Graduate Study

Religion and Critical Thought (RCT)

Below is a condensed description of the program.  For further information, consult the Graduate Student Handbook.

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)
  • Approaches to 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.

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.

Core Faculty

  • Stephen Bush, Manning Assistant Professor of Religious Studies
  • Mark Cladis, Brooke Russell Astor Professor of Humanities (Religious Studies)
  • Thomas A. Lewis, Associate Professor of Religious Studies 
  • Paul Nahme, Assistant Professor of Judaic Studies & Religious Studies
  • Andre Willis, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies 

Affiliated Faculty

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 outside the Department who are closely affiliated with us, please see the list below.

  • Corey Brettschneider (political theory and public law; democracy and individual rights), Associate Professor of Political Science
  • Michael Gottsegen (religion and public life in modernity; Levinas), Visiting Scholar in Religious Studies
  • Bonnie Honig (political, legal, and feminist theory), Nancy Duke Lewis Professor of Modern Culture and Media and Political Science    
  • Sharon Krause (religion and political theory; Hume; Montesquieu), Professor of Political Science
  • Charles Larmore (moral and political philosophy), W. Duncan MacMillian Family Professor in the Humanities (Philosophy)
  • Bernard Reginster (19th and 20th century continental philosophy and ethics), Professor of Philosophy
  • Barbara H. Smith (literary and cultural theory, epistemology, religion and science), Professor of English
  • Daniel Vaca, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies 
  • Corey Walker (Africana philosophy, critical theory, modern theology, and cultural studies), Associate Professor of Africana Studies


Candidates are admitted to the program with a Master's Degree and also directly from their undergraduate program.  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 course work; students entering with a bachelor’s degree will normally take three years.  During this course work stage, students are expected to enroll in 4 courses each semester the first year, and three in the subsequent years.  Students in their first three years of graduate studies are normally expected to participate in all RCT seminars.  After the third year, students should consult with the RCT faculty co-coordinator 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 Advisory Faculty (the core RCT faculty), students will develop a schedule that will satisfy the requirement for competence in a religious tradition through course work.  Additionally, students must demonstrate familiarity with a second religious tradition; this religious diversity requirement, depending on the judgment of the Advisory Faculty, may be satisfied by course work done prior to attendance at Brown or by one or two additional courses at Brown.

Annual Meeting

The student will meet annually wit 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.

Foreign Languages

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 language.

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).  The four Preliminary Exams, all of which may be satisfied by papers of approximately 25-35 double-spaced pages, including notes, 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 substantive review essay of noteworthy book published within the last 10 years or so; and 
  • A topic that is pertinent to the student's dissertation.  Up to two of the exams may be satisfied by take-home examinations

The topic and format of the four exams are proposed by the student to the Advisory 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 cannot 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.  This meeting is an opportunity for intellectual exchange as well as an opportunity for the student to demonstrate competence in the field of the exam (although the passing of the exam is determined primarily by the quality of the student's written work).  

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 Hobbs on Religion
  • Reading through Race, Class, and Gender Lines: Towards a Recuperative Ethics or Reading
  • Darwin's Doubted Idea: the Cognitive Contours of Evolutionary and Religious Thought