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Program Overview

Religious and Ethical Studies

Certificate in Religious and Ethical Studies

Pursue a broadly interdisciplinary course of study focusing on the comparative analysis of belief. Students will expand their knowledge of both religious and ethical systems and of the lived experience of religion. The relationships between faith, morality, and social context will also be considered.

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About the Religious and Ethical Studies certificate

Religious and Ethical Studies Course Schedule

The Religious and Ethical Studies Course Schedule page provides you with detailed information on the program's offerings.

Religious and Ethical Studies Faculty

You can find a full listing of our instructors in this certificate program on the Religious and Ethical Studies Faculty page.

Admission for the Religious and Ethical Studies certificate

Applicants to this certificate program must hold a graduate degree from an accredited U.S. college, university or its foreign equivalent. A competitive graduate record that indicates strong academic ability is required. Work, internship, or research experience is highly desirable, but not a requirement. A list of admission requirements can be found on our Religious and Ethical Studies Admission page.

Religious and Ethical Studies Tuition

Tuition costs can vary for each of our programs. For the most up-to-date information on financial obligations, please visit our Religious and Ethical Studies Tuition page.

Religious and Ethical Studies Registration Information

Our Religious and Ethical Studies Registration Information page outlines important dates and deadlines as well as the process for adding and dropping courses.

Gainful Employment in Religious and Ethical Studies

Common questions and answers related to cost, financing and success in this certificate program are found on our Gainful Employment in Religious and Ethical Studies page.

Additional Information

This post-graduate certificate may be especially beneficial to educators, students who are thinking of going on to a PhD program, or anyone who wants to combine interdisciplinary methods with specific subjects. The coursework will:

  • Expose students to Northwestern University’s distinguished and world class instructors.
  • Provide students with countless opportunities to engage with others who are passionate to learn more about vitally important social and cultural issues through history, religion, philosophy, art, literature and film.
  • Prepare students for the intellectual demands of professional life by enriching students’ understanding of a broad array of social and cultural issues while improving their ability to analyze, write and complete research.
  • Sharpen analytical and writing abilities, which can help prepare students for application to PhD programs.

Applicants must possess a graduate degree in order to be considered for this program.

Find out more about Northwestern's Religious and Ethical Studies certificate

Religious and Ethical Studies Course Options

To complete this certificate, students may take any four courses available in the topic area (which may include courses available through The Graduate School). To satisfy the four units of credit required for the certificate, students also have the option to register for the following:

  • An independent study, which is a customized course of study undertaken by a single student under the guidance of an instructor. Denoted by the course number, 499, independent studies are comparable in their demands to other graduate-level courses.
  • A capstone project, which is an essay of 45 to 75 double-spaced pages written under the supervision of an approved faculty member. The project presents an opportunity to research and explore a topic thoroughly. Students often elect to expand a seminar paper from a previous course. Students who wish to pursue a capstone project must do so as their fourth and final course in the certificate program.

Students who did not previously study the humanities at the graduate level are strongly encouraged to take IPLS 410: Introduction to Cultural Analysis. This course introduces students to interdisciplinary cultural analysis through an intellectual history of critical theorists and thinkers. Through close reading, seminar discussion and presentations, students develop their critical analysis skills.

Please note that courses completed in the certificate program cannot be transferred to the corresponding graduate degree.

