Engaged Scholars Program


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, four from the courses in either the Sciences or Humanities tracks and two from the list below.  The Capstone Course can be included in this total of six courses.  
  • COST 1950 - The Concentration Seminar. 

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

  • Students apply to ESP when declaring their concentration in ASK, typically in the second semester of their sophomore year. ESP is selective and applications will be reviewed by departments and ESP staff in mid-April of the application year. Students will be contacted by ESP staff directly about their application status. If you miss the deadline but are interested in applying, contact: [email protected] it is typical that students apply to the Engaged Scholars Program during sophomore year when declaring a concentration, you may revise your declaration to apply to the Engaged Scholars Program if you have enough remaining semesters at Brown to complete the 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 at www.brown.edu/academics/college/swearer/programs/engaged-scholars-program/13. 
  • 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, participation in which can serve to fulfill the practicum requirement.  See ESP website for more information at www.brown.edu/academics/college/swearer/programs/engaged-scholars-program/13.  


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 April  7.  The application consists of two essay questions.  Applications will be reviewed by your department and ESP staff.  See ESP Website for more information.  If you missed the dealing but are interested in applying, contact [email protected]

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