory, methodology, and research in related disciplines such as sociology and anthropology.
The doctoral program in Ethics and Social Theory prepares students to contextualize the major figures in the development of ethics and social theory, to interrelate the primary and secondary areas of specialization, to do research, construct an ethical argument, and conduct critical social analysis. With these skills, our students have gone on to teach ethics, social ethics, and social theory in undergraduate and graduate programs in colleges, universities, and seminaries; to provide leadership to organizations, agencies, or corporations; and to serve churches at the local, regional, and national levels. Our hope is that as one matures in the program, one becomes more capable of speaking and writing on ethical matters in the public sphere.
In alliance with the GTU requirements for foreign languages, the Area requires students to have research competence in two languages other than their mother tongue. One of these languages must be German, French, or Spanish. The second must be a modern or ancient language appropriate to the student’s research project. Non-native speakers of English may certify English as one of their foreign languages according to the standards set by the GTU. The language certification must be met before the special comprehensive examination proposal can be approved.
Students will be required generally to complete a sequence of three courses, which will be offered over a two-year period. These courses are History of Western Social and Ethical Thought I and II, which will be offered in the fall and spring semesters of one year; and either Methods in Ethics or Foundational Social Theory which will be offered in the fall and spring semesters of the other year. Additionally there will be “recommended” courses taught on a regular basis (e.g. Theories of Justice, Human Rights, Scripture and Ethics, etc.) as well as other supplemental courses. The course work will enable the students to demonstrate their abilities to contextualize the major figures in the development of ethical theory and social theory, to construct an ethical argument, to conduct critical social analysis, and to develop bibliographies relevant to their research interests.
Students are required to complete successfully five written exams and an oral comprehensive examination. The first of two general comprehensive exams is the History of Western Social and Ethical Thought examination. The purpose of this exam is to assess the student’s capacity to contextualize the major contributors to the development of ethics and social theory.
The second general comprehensive examination represents the student’s area of concentration. This examination will be in Methodological Approaches to Ethics and Theories of Justice / Human Rights for those students concentrating in Ethics and in Foundational Social Theory for those students concentrating in Social Theory. The purpose of Exam II is to document the student’s ability to evaluate the strengths of the major modes of ethical argument and assess the strengths of the various approaches to justice theory and human rights theory; or to document the student’s ability to assess the usefulness of the major modes of social analysis.
The structure of comprehensive examination III will vary according to the secondary discipline selected by the student, and will be proposed to the Area faculty for approval. Students in ethics who choose social theory as their secondary field will take the recommended social theory exam; students in social theory who chose ethics as their secondary field will take the recommended ethics exam. Possible options for meeting the requirements of this exam for students who chose any other secondary field include:
- Taking the comprehensive exam required of students in the secondary field.
- Taking the standard doctoral seminar for students in this field and writing a seminar-length (20-25 pages) paper for it. This paper may also be submitted for Research Readiness Review.
- Working independently with a faculty member in the secondary field, and writing a seminar-length (20-25 pages) paper for it.
Exam IV and V are individualized. Students examine topics that are specific to the Area, but reflect their particular research interests. Exam IV may be taken in either a four-hour, closed-book format or in a 24-hour, take-home format while Exam V must be an approximately 30-page paper. The purpose of these exams is to document critical reading of key issues in the student’s chosen concentration as well as the breadth of her or his field of study.
After successfully completing the oral examination on the written Comprehensive Exams, the student forms a dissertation committee and proceeds to formulate a dissertation proposal approved by the Area faculty and the Doctoral Council. An oral defense takes place upon completion of the dissertation.
The student must take and pass:
- Exam I: the History of Western Social and Ethical Thought general comprehensive examination; AND
- The "Methodological Approaches" examination (from Exam II) in the student's primary area of concentration; OR
- Exam III in the student's complementary area of concentration.