Core Courses:Course Detail
Tolerance: A Global History <> IPLS 401-0

The current election cycle seems be bringing into stark relief some fundamental questions surrounding difference in contemporary society. One of the hallmarks of modern society is its attempt to produce a truly diverse populace through the elevation of tolerance—of neighbors who lead culturally different lives—to a primary value. As noble as the idea of tolerance may seem, it has faced and continues to face resistance in our contemporary world for a variety of reasons. This course begins with the premise that tolerance is not a simple concept, that it has a complicated origin story in the Reformation/Counter-Reformation and that, ironically, it was global Christianity in its missionizing that laid the groundwork for the proliferation of ideologies of tolerance and diversity in modernity. The course will begin its focus on missionaries, a group of people rarely identified with tolerance. We will read primary texts associated with the conquest of the New World that attempt to characterize and cultivate native populations, whose own religious patrimonies represented not only a barrier to conversion but a genuine threat to global Christian ways of understanding phenomena in the world. In this context we will examine as case studies the writings of religious scholars who encountered different religious cultures in North America and South Asia. We will see how these missionary scholars employed religious categories like “idolatry” and “superstition” to think about the different societies they encountered and to process elements of these societies that could be tolerated as "cultural" difference. This material will prepare us for a transition to Enlightenment philosophical writings about tolerance. We will closely examine Voltaire's Treatise on Tolerance and John Locke's A Letter Concerning Toleration and consider these in light of the emerging philosophical tradition and in contrast with the missionary texts that, we will see, pave the way for some of the ideas contained within these works. Finally, we will reflect on contemporary society’s tolerance challenges and consider what scholarly works from early modernity and the Enlightenment could teach us today. (This course may count towards the History, Religious and Ethical Studies, or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the liberal studies graduate and advanced graduate study certificate programs.)


There is no available section.
Courses:Course Detail
Cinema, History, Const. of Rel <> IPLS 401-0

Since the early years after their introduction in the closing decade of the nineteenth century, motion pictures have constituted the most popular and pervasive form of entertainment for the US general public. Even under the competitive assault of television, movies still hold the preeminent position, inasmuch as a major portion of the content of television programming, whether via the commercial networks or the plethora of cable providers, is comprised of movies - either those produced for the theater venue or specially made-for-TV/cable. From the outset, the claim has been made in various quarters that cinematic productions have significant formative influence - positive or negative - on their audiences. This course is offered on the premise that movies do, in fact, have significant influence on the formation of social and religious values, the formation of the narrative of who we are as a nation, and in informing the mode of our interaction with the public sphere. (This course may count towards the American Studies, Religious and Ethical Studies, History, or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in liberal studies and advanced graduate study certificate programs. This course may also count towards the Film, Literature, and Visual Culture or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in literature and advanced graduate study certificate programs.)


There is no available section.
Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad <> IPLS 401-0

The Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad were among the most influential spiritual teachers in history and were the founders of three of the world’s major religions. This course examines and compares the lives, the traditions and the legacies of these three distinctive figures. We will focus on both the sacred literature of each tradition and the interpretations of these teachers in literature generally, past and present, Western and Eastern. Questions to be considered include the search for the historical identities of these teachers, the nature of their teachings and religions, the similarities, differences and possible influences among them, and the ways that these figures have been interpreted and compared in art and literature.  (This course may count towards the American Studies, Religious and Ethical Studies, History, or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the liberal studies graduate and advanced graduate study certificate programs. This course may also count towards the Comparative and World Literature and Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master's in literature and advanced graduate study certificate programs.)


There is no available section.
Religion, Existentialism, and Film <> IPLS 401-0

In the aftermath of the World War I, many artists and filmmakers asked new questions about the relationship between realism and religion. Could one reconcile concrete reality (or realism) with faith in the other-worldly? Many of the artists under discussion in the course drew upon themes that had already been raised by Kierkegaard in the 19th century. What is the relationship between religion and modernity, faith and ethics, reality and the supernatural, observable phenomena and invisible causes? How does one make sense of death in a meaningless universe? Is the universe meaningless? Can meaning be found in realism itself? This course asks students to grapple simultaneously with philosophy and film. We will dig into the language of existential philosophy and compare it to the language of film. We will read Kierkegaard and Sartre and watch films made by Robert Bresson, Luis Buñuel, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Ingmar Bergman, and Woody Allen. In so doing, we will study how mid-to-late 20th century filmmakers sought to understand and portray life's many meanings, presenting protagonists who actively take up religious life, or who consider themselves inhabiting a godless and meaningless universe. In both genres, we will think about the problem of “experience” and how to narrate it. We will discuss the relationship between realism, atheism, Christianity and modernity, as well as the role of Christian symbolism in existentialist literature and film. (This course may count towards the American Studies, History, Religious and Ethical Studies, or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in liberal studies and advanced graduate study certificate programs. This course may count towards the Film, Literature and Visual Culture, or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in literature and advanced graduate study certificate programs.)


