Concentrating in Contemplative Studies

The Contemplative Studies Initiative is a group of Brown faculty who are working toward a goal of creating a multidisciplinary center for research and teaching about contemplative states of experience, across cultures and across time.  

Our first step towards this was establishing in 2007 a "Scholarly Concentration in Contemplative Studies" in the Warren Alpert Medical School of Medicine at Brown University (at the graduate level).

Our second major step was accomplished in May 2014, when we established a formal undergraduate concentration in Contemplative Studies on the Arts and Sciences campus.

Our new Contemplative Studies concentration builds upon our rigorous approach to making intellectually sound and experience-driven connections between disciplines in the breadth of a liberal education, while also cultivating in our students the wisdom that comess from developing mindfulness and discernment as both a personal and an academic focus.


The concentration in Contemplative Studies investigates the underlying philosophical, psychological and scientific bases of human contemplative experience.  Students pursue a "third person" academic approach drawn from the humanities and sciences to analyze the cultural, historical and scientific underpinnings of contemplative experiences in religion, art, music and literature.  This is developed in comination with a "critical first-person" approach based in practical experience of contemplative techniques and methods to provide an integrated understanding of the role of contemplative thought and experince in societies and on the individuals who constitute them.  Students may also pursue a Contemplative Studies Engaged Scholars Concentration in which they examine the relationship between individual complative practice and activities that engage major social issues in new and creative ways.  We also support independent and dual concentratons in the Contemplative Creative Arts. 

                CONCENTRATION REQUIREMENTS (13 courses)

Concentration Core (5 courses)

  • COST 0100:  An Introduction to Contemplative Studies
  • Two introductory science courses that focus on the cognitive neurological functioning of the human brain and how contemplative practices affect it.
  • Two humanities courses that introduce students to contemplative religious traditions and the philosophical analysis of the key questions of human existence. 

Depth (6 courses) Students choose to complete either a Science or a Humanities Track. 

  The Science Track in Contemplative Studies gives concentrators in-depth understanding of the scientific methods used to investigate the cognitive neuroscience of contemplative practice and also provides a method of self-inquiry that can be used to augment any area of life. 

  • Three thematic science courses drawn primarily from NEUR and CLPS, at least two of which must be 1000-level.
  • One statistics course from one of the following departments:  Applied Math, Biology, CLPS, Education or Public Health
  • Laboratory research:  Two sememsters research in an established lab (e.g., BIOL 1950, 1960)with Britton, Kerr, Wantanabe or other approved faculty.

Humanities:  The Humanities Track explores the origin and development of contemplative practices within specific religious, cultural and historical contexts and gives students a foundation in the Philosophy of Mind relevant to the scientifc study of contemplative practice.  Intermediate and Advance Courses should be taken in these areas: 

  • Philosophy of Mind
  • Contemplative Religious Traditions

Breadth:  One additonal course beyond the two introductory level core courses outside one's chosen Concentration Track; this course may also be drawn from a range of courses in Contemplative Creative Arts. 

Senior Capstone:  Seminar that includes a Capstone Project

Honors:  Students wishing to be considered for Honors in Contemplative Studies must have a 3.5 grade point average in Concentration Courses, and their Capstone Project must be a two-semester Honors Thesis in the Senior Year. 

                                     Contemplative Studies Faculty

Willoughby Britton,
Psychiatry, Medical School, School of Public
Catherine Kerr,
Family Medicine, Medical School
Monica Linden, Neuroscience
Eric Loucks, School of Public Health
Brad Marston, Physics*
Takeo Wantanable, Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences
Yuka Sasaki, Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences

Jake Davis, Contemplative Studies (Spring 2016)
Mary Louise Gill, Classic and Philosophy
Christopher Hill, Philosophy
Jared Lindahl, Cogut Humanities Center, Britton Lab (2015)
Finnian Moore-Gerety, Religious Studies (Fall 2015)
Michael Kennedy, Sociology
Jeffrey Poland, Science and Technology Studies
Amy Remensnyder, History
Harold Roth, Religious Studies, Director of Contemplative Studies*
Bhrigupati Singh, Anthropology, Watson Institute

Creative Arts:
Michelle Bach-Coulibaly, Theater Arts and Performance Studies
Carol DeBoer-Langworthy, English (Nonfiction Writing)
Eric Ehn, Theater Arts and Performance Studies
Robert P. Ward, English (Nonfiction Writing)

Program Coordinator:  Anne Heyrman-Hart* For all inquiries or to schedule an appointment with Professor Roth please email [email protected].

