Graduate Theological Union

Ethics and Social Theory







Student Work


Rebecca Gordon, The Practice of
Torture: Ethical Approaches in the
Post-9/11 Era

Anne Elizabeth Lee, Made in the
Images of God:  Toward a Trinitarian
Virtue Ethics





Chaitanya Motupalli
Eco Ethics in Our World

Marilyn Matevia

Marilyn Matevia,
A Theology for Koko

 Laura Stivers

Laura Stivers (Ph.D. '00),
Explaining Economics from a
Values Perspective

Jerome Baggett

Jerome Baggett (Ph.D. '98),
Sarlo Excellence in Teaching Award




Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe
(Ph.D. '06), U.S. Ambassador to the
U.N. Human Rights Council

Suzanne Holland (Ph.D. '97),
Professor of Ethics and Religion,
University of Puget Sound

Randall Miller (Ph.D. '07),
Assistant Professor of Christian
Ethics and Social Thought, Pacific
School of Religion


Related Blogs


TheMoralMindfield, students in
the Ethics and Social Theory area
discussing the ethical dimensions of
society and culture

Left at the Altar, doctoral student
Marilyn Matevia's religious leftist



This Area of Concentration is available to students affiliated with the following schools: CDSP, DSPT, JST, PLTS, PSR, SFTS, SKSM


Study in this area combines ethics and the social sciences. It includes a focus on theological and social ethics, with attention to ethical theory and history, analysis, and policy as related to politics, health care, feminist ethics, sexual ethics, professional ethics, or environmental ethics. The area can also include the study of religion as a cultural and social phenomenon, with attention to theory, methodology, and research in related disciplines such as sociology and anthropology.

M.A. Requirements



The doctoral program in Ethics and Social Theory prepares students to contextualize the major figures in the development of ethics and social theory, to interrelate the primary and secondary areas of specialization, to do research, construct an ethical argument, and conduct critical social analysis. With these skills, our students have gone on to teach ethics, social ethics, and social theory in undergraduate and graduate programs in colleges, universities, and seminaries; to provide leadership to organizations, agencies, or corporations; and to serve churches at the local, regional, and national levels. Our hope is that as one matures in the program, one becomes more capable of speaking and writing on ethical matters in the public sphere.

Language Requirements
In alliance with the GTU requirements for foreign languages, the Area requires students to have research competence in two languages other than their native language. One of these languages must be German, French, or Spanish. The second must be a modern or ancient language appropriate to the student’s research project. Non-native speakers of English may certify English as one of their foreign languages according to the standards set by the GTU. The language certification must be met before the comprehensive examination proposal can be approved.

Students will be required to complete a sequence of three courses, which will be offered over a two-year period. These courses are History of Western Social and Ethical Thought I and II, which will be offered in the fall and spring semesters of one year; and either Methods in Ethics or Foundational Social Theory which will be offered in the fall and spring semesters of the other year. Additionally there will be “recommended” courses taught on a regular basis (e.g. Theories of Justice, Human Rights, Scripture and Ethics, Religion and Cultural Analysis, etc.) as well as other supplemental courses. The coursework will enable the students to demonstrate their abilities to contextualize the major figures in the development of ethical theory and social theory, to construct an ethical argument, to conduct critical social analysis, and to develop bibliographies relevant to their research interests.

Comprehensive Examinations
Students are required to complete four written exams and an oral comprehensive examination. Exam I is a standardized comprehensive examination in the student’s area of concentration. This examination will be in Methodological Approaches to Ethics and Theories of Justice / Human Rights for those students concentration in Ethics and in Foundational Social Theory for those students concentrating in Social Theory. The purpose of this examination is to document the student’s ability to evaluate the strengths of the major modes of ethical argument and assess the strengths of the various approaches to justice theory and human rights theory; or to document the student’s ability to grasp and employ key theoretical frameworks in Social Theory.