There is no available section.
Imagining the Internet: Fiction, Film and Theory <> IPLS 401-0

Much recent fiction, film, and theory are concerned with representing the internet and online environments. Sometimes cyberspace is depicted as a continuation of previous media such as television, cinema, or telephone, but often it is envisioned as a new frontier. This course will examine the ways in which digital interfaces appear in cultural discourses. We consider how technological objects and tools participate in shaping elements of our culture that may appear natural, logical, or timeless. Our guiding questions will include the following: In what ways are these narratives shaping collective perceptions of the internet? How have virtual technologies challenged experiences of language, gender, sex, race, ethnicity, and location? We will focus on literary and filmic representations of social networking, gaming, news delivery, and artificial intelligence. Following a Cultural Studies model for inquiry, this course will be text-based with require that you develop close reading strategies, as well as revise your work. (This course may count towards the American Studies, Digital Studies, History, Religious and Ethical Studies, or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in liberal studies and advanced graduate study certificate programs. This course may also count towards the Film, Literature and Visual Culture, or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in literature and advanced graduate study certificate programs. But any interested graduate student may take the course as an elective. Please note, this course is a hybrid which will meet in person on January 13, February 10, and March 17.)


There is no available section.
Asian Religions in Lit & Film <> IPLS 402-0

Since the age when the maritime explorers searched for a passage to India and a shorter route to the East, Asia has held a fascination for the West and the religions and cultures of Asia have influenced Western literature, philosophy and religion. This course explores some of the classic literature of the Asian religions, Hinduism, Buddhism and Daoism, and also considers some of the ways that this literature has been interpreted in the modern period in both Asian and Western film and literature. Among our readings will be two of the great epics of Hinduism, the Bhagavad Gita and the Ramayana, as well as key writings from the Buddhist tradition, and the Chinese Tao Te Ching (Dao De Jing). We shall also view examples of Asian and Western film and read modern works by authors such as Thoreau, Forster and Kerouac in order to inquire how this Asian literature and its religious themes have been interpreted and re-imagined in the modern period. (This course may count toward the American, World and Comparative literature, or Literature, film, and visual culture specializations in MALit. It may count toward the American studies, History, and Religion and ethical studies specializations in MALS. It may also count toward any of these specialization certificate programs. It may also count as a literature course or elective in the creative writing program.)


There is no available section.
Technology and Revolution in the Middle East <> IPLS 492-0

From the building of railroads in the late Ottoman Empire, to the so-called “Facebook revolutions” of 2009-2011, the transformation of the Middle East in the last two centuries has often been linked with new technologies. This course will explore how Middle Eastern people have used such technologies to change their experience of travel, communication, fashion, prayer, childbearing, entertainment, and more. What is the relationship between technological development and cultural and political change? How have Middle Eastern societies and movements adapted modern technologies to their own purposes? This course aims to help students advance their understanding of the formation of the modern Middle East and to think critically about the role of technology in history. (This course may count towards the History, Religious and Ethical Studies, or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the liberal studies graduate and advanced graduate study certificate programs.)


There is no available section.
Buddhist Tradition and Contemporary Manifestations <> IPLS 492-0

This class will explore the evolution of the Buddhist tradition, and the ways that it has dealt with the dilemma of adapting an ancient tradition to the modern context. We will begin with the Buddha, his life and teachings and the foundations of Buddhism in Asia. Then the class will trace some of the modern expressions of Buddhism in both Asia and the West: such as the Beat Generation and Zen Buddhism, the Dalai Lama and socially engaged Buddhism, some of the political challenges that Buddhism has faced in Tibet, Sri Lanka and other places, and the Mindfulness movement with its Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and Insight meditation. (This course may count towards the History, Religious and Ethical Studies, and Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the liberal studies graduate and advanced graduate study certificate programs. This course may count towards the Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in literature and advanced graduate study certificate programs. It may also count as a literature course or elective in the creative writing program.)