*Indicates Concentration Advisor

                               Concentration Core (5 Courses)

COST 0100:  An Introduction to Contemplative Studies

Two introductory science courses that focus on the cognitive neurological functioning of the human brain and how contemplative practices affect it. 

One course chosen from List A:
BIOL 0800:  Principles of Physiology (Hai, Sobieraj)
NEUR 0010:  The Brain:  An Introduction to Neuroscience (Stein, Paradiso)
CLPS 0010:  Elementary Psychology:  An Introduction to Mind and Behavior
CLPS 0040:  Mind and Brain:  Introduction to Cognitive Neuroscience (Domini)
CLPS 0200:  Human Cognition (Austerweil)
CLPS 0500:  Perception and Mind (Song)

One course chosen from List B:
COST 0200:  Meditation and the Brain (Kerr, Britton)
COST 1020:  Cognitive Neuroscience of Meditation (Kerr)

Two Humanities courses that introduce students to contemplative religious traditions and to the philosophical analysis of key questions of human existence.

COST 0040 (RELS 0040):  Great Contemplative Traditions of Asia (Roth)
COST 0333:  Contemplative Approaches to Living and Dying (Lindahl)
COST 0410 (RELS 0290E):  Engaged Buddhism (Roth)
COST 0420 (RELS 0500):  Theory and Practice of Buddhist Meditation (Davis)
COST 0450:  Stages of the Contemplative Path (Lindahl)
COST 0480 (RELS 0520):  Buddhist Ethical Theory (Davis)
PHIL 0010:  The Place of Persons (Christensen)
PHIL 0220:  Mind and Matter (Staff)
PHIL 0250:  The Meaning of Life (Larmore)
PHIL 0350:  Ancient Philosophy (Gill)
RELS 0065:  On Being Human:  Religious and Philosophical Conceptions of Self (Lewis)
RELS 0120:  The Classical Chinese Foundations of Life (Roth)
RELS 0150:  Religions of Classical India (Staff)
RELS: 0145:  Karma, Rebirth and Liberation:  Life and Death South Asian Religions (Gerrety)
RELS 0190:  Japanese Religious Traditions (Sawada)
(and others, with approval)

                             TRACK REQUIREMENTS (6 COURSES)

Students choose either a Sciences Track or a Humanities Track 

Science Track:
Three thematic science courses drawn primarily from NEUR or CLPS, at least two of which must be 1000-level.

COST 1080 (PHP 1880):  Meditation, Mindfulness, and Health (Loucks)
COST 1120:  Neurophenomenology (Kerr; To Be Proposed)
NEUR 1020:  Principles of Neurobiology (Aizenmen)
NEUR 1030:  Neural Systems (Linden)
NEUR 1520:  Exploring Neural Data (Linden)
CLPS 0400:  Brain Damage and the Mind (Festa)
CLPS 0700:  Social Psychology (Hall)
CLPS 1291:  Computational Cognitive Science (Serre)
CLPS 1400:  The Neural Bases of Cognition (Burwell)
CLPS 1492:  Computational Cognitive Neuroscience (Frank)
CLPS 1570:  Visual Consciousness (Wantanabe)
CLPS 1620:  Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience (Amso)
CLPS 1700:  Abnormal Psychology (Hayden)
EDUC 1270:  Adolescent Psychology (Zena)
PHP 1920:  Social Determinants of Health (Loucks)
(and others, with approval)

