Ethics and Society


The Ethics and Society (ES) Course of Study educates scholars in the history, methods, and questions of ethics (theological, social, and philosophical) with particular attention to critical social understandings of context.  Situated within the Graduate Division of Religion (GDR) division of Emory’s Laney Graduate School, Ethics and Society provides students with a distinctive and flexible structure for acquiring the knowledge and skillset most important for each student’s needs and goals.

Scholarly endeavors in the ES program are distinctively interdisciplinary and collegial: faculty work with students, theologians study alongside sociologists, ethicists collaborate with lawyers, scholars of Islam dialogue with experts in Buddhist traditions, ethnographers work with historians, and more. This interdisciplinary approach to the study of religion prepares ES students to analyze the institutions, everyday practices, and cultural expressions of ethical and religious life.  The particular strengths of the ES core faculty lie in the study of Christianity, diversely expressed, but there are opportunities for students to work comparatively in religions through the resources of the GDR.  The ES core faculty study the understanding of complex social realities and experiences, in both normative and descriptive work in ethics, in philosophical as well as theological work, and in the study of religious practices and history.


Elizabeth Bounds (chair)

Robert Franklin

Ellen Ott Marshall

Ted Smith


Michael Berger (JRC)      

Marla Frederick (ARC)

Don Seeman (JRC)            



Cynthia Willett (Philosophy)

Ellen Idler (Sociology)

Kyle Lambelet (Candler School of Theology)

Edward Queen (Emory Center for Ethics)

John Witte (School of Law)

Paul Root Wolpe (Emory Center for Ethics)

Jonathan Crane (Emory Center for Ethics)





The first two years of study in the Ethics and Society program are devoted to coursework, in order to establish a foundation of knowledge in the field and to develop research skills that critically engage historical and contemporary topics. ES students typically enroll in 3 doctoral seminars per semester. These seminars usually entail intensive reading assignments, weekly 3-hour classroom discussions with presentations and lectures, and research papers.  Seminars generally are composed of a majority of doctoral students, from ES, from other courses of study in the GDR, or from other programs at Emory. ES students often use research papers from their seminars as drafts for scholarly publications or presentations at conferences, such as the American Academy of Religion or the Society of Christian Ethics.

Key courses may include the following seminars recently taught by the core ES faculty: History of Theological Ethics, Love and Justice, Social Justice, 20th/21st Century Christian Social Ethics, Recent Virtue Ethics, Questions of War, Theological Ethics and the Novel, and Restorative Justice.   ES students may also draw on course offerings across the Graduate Division of Religion and in other programs and departments in the university.  These could include seminars in the Departments of Philosophy, Sociology, Anthropology, History, Political Science, Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, as well as in the Law School, and the Schools of Medicine and Public Health. 

Many ES students participate in the GDR Concentration in Religious Practices and Practical Theology and/or the Concentration in Religion, Conflict, and Peacebuilding. These concentrations enable a greater focus on particular interests and skills, in dialogue with other GDR students and with faculty.  Both concentrations have a required seminar as well. 

Some ES students have also completed the University Certificate in Human Rights and in Women’s and Gender Studies

In addition, the greater Atlanta area offers such resources as the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change, The Carter Center, the Center for Civil and Human Rights, several other major universities, and multiple schools of theology.

Languages: All GDR students are required to show reading mastery of two secondary research languages, usually demonstrated through GDR-administered examinations which are offered at the beginning of the fall semester.  The first language examination should be taken at the beginning of the first year.  The second examination should be passed by the beginning of the second year, and must be passed before beginning qualifying examinations. The usual languages for ES students have been French, German, or Spanish. Other languages (including statistics) can be undertaken with approval (by the ES Chair, possibly in consultation with the GDR Director).


ES students sit their qualifying examinations in their third year at Emory.  Qualifying exams are not just a means for testing students’ knowledge. These exams help students to synthesize what they have learned in their coursework and to situate their own research projects within ongoing scholarly debates. Thus, students and their examination committees design exam bibliographies with the students’ dissertations in mind.

ES requires students to take examinations in four areas and then to participate successfully in an oral examination at the conclusion of the exam process. 

The four topic areas of examination are: (1) Philosophical and Theological Ethics; (2) Social Ethics; (3) Social Realities: Theory, Description, and Method; and (4) the Outside Area exam, usually in the form of a research paper, based in an area relevant to the student’s specific research trajectory.  The exam process culminates in an oral examination with the student’s committee. 

Upon successful completion of qualifying exams, ES students prepare their dissertation proposal, or “prospectus.” The dissertation proposal identifies and describes the central questions, goals, and methods that the student will pursue in her or his dissertation research. The proposal is drafted in conversation with faculty advisors and committee members, and it marks the student’s transition from being a student in the field of ethics and society to being an active researcher and contributor to the field.  Students formally present their dissertation proposal at a colloquy with their dissertation committee members; with the committee’s approval of the prospectus, the student officially becomes a doctoral candidate and then embarks on a 1-2 year period of independent research and writing. This concludes, with committee approval, with a formal defense of the dissertation.