View IPLS 492-0 Sections
Amer. Storytellers & the Theological Imagination <> IPLS 492-0

American novelists since World War II have engaged various theological currents that developed in the postwar period: the death-of-God movement, liberation theology, feminist theology, negative theology, Holocaust studies, and various poststructuralist theories of religion. One of the most interesting paradoxes during this time is that in spite of America’s steady cultural secularization, theological questions seem not to have lost but rather gained in urgency.

In other words, the frame of mind informing much of the best American fiction in the postwar period can be summed up perhaps most cogently in Paul Tillich’s phrase, “questions of ultimate concern.” These would include inquiries about the existence and nature of God, the meaning of sacrifice, the problem of evil, the possibility of justice, the relationship between violence and the sacred, and finally the exploration of gender not just as a social construction but indeed as a genuine theological problem.

Novels to be considered include Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer (1961), John Updike’s Couples (1968), Mary Gordon’s Final Payments (1978), Robert Stone’s A Flag for Sunrise (1981), Don DeLillo’s White Noise (1985), Toni Morrison’s Paradise (1997), and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006). Our readings in theology will include selections from Paul Tillich, René Girard, Mary Daly, Gustavo Gutierrez, Jacques Derrida, and Adrienne Rich. Finally, we will consider relevant film treatments of some of the questions and themes raised in the course, including most recently Paul Schrader’s First Reformed (2018).

(This course may count toward the American Literature and Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the Master of Arts in Literature and Advanced Graduate Study Certificate programs. It may count toward the American Studies, Religious and Ethical Studies, and Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies and Advanced Graduate Study Certificate programs. It may also count as a literature course or elective in the creative writing program.)


View IPLS 492-0 Sections
Can You Have Good Without God? <> LIT 405-0

British author and philosopher Dame Iris Murdoch explores this intriguing question in much of her fiction, introducing it, in part in her mid-career novel, A Fairly Honourable Defeat, an allegorical tale of the perennial struggle between good and evil. Having begun life as a practicing Anglican, and ending it (before the onset of Alzheimer's disease) as an agnostic, Dame Iris touches upon this subject in much of her fiction, in particular posing the age-old human question, who or what is responsible for evil and suffering in the universe if there is no God? If there is no God, can you have Good? It is important to remember that she began life as a philosopher.

Many of Murdoch's characters are caught in this dilemma; some seem to be "evil", using the term rather loosely, and some too good to be true. The young are often sacrificial lambs for the older generation. This course will examine Murdoch's universal themes and her very topical writing for today's world. She is a writer who needs to be remembered and respected.

Texts will include A Fairly Honourable Defeat, The Sovereignty of Good, A Severed Head, The Sea, The Sea, The Black Prince and The Book and The Brotherhood, among possible others. Course will feature some lecture, active discussion and short papers as well as one final longer paper.

(This course may count toward the British literature specialization. It may also count toward the Religion and ethical studies specialization in MALS. It may also count toward any of these specialization certificate programs.)


There is no available section.
The Seven Deadly Sins LIT 405-0

This course will consider representations of the seven deadly sins in Renaissance thought, art, and literature of the western European tradition, with a particular focus on the English canon. Texts will include both visual and textual artifacts, including paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder and Hieronymus Bosch; narrative poetry by John Skelton and Edmund Spenser; lyric poetry by Ben Jonson and Andrew Marvell; and prose sermons and essays by John Donne and Michel de Montaigne. (All texts will be provided in translation.) To complement the Renaissance texts, we will read contemporary essays about the conception and practice of the seven deadly sins in contemporary secular culture. By comparing early modern and contemporary conceptions of the sins, we will foster a larger conversation about the cultural history of western ethics and morality. (This course may count towards the British Literature, Film, Literature, and Visual Culture, or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in literature and advanced graduate study certificate programs. This course may also count towards the Religious and Ethical Studies or Interdisciplinary Studies specialization in the master of arts in liberal studies and advanced graduate study certificate programs. It may also count as a literature course or elective in the creative writing program.)


There is no available section.
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