One Statistics Course
APMA 0650:  Essential Statistics (Harrison)
APMA 1650:  Statistical Inference (Kunsberg)
BIOL 0495:  Statistical Analysis of Biological Data (Ramachandran)
CLPS 0900:  Quantitative Methods in Psychology (Spoehr)
EDUC 1110:  Introductory Statistics for Education Research and Policy Analysis (Kraft)
PHP 1501:  Essentials of Data Analysis (Gutman)
(and others, with approval)

Two Semesters Laboratory Research
Two semesters research in an established lab (e.g. BIOL 1950, 1960) with Britton, Kerr, Loucks, Wantanabe or approved others.

Humanities Track
Contemplative Religious Traditions
ANTH 1240:  Religion and Culture (in India) (Singh)
CLAS 0820:  The Epics of India (Fitzgerald)
CLAS 0850/RELS 0925):  The Mythology of India (Fitzgerald)
COST 0530 (RELS 0530):  Laozi and the Daodejing (Roth)
COST 0550 (RELS 0550):  Tibetan Buddhism and the West (Lindahl)
COST 0855 (CLAS 0855):  The Bhagavad Gita (Fitzgerald)
COST 0990 (CLAS 0990):  Concepts of Self in Classical Indian Literature (Buchta)
COST 1440 (RELS 1441):  Zen Meditation in China, Korea and Japan (Roth)
COST 1442 (RELS 1442):  History, Philosophy, and Practice of Rinzai Zen Buddhism (Roth)
CLAS 0995:  The Performing Arts in Classical South Asia (Buchta)
CLAS 1120G:  Idea of Self (Pucci)
CLAS 1140:  The Classical Philosophy of India (Buchta)
EAST 0180/RELS 0195:  Japan:  Nature, Ritual and the Arts (Sawada)
EAST 1420:  The Confucian Mind (Sawada)
EAST 1950/RELS 0950:  The Floating World (Sawada)
EAST 1880D:  Early Daoist Syncretism (Roth)
RELS 0056:  Spiritual But Not Religious:  American Spirituality Past + Present (Vaca)
RELS 0911:  Indian Buddhism (Staff)
RELS 1370B:  Philosophy of Mysticism (Bush)
RELS 1440:  Themes in Japanese Buddhism (Sawada)
SO 1871S:  Knowedge Networks and Global Transformation (Kennedy)
SOC 1871Z:  Martial Arts, Culture and Society (Kennedy)
(and others, with approval)

The Philosophy of Mind
COST 0650 (PHIL 0650):  The Psychology and Philosophy of Happiness (Reginster) 
COST 1520 (PHIL 1520):  Consciousness (Hill)
COST 1550 (SCSO 1550E):  Science and Religion (Poland)
COST 1770 (PHIL 1770) Philosophy of Mind (Hill)
COST 1870 (SCSO 1700Y):  Neuroethics (Poland)
PHIL 0990L:  Moral Psychology (Arpaly)
PHIL 0990M:  Descartes' Meditations (Larmore)
PHIL 0991:  Plato, Mind, and Moral Psychology (Broakes)
PHIL 1290:  Kant's Moral Philosophy (Guyer)
PHIL 1590:  Philosophy of Science (Christensen)
PHIL 1650:  Moral Theories (Arpaly)
PHIL 1660:  Metaphysics (Broakes)
PHIL 1750:  Epistemology (Hill)
PHIL 1720:  Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (Guyer)
PHIL 2020O:  Puzzles of Consciousness (Pautz)
PHIL 2150G:  Aristotle's Metaphysics (Gill)
PHIL 1720:  Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (Guyer)
PHIL 1770:  Philosophy of Mind (Hill)
UNIV 1520:  The Shaping of World Views (Almeida)
(and others, with approval)

