Apr 192018
 April 19, 2018

From March 10-16, six undergraduates took part in the Kenan Institute for Ethics’ Alternative Spring Break in the Rio Grande Valley region of Texas, where they witnessed firsthand the changing physical and philosophical nature of the U.S.-Mexico border. The trip enabled students to examine the impact that a constructed wall and heavily regulated border crossings have on the residents, economies, and cultures of the twin border cities of Brownsville, Texas, U.S.A. and Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico. While there, the group members met with representatives of the Texas Civil Rights Project, the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, and other on-the-ground partners.

Speaking on a public panel at KIE on April 18th, five of the six participating students reflected on how the trip had reshaped their thinking of the immigrant experience by bringing them much closer in proximity to the border and allowing them to speak with individuals for whom the border is a part of life. They were joined on the panel via Skype by Richard Phillips (’17), a participant on a previous Alternative Spring Break trip to the border of Mexico and Arizona, who is currently working as an associate researcher for the Duke Initiative for Science & Society in south and central Texas.

Phillips said of his experience:

The world’s many, intractable human crises, like that of undocumented migration across the U.S.-Mexico border, naturally cause discomfort and pain within those who witness them. That’s how I felt when I went to the Arizona border during my Alternative Spring Break in 2016. It was tempting to find the easy way out: put together a fundraiser on campus, donate a little bit of my time or money to the cause, write a Facebook think-piece on our country’s flawed border security policies, etc. I wanted to feel like I’d done something to help, and then with that peace of mind move on with my life. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that that was the wrong thing to do. That it would result in me leveraging my privilege to escape the reality that many people do not have the choice to leave. That it would be nothing more than a return to my blissful ignorance.
As students at one of the world’s top universities, it’s important to recognize that we aren’t necessarily meant to “do” anything just yet in our lives. We are meant to look, listen, feel, and be changed by the knowledge we are given and the world we see around us. Going to the border gave me a crucial opportunity to leave the Duke bubble and catch a glimpse of the suffering that is the reality of the real world. I learned to sit in the discomfort and pain of that reality, rather than numb myself and pull away. I learned to take advantage of my brief stints in the real world to listen to what it’s trying to tell me, and to learn how I can be of best use towards alleviating its suffering once my time in school is over. The experience changed my life.

Prior to their trip, the 2018 group members met to hear guest speakers and discuss assigned readings. During the experience, they participated in evening reflections and kept journals documenting their questions, concerns, and experiences. The students described how their firsthand experiences in the Rio Grande Valley region had debunked many of their preconceived notions about the border area and the nature of border crossings, while also leaving them with many more ethical questions to be considered and a better understanding of the complexity of immigration issues in the United States.

Watch a “video journal” of the students’ reflections upon their return:

Apr 172018
 April 17, 2018

Ed Balleisen, Associate Professor of History and Senior Fellow in the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University, was recently honored at the annual meeting of the Business History Conference (BCH).

Balleisen specializes in the evolving “culture of American capitalism,” the institutions, values, and practices that have historically both structured and limited commercial activity. At the 2018 BCH, he was awarded the Harold F. Williamson Award, given every other year to “a mid-career scholar who has made significant contributions to the field of business history.” The Williamson Prize Committee emphasized Balleisen’s scholarship, including his first book, Navigating Failure: Bankruptcy and Commercial Society in Antebellum America (UNC Press, 2001), as well as his most recent book, Fraud: An American History from Barnum to Madoff (Princeton University Press, 2017). The award citation stressed that “his pioneering insights into the ‘dark side’ of capitalism have helped us to go beyond the usual paeans to market efficiencies and the unalloyed virtues of unfettered entrepreneurship, changing how we approach the history of business.”

Also at the conference, Balleisen’s Fraud received the Ralph Gomory Book Prize, awarded annually to a volume that demonstrates “the effects of business enterprises on the economic conditions of the countries in which they operate.” The prize committee described Fraud as “deeply-researched, engagingly written, and full of insightful analysis,” and as “an important contribution to the history of business and capitalism.”

The citation noted Balleisen’s teaching and mentoring awards at Duke and his leadership in founding a number of collaborative undertakings, including KIE’s Rethinking Regulation Program and an oral history project on regulatory governance.

Apr 102018
 April 10, 2018

Led by Norman Wirzba and Jedediah Purdy, funded by the Henry Luce Foundation, and housed at the Kenan Institute for Ethics, Facing the Anthropocene is a project that considers humanity’s place in the world and what it means for social, political, and institutional change. The anthropocene marks the unprecedented moment when humanity becomes a dominant force in planetary history, responsible for widespread alterations of the world’s land, ocean, and atmospheric ecosystems.

For the 2018 summer term, we offered three Summer Graduate Research Grants, open to Duke doctoral students. Recipients will each write on how the anthropocene influences their their research, and will give a presentation in the fall on how investigations of anthropocene themes have affected their work and future research plans. Grant recipients each receive a stipend of $6000.

We also offered two summer fellowships to Duke graduate students in collaboration with the Duke Campus Farm. The Farm Fellows will work alongside other farm interns, faculty, and staff, engaging in archival and field research on the history of land use and habitation on the Farm. They will focus on the history of the Farm and the surrounding area as sites of native land use and enslaved labor. Farm Fellows each receive a stipend of $5000.