ES scholars spend the final two years of their time at Emory primarily as researchers. Dissertation topics vary significantly, but they draw from the knowledge and skills developed in coursework. Students work closely with their advisors and committee members to analyze texts and data, construct arguments, and write their dissertations. 

Examples of recent dissertations produced by ES scholars include the following titles:


Georgette Ledgister,
"Warriors of the Water: A Luba Mai-Mai Story of Agency, Personhood and Anestral Power"  - Women’s Studies in Religion Program, Research Associate 2020–21, Harvard University,Visiting Lecturer, Agnes Scott College

Sarah MacDonald, "
The Paradox of Privilege: Responsible Solidarity for Faith-Based Activism" - Assistant Professor of Church and Society and Ethics, Lutheran School of Theology Chicago

Kristyn Sessions,
"Small is Beautiful: Ritual, Congregation-Based Community Organizing, and Just Social Change"  

Elizabeth Whiting,
"In Pursuit of Democratic and Prudent Water Governance in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin" - Assistant Professor of Ethics, Mars Hill University


Letitia Campbell, “Short -Term Mission in a Shifting Global Landscape: Genealogies of Hope and Ambivalence.” Director of Contextual Education, Assistan Professor, Candler School of Theology, Emory University

Elizabeth Whiting-Pierce, “In Pursuit of Democratic and Prudent Water Governance in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flit River Basin.”


Melissa Rubalcaba,
"L@s Indocumentad@s: A Feminist Decolonial Analysis of the Anthropological Subject in Roman Catholic Teachings on Gender and Sexuality and Catholic Social Thought."


Jermaine McDonald, "The Canonization of Martin Luther King, Jr. - Collective Memory, Civil Religion, and the Reconstruction of an American Hero"

Joseph Wiinikka-Lydon, "Violence and the Language of Virtue: Political violence, ethical discourse, and moral transformation"


Justin Jon Latterell, "The Constitution of Religious Liberty: Religion, Power, and the Birth of the Secular Purpose Test, 1844-1971"

James, William McCarty, III, “Transitional Justice and the Trinity:  A Christian Ethic for Reconciliation with Justice” 

Darryl Dejuan Roberts, "The Struggle Is Not Over: An Examination of the Impact of the Climate of Religious Freedom During the Civil Rights Movement on the Pursuit of Civil Rights and Religious Liberty."

Matthew J. Tuininga, "Christ's Two Kingdoms: Calvin's Political Theology and the Public Engagement of the Church"

Jillinda Weaver, "When Freedom Is Not Free: an Ethical Critique of a Nations' Sacred Ideal"


Graduates of the ES program are well positioned to pursue diverse vocations in academia, public and private non-profit organizations, and religious institutions. Our program has an excellent record of placing graduates in competitive positions, including these recent graduates.


Bryan Ellrod,
"Can these Bones Live?: Christian Ethics and a Politics of Responsibility for the U.S. Borderlands"

David Messner -
"The Good Worker and the Moral Metabolism of the American Corporation"

Joi Orr -

Nicole Symmonds -
"Trafficking in God: Exploring Race and Religion in Faith-Based Commercial Sex Trade Interventions"

Sara Williams -
"Moral Apprentices at the Margins: Come and See Tours and the Making of the Ethical Self"


Jeremy Lowe -
"Homo Dialogicus: Ethics for Empathic/Estranged Beings"

Won Chul Shin -
"Resurrecting Virtues against Evil: A Study of the Cultivation and Exercise of Virtues of the Oppressed"

Georgette Ledgister -
"Warriors of the Water: A Luba Mai-Mai Story of Agency, Personhood and Ancestral Power"

Kristyn Sessions
- "Small is Beautiful: Ritual, Congregation-Based Community Organizing, and Just Social Change"


Letitia Campbell - Candler School of Theology, Contextual Education, Emory


Melissa Pagan (Rubalcaba) - Mount Saint Marys University


Jermaine MacDonald - Kennesaw State University

Joseph Wiinikka-Lydon - Center for Ethics, University of Pardubice, Czech Republic


Justin Latterell - Center for the Study of Law and Religion, School of Law, Emory University

James McCarty - Seattle University

Matthew Tuininga - Calvin Theological Seminary

Darryl Roberts - Pastor, Mt. Welcome Baptist Church

Jillinda Weaver - Youth Theological Institute, Candler School of Theology, Emory


Annemarie Mingo - Pennsylvania State University


Bradley Burroughs - United Theological Seminary

Renee Walker - Juvenile Court System attorney

Matthew Bersagel-Braley - Viterbo University

Dan Cantey - Bethel University

Amy de Baets - Oakland University School of Medicine


John Senior - Wake Forest University School of Divinity

Thelathia Young - Bucknell University