COST Independent Research, Capstone, Honors Thesis Courses

COST 1910:  COST Individual Study Project
Semester 1 (Sections 1-XX for as many core faculty as want to offer an independent study course.  Permission of Instructor Required)
COST 1920:  COST Individual Study Project
Semester 1 (Sections 1-XX for as many core faculty as want to offer an independent study course.  Permission of Instructor Required)
COST 1950:  Capstone Seminar in Contemplative Studies (Staff)
COST 1980:  Honors Thesis Preparation (Second semester of a two semester sequence that begins with COST 1950 - Staff) 


Contemplatives, in all traditions and throughout history, have tended to live their lives along a spectrum.  At one end are the recluses, those who withdraw from the world and live in seclusion:  one thinks of the yogi living in a mountain cave.  At the other end are the activists, those who are engaged in the struggle fo peace, justice, and social equality.  One thinks of Martin Luther King, Thich Nhat Hanh, Mahatma Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Tenzin Gyatso, Nelson Mandela, A.K. Ariyaratne, and countless others, all deeply contemplative and all deeply engaged in transforming the world.  Contemplative education requires that we introduce our students to this broad range of possibilities, so they can decide for themselves how they would like to bring their contemplative lives to helping solve some of the major social, environmental, and global problems of the 21st century.  

The purpose of this program is to examine the relationship between individual complative practice and activities that engage major social issues in new and creative ways.  Through study in our program, and through their own contemplative practice, students in the Contemplative Studies Engaged Scholars Program (COST ESP) will investigate the application of contemplative methods to a variety of social, environmental, and global problems.  They will learn to critically assess the particular psychological, social, and cultural conditions that allow for successful contributions from contemplative practices, and to critically evaluate practices such as attention-training as a means to facilitate altruistic responses to real-life situations.  

Students in the COST ESP will be required to take:

  • The five core courses for all Contemplative Studies concentrators.
  • Six more courses, three from the courses in either the Sciences or Humanities tracks and three from the list below.
  • A final engaged capstone project int the senior year, in the form of:  a capstone 
    seminar (COST 1950:  Senior Capstone Seminar) with a project focused on community-based work, or an honor's thesis focused on community-based work.  

Students will be expected to meet the Engaged Scholars Program requirements:

  • Students must enroll in the required ESP seminar (currently SOC 310:  Theory and Practice of Engaged Scholarship) and participate in an interdisciplinary community of undergraduate scholars that meets regularly for programming (workshops, lectures and lother events.)  See ESP website for more information.
  • A 150 - 250 hour ESP practicum, defined by significant experiential work with a community partner.  Practicums can be completed as a volunteer, as a paid intern, or for academic credit.  If completed as a volunteer or as a paid intern, the practicum is supervised by ESP staff and involves written assignments and in-person advising.  If students would prefer to receive credit, Brown Contemplative Studies currently offers a Community Engagement Internship Program, partipation in which can serve to fulfill the practicum requirement.  See ESP website for more information.  


HIST 0150C:  Locked Up:  A Global History of Prisons and Captivity (Remensnyder)
A long history lies behind the millions of men and women locked up today as prisoners, captives and hostages.  Beginning in antiquity and ending in the present, this course draws on materials from a variey of cultures across the world to explore incarceration's centuries-old past.  In examining the experience and meaning of imprisonment, whether as judicial punishment, political repression, or the fallout of war, the class will ask fundamental questions about liberty as well.  History 150 courses introduce students to methods of historical analysis, interpretation and argumentation.  This course presumes no previous history courses.

HMAN 1971F:  World of Walden Pond:  Transcendentalism as a Social and Intellectual Movement (Sacks)
The World of Walden Pond examines the 19th century phenomenon of Transcendentalism:  this country's most romanticized religious, philosophical, and literary movement.  Focusing on Emerson, Thoreau, and Fuller, we'll examine the ideas of the Transcendentalists in the age of reform and evaluate the application of their principles to abolition, feminism, and nature.  The central problem which they wrestled with will be the focus, too, of our investigations:  then tension between individualism and conformity.  

