Department of Religious Studies

Religion and Critical Thought (RCT)

RCT students in this program focus on issues, problems, and texts concerning: philosophy and religion, religious ethics (that is, the interrelation among religion, ethics, and politics), and the theory of religion.

The program endeavors to integrate these areas, encouraging students to work at the intersection of normative and critical approaches, topics and disciplines.

RCT students focus on issues, problems, and texts concerning: 

  • Philosophy and religion
  • Religious ethics (that is, the interrelation among religion, ethics, and politics)
  • Theory of religion

The program endeavors to integrate these areas, encouraging students to work at the intersection of normative and critical approaches, topics and disciplines.

Given the program's emphasis on theory and critical thought, students are given broad exposure to classic and contemporary issues, problems, and texts associated with philosophy of religion, ethics, social-scientific theory, theology, and political philosophy. At the same time, students are required to gain competence in at least one religious tradition in order to lend specificity to critical reflection on various aspects of religion and the study of religion.


Candidates are admitted to the program with a Master's Degree and also directly from their undergraduate programs. Typically, students will have done previous work in the socio-critical and philosophical study of religion.


Students with a masters degree in a relevant field will normally take two years of coursework; students entering with a bachelor’s degree will normally take three years. During the coursework stage, students are expected to enroll in 4 courses each semester the first year, and three in subsequent years. Students in their first three years of graduate studies are normally expected to participate in at least three RCT graduate seminars. After the third year, students should consult with the RCT advisor about whether they are expected to take a particular RCT seminar. Generally speaking, students will draw on resources throughout the humanities and social sciences, for example, in the departments of Philosophy, Political Science, Comparative Literature, Africana Studies, Judaic Studies, Classics, Anthropology, and Sociology. In consultation with the core RCT faculty, students will develop a schedule that will satisfy the requirement for competence in a religious tradition through coursework. Additionally, students must demonstrate familiarity with a second religious tradition; this religious diversity requirement, depending on the judgment of the RCT faculty, may be satisfied by coursework done prior to attendance at Brown or by one or two additional courses at Brown.

Annual Meeting with Faculty

The student will meet annually with the RCT core faculty, normally toward the end of the spring semester. This informal meeting is an opportunity to talk broadly about the student's trajectory in the program, that is, about one's past, preset, and future work. 

Language Requirements

All students must pass examinations in French and German before taking their Preliminary Exams; subject to approval, French or German (but not both) may be replaced with an alternate. Depending on their areas of interest, students may need to acquire additional language competence, for which there is no set examination structure.

Preliminary Examination

The Preliminary Exams should be concluded within a year of completing the course work. Normally, then, the Preliminary Exams would be concluded at the end of May of the student's third or fourth year (depending on whether the student entered the program with a bachelors or masters degree). Three of the four Preliminary Exams may be satisfied by papers of not more than 10K words, including notes, or else (in the case of up to two of the three) by the more traditional format of a "take-home exam" on an extended reading list. These three exams are defined as proficient treatment of:

  • a comparison of two historically significant figures or texts
  • a conceptual issue pertaining to the philosophy and theory of religion, religious ethics, political theory, or some combination of these;
  • a topic that is pertinent to the student's dissertation. 

The fourth Preliminary Exam is a 10-page review essay of a noteworthy book pubished within the last 10 years or so.

The topic and format of the four exams -- along with the order of their completion -- are proposed by the student to the RCT faculty and are subject to their approval. This exam proposal (which covers all four exams) is normally submitted no later than the first week of classes in the fall semester of the year dedicated to the Exams. Two exams must be completed by mid-January; students missing this deadline may not be considered for a dissertation fellowship for the following year. Shortly after the conclusion of these exams, students will meet with the Advisory Faculty for a full discussion. These meetings are an opportunity for intellectual exchange as well as an opportunity for the student to demonstrate competence in the fields of the exams (although passing of the exams is determined primarily by the quality of the student's written work).

Following the completion of the exams, the dissertation prospectus should be defended in the early fall, preferably by the end of September. For students who enter with a masters, this will be September of the fourth year; for students entering without a masters, this will be September of the fifth year.

Recent Dissertations

  • Religious Thinking in an Age of Disillusionment: William James and Ernst Troelstch on the Possibilities of Science and Religion
  • Intersubjective Emotions and Moral Objectivity in Religious Ethics
  • Self-Love, Other-Regarding Love, and Mutuality: A Debate in Contemporary Christian Ethics
  • Our Grief: A Venture in Phenomenology and Ethics
  • The Intervention of the Other: Levinas and Lacan on Moral Subjectivity
  • Going Above and Beyond the Call of Duty: A Re-examination of the Nature of Heroes, Saints and Supererogation
  • Making Love and Meaning: Constructing Krishna's Lila with the Gopis and Wives in the Harivmsa, Visnu Purana, Bhagavata Purana, and Sridhara's Commentary
  • Thinking from the Limits of Being: Levinas, Fanon, Dussel and the 'Cry of Revolt'
  • Ethics from a Daocentric Perspective: Normativity, Virtue, and Self-Cultivation in Early Daoist Thought
  • Overcoming our Evil: Spirituality Exercises and Personhood in Xunzi and Augustine
  • Nietzsche's Critique of Christian Neighbor-love
  • The Way Comes About as We Walk It: Huainanzi and Classical Daoist Ethics
  • Value and Economics of Religious Capital
  • "There Goes Hobbs, the Atheist!": On Hobbes on Religion
  • Reading through Race, Class, and Gender Lines: Towards a Recuperative Ethics or Reading
  • "Inflamed by Daily Practices": John Cassian and Ethical Formation
  • Religion and Disaster: A Case Study of Boston's Response to the 1832 Cholera Epidemic
  • The Politics of Personalism 
  • The Sacred Commons: Reconstructing Hegel, Religion and National Memory


In addition to working with RCT core faculty, RCT graduate students often work closely with other faculty members both within and outside of the Department. For example, a student may wish to link a RCT project with a Religious Studies faculty member doing historical work in Asian, Christian, Jewish, or Islamic traditions. For faculty closely affiliated with the RCT graduate program, please see the list.

Core Faculty

Affiliated Faculty

Additional Programs

This field is devoted, but not limited, to the study of Islamic beliefs and practices within the cultural and historical context of the Middle East and South and Central Asia.