2018 Anthropocene Graduate Research Grant Winners
Jieun Cho, PhD student, Cultural Anthropology
Ryan Juskus, PhD candidate, Graduate Program in Religion
Sally Bornbusch, PhD candidate, Evolutionary Anthropology

2018 Anthropocene Farm Fellows
Brett Stonecipher, Master of Theological Studies, Divinity School
Chelsea Clifford, PhD candidate, NSOE Environmental Science & Policy

Apr 042018
 April 4, 2018

Last week, the student-led Honor Council organized a series of events to mark Integrity Week and its own 25th anniversary. A March 30th talk by former United States Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Sarah Bloom Raskin was the culminating event. Raskin is a KIE Rubenstein Fellow working closely with the Rethinking Regulation program.

The Integrity Week events were part of a year-long series of ethics-themed programs focusing on ethical issues in higher education, business, and in the community. Read more.



Apr 032018
 April 3, 2018
“Duke has given me opportunities to see the world and study oppression occurring at home and abroad…We need to take the time, after problematizing everything, to build things back up.”  — Catherine Ward, Duke ’18


“If we were both settled in our views, why spend the time engaging at all? …I pieced together why I found such meaning in these discussions. Usually, they weren’t centered on what, but how… Morality, which we both took so seriously, was somewhat of a bridge between our two very different world views.”  — Keegan Barnes, UNC ’19

The 2018 Kenan Moral Purpose Award Winners have been chosen. Learn more about the winners and read their essays.

Mar 292018
 March 29, 2018

Religions and Public Life at KIE encourages Duke graduate and undergraduate students to apply to our annual international summer school looking at issues in religion and public life. This year’s program will be held in Leipzig, Germany, July 23-29:

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam: these religions rely on normative religious traditions, sometimes called ‘Holy Scriptures’. Today, late-modern or post-modern societies often ask if these normative texts are still meaningful and relevant.

Sponsored by the International Network on Interreligious Research and Education (INIRE), the Leipzig Summer School 2018 brings together researchers and scholars with different religious and professional backgrounds: scholars from Israel, the USA, and Germany, researchers in History, Bible, Quran, Theology, and Sociology of Religion.

The questions asked will include: What roles do “Torah”, “Bible”, and “Quran” play in the three monotheistic religions in the past and present? How are the old texts interpreted today? And how are they used in religious and political discussions? Are ‘holy texts’ relevant for ‘secular people’? And what role do ‘holy texts’ play in the dialogue of religions and discourse in our societies?

Students are asked to send serena.elliott@duke.edu a one-page essay detailing their interest in the program and how it fits into their current course of study. Airfare, lodging, and meals are all included for students selected for the program.

Summer School travel funding is provided by the Center for Jewish Studies at Duke University. The Summer School is co-sponsored by Religions and Public Life at KIE and Leipzig University, with support from other members of INIRE.

Mar 222018
 March 22, 2018

Arete High School Ethics Summer Seminar

July 9-14, 2018 |  Kenan Institute for Ethics, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina

The “Arete Summer Seminar in Ethics, Philosophy, and Religion at The Kenan Institute for Ethics” at Duke University aims to prepare high school students with a “tool kit” for approaching these subjects in college, offering them a roadmap of sorts. Plato and Aristotle will be the primary interlocutors along with a number of other great minds. The seminar will examine the meaning of virtue, the substance of human nature, the question of human flourishing, the metaphysics of reality, and the nature of “truth.”

Learn more about the summer seminar and how to apply.


Mar 212018
 March 21, 2018

Their majors include Global Health, Computer Science, Public Policy, and Evolutionary Anthropology. Their summer studies will focus on issues in Ethiopia, Pakistan, and around the United States. Meet these six undergraduates who are asking thoughtful variations on the question, “What does it mean to lead an ethical life?


Feb 262018
 February 26, 2018

The 2018 Kenan Distinguished Lecture, “Making Straight What Has Been Crooked: The Ethics and Politics of Race in America,” held on March 2, was a conversation with Mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu and Adriane Lentz-Smith, Associate Professor of History at Duke University. Introduction provided by Durham City Council Member Mark-Anthony Middleton.

This past May, a statue of Robert E. Lee that towered over New Orleans since 1884 was taken down along with three other monuments of prominent Confederates. Mitch Landrieu, Mayor of New Orleans, gave an impassioned address that explained the decision to relocate these monuments. More than that, the speech challenged the whole city to tell a better history, one that more honestly assessed the past as it makes it easier to “do the right thing” today.

As summer set on Durham, a Confederate monument was toppled, Twitter erupted with disputed claims of an impending Klan march, and a statue of Robert E. Lee was removed from Duke University’s Chapel. The city of Durham and Duke University have begun their own reckoning that looks backward and forward.  A joint City-County Committee on Confederate Monuments and Memorials will begin its work in the late spring. At the same time there is a clear recognition with Durham city government that the legacy of slavery is not only to be found in statuary, but also and more immediately in ongoing racial discrimination.

How do we tell our history for today’s Durham? What is ethical history? Whose voices are heard? What role does politics play?


Feb 212018
 February 21, 2018

moral purpose
The call for submissions to the 2018 Kenan Moral Purpose Award essay competition is now open, with a deadline of midnight on Monday, March 19. The Kenan Moral Purpose Award is given for the best undergraduate student essay on the role a liberal arts education plays in students’ exploration of the personal and social purposes by which to orient their future and the intellectual, emotional, and moral commitments that make for a full life.

More information and submission instructions here: http://kenan.ethics.duke.edu/students/kenan-moral-purpose-award/