RELS 0068:  Religion and Torture (Bush) 
The debates about the moral and legal status of torture have acquired a new urgency since 9/11.  People are now questioning the consensus of law and human rights declarations that torture is never permissible. Indeed, some argue that in extreme cases, it may be obligatory to torture a captive for information that could save many lives.  This class explores the recent debates about torture from secular and religious perspectives.  It also deals with the more general themes related to torture:  What are the nature and effects of pain?  Are human beings sacred, and does sacredness involve a prohibition against torture?

RELS 0260:  Religion Gone Wild:  Spirituality and the Environment (Cladis)
A study of the dynamic relation between religion, ethics, and ecology.  Religion, in this course, includes forms of religion within and outside the bounds of conventional religious traditions.  The religions we study include Buddhism and Christianity, on the one hand:  and ecofeminism, nature literature, and Australian Aboriginal religion, on the other.   Topics include:  religious depictions of creation, nature, and the place of humans in the natural world; religions' contribution to environmental degradation and environmental health; religion and environmental justice; and environmentalism as a form of religion.  This course is taught in the tradition of the liberal arts, exposing us to cultural history and to ethical inquiry.  "What is the relevanace of this material to me and to my community?" will be an implicit, sometimes explicit, question in this course.  

COST 0410 (RELS 0290E):  Engaged Buddhism (Roth)
"Engaged Buddhism" is a term used to describe social activism that applies Buddhist insight and ethics.  This course will examine the historical background of engaged Buddhism, explore its central concepts, analyze it theoretically, and look at practical applications.  Since many engaged Buddhist movements employ meditation, we will also study, first hand, the effects of meditation on prosocial attitudes in the "Meditation Labs" that are integral to the pedagogy of the course. Students will have the option of class projects on engaged scholarship that will be worked out with the Swearer Center for Public Policy.  

COST 1080 (PHP 1880):  Meditation, Mindfulness and Health (Loucks)
This course provides an overview on the relation of meditation and mindfulness (the ability to attend in a nonjudgemental way to one's own physical and mental processes during ordinary, everyday tasks) with various health outcomes and disease risk factors such as depression, anxiety, pain management, diet, substance use, and cardiovascular disease.  Mechanisms by which mindfulness may influence health will be addressed.  The course will assess studies in the field for methodological rigor, and students will be taught strengths and weaknesses of current research.  Students will be taught various mindfulness practices including direct experience with mindfulness meditation.  

PHP 1920:  Social Determinants of Health (Loucks)
This course provides an overview of social determinants of health.  Examples of topics include health effects of educational attainment, social integration, racial discrimination, childhood psychosocial environment, mindfulness and job strain.  Mixed teaching methods will be used, such as small and large group discussions, debates, student presentations, and lectures.  The human body is embedded in communities with particular attributes such as collective lifestyles and health practices, population-based health programs, economics, health services, built environments and social characteristics.  Those communities are embedded within contexts of the natural environment, culture and politics, which all exist within a particular place and time in history.  These upstream factors influence health and the physiologic underpinnings of disease.

COST 0480 (RELS 0520) Buddhist Ethical Theory (Davis)
Discussions of the ethical questions in classical Buddhist philosophical literature focus not only on the how one should act, but also - perhaps more fundamentally - on which habits of mind and heart should be cultivated.  In this course, students will 1) gain an understanding of Buddhist approaches to ethical questions, 2) learn to compare Buddhist approaches to ethical questions and ethical theorizing with prominent approaches in Western philosophy and, 3) examine whether and how classical Buddhist approaches to ethical questions might improve on and move forward contemporary discussions in the philosophical literature on ethics, and in society more broadly.  

Students apply to ESP when declaring their concentration in ASK, typically in the second semester of sophomore year.  The 2016 application deadline is Apri 7.  The application consists of two essay questions.  Applications will be reviewed by your department and ESP staff.  See the ESP website for more information.  If you missed the dealing but are interested in applying, contact [email protected].

Anne Heyrman-Hart, Program Coordinator for Contemplative Studies, ([email protected]