The structure of Exam II will vary according to the secondary discipline selected by the student, and will be proposed to the Area faculty for approval. Students in Ethics who choose Social Theory as their secondary field will take the recommended Social Theory exam; students in Social Theory who chose Ethics as their secondary field will take the recommended Ethics exam. Possible options for meeting the requirements of this exam for students who chose any other secondary field include: (a) Taking the standardized comprehensive exam required of students in the secondary field. (b) Taking the standard doctoral seminar for students in this field and writing a seminar-length (20-25 pages) paper for it. This paper may also be submitted for Research Readiness Review. (c) Working independently with a faculty member in the secondary field, and writing a seminar-length (20-25 pages) paper for it.

Exam III and IV are individualized. Students examine topics that are specific to the Area, but reflect their particular research interests. Exam III may be taken in either a four-hour, closed-book format or in a 24-hour, take-home format while Exam IV must be an approximately 30-page paper. The purpose of these exams is to document critical reading of key issues in the student's chosen concentration as well as the breadth of her or his field of study.

After successfully completing the oral examination on the written Comprehensive Exams, the student forms a dissertation committee and proceeds to formulate a dissertation proposal approved by the Area faculty and the Doctoral Council. An oral defense takes place upon completion of the dissertation.

Allied Field Requirements
The student must take and pass:
1) Two-course sequence in History of Western Social and Ethical Thought
2a) Exam I: The Methodological Approaches, and two other examination sections from Ethics: Theories of Justice/Human Rights, Theology and Ethics, Bible and Ethics, and Revisionist Approaches to Natural Law
2b) Exam I: Foundational Social Theory



Core Doctoral Faculty

JEROME P. BAGGETT • JST (Religion and Society) • Sociology of religion; sociology of culture; religion, politics, and civil society; American Catholicism; Atheism and secularity.

MARIANNE FARINA, C.S.C. • DSPT (Philosophy and Theology) • Moral theology; Islamic philosophy and theology; comparative ethics and social theory; interfaith dialogue.

LISA FULLAM • JST (Moral Theology) • Moral theology; virtue ethics; Ignatian spirituality; sexual ethics; medical and bioethics.

WILLIAM O’NEILL, S.J. • JST (Social Ethics) • Issues in human rights, the rhetoric of human rights; ethics of social reconciliation; Christian social ethics; international and domestic justice; theological inculturation of ethics; refugee and immigration policy.

CAROL S. ROBB • SFTS (Social Ethics) • Ecological ethics; theories of justice; economic ethics; feminist/womanist ethics; the issues triggered when biblical authority is claimed in contemporary ethics.


Consortial Faculty Resources

DORSEY O. BLAKE • SKSM (Religion and Society) • Spirituality and prophetic justice; Dr. Howard Thurman; Gandhi and King; spiritual discipline and social change; mysticism and action.

EDWARD KRASEVAC, O.P. • DSPT (Philosophy and Theology) • Theological implications of the Third Quest of the Historical Jesus; the natural law theory of Aquinas; the concept of the “indirectly voluntary”; the relations of “proportionalism” to the moral theology of Aquinas.

GABRIELLA LETTINI • SKSM (Public Ministry) • Moral Injury and Soul Repair; Liberation, Feminist, Womanist, Mujerista, Queer Theologies and Ethics; Religious Traditions and the Construction, Demonization or Welcoming of the “Other”; Racial and Economic Justice, Poverty Scholarship, Grassroots Truth Commissions; Transformative Scholarship and Pedagogies; Multi-religious Education and Transformative Leadership, Community Organizing.

THOMAS MASSARO, S.J. • JST (Ethics/Politics) • Catholic social thought; Religion and politics; Ethics of globalization; History of Christian political thought; Sociology of religion; Theories of justice

JAMES NOEL • SFTS (American Religion) • American church history; Black church history; African-American religious experience; urban ministry.

ROBERT RUSSELL • GTU/CTNS (Theology and Science) • Resurrection, eschatology and physical cosmology; Trinitarian theologies of Pannenberg, Tillich, Rahner, and Peters in relation to the natural sciences; time and eternity in relation to physics; non-interventionist objective divine action (NIODA) and quantum mechanics; Christology and life in the universe; creation and physical cosmology; theological and scientific methodologies; inter-religious dialogue and natural science.