Jun 202017
 June 20, 2017

The Kenan Institute for Ethics has opened a new library space as a resource for the Duke community.

Found in 102 West Duke Building, the library features more than 900 works of fiction and non-fiction, including published selections from all faculty affiliated with Kenan, selections from staff Ethics Books Clubs from across campus, as well as other scholars and writers. The library is named in honor of Robert and Sara Pickus, the parents of Noah Pickus, who served as Kenan’s director from 2007 to 2017.

Students, faculty and staff are encouraged to come by the Institute and visit the library. Beginning in the fall semester, books can be checked out by Duke community members. A searchable list of books can be found on the library’s webpage.

Along with books written by faculty, the library also includes a collection of books published as the capstone project for Kenan’s Ethics Certificate Program. The most recent release, “Gross! Ethical Issues Surrounding Disgust,” included chapters written by nine students and co-edited by Professor Walter Sinnott-Armstrong and recent graduate Sophie Katz. Previous Ethics Certificate publications explored drugs and addiction, crime and punishment, war and terrorism, and moral and political disagreement.

Have an ethics-focused non-fiction or fiction book you’d like to recommend for the library? Email kie@duke.edu.



Jun 162017
 June 16, 2017

Two Duke students who participated in the Kenan Institute for Ethics’ Citizenship Lab have used their experience interacting with local refugee youth to advocate for better infrastructure as part of Durham’s public transportation system.

The Durham Herald-Sun published June 15 an op-ed from Snehan Sharma and Olivia Simpson in which the students note that many Durham bus stops lack shelter, seating or sidewalks, creating hardships for community members who regularly rely on buses to travel around the city. Sharma, Simpson and other students who paired academic research with real-world practice through Kenan’s Citizenship Lab, organized through Bass Connections, rode buses with Durham high school students from refugee backgrounds, interviewed passengers and evaluated the safety of stops.

In an op-ed for the Durham Herald-Sun, students Snehan Sharma and Olivia Simpson advocate for improved infrastructure for Durham’s bus riders, including more seating and shelter.

“The six million people who use GoDurham transit annually are relying on buses to get to work, buy groceries, visit clinics and so on,” Sharma and Simpson write. “As long-time residents are priced farther and farther out of the city’s core, it’s vital not only that we continue to invest in transit but that we ensure our investments reflect the interests of everyone.”

In recent years, more than 2,500 refugees have resettled in the Triangle from countries like Bhutan, Burma, Iraq, Somalia and Sudan. To explore challenges faced by these new residents and enhance refugee civic participation, the Citizenship Lab has connected Duke students with high school-aged youth to understand the connections between social science research engagement and citizenship.

In their piece, Sharma and Simpson encouraged Durham leaders to provide an more direct method for residents to share concerns about public transportation and lobby for transit improvements.

“Listening to stakeholders reminds us that strategic responsiveness to downtown development while ignoring longtime riders in other places is short-sighted,” they write. “Stakeholders also remind us that it is creative problem-solving that is truly needed, not another recitation of the reasons why improvements can’t be made.”

Read the full op-ed on the Herald-Sun website and watch the video below for more insight on Kenan’s Citizenship Lab.

Jun 072017
 June 7, 2017

A former Kenan TA, Graduate Fellow and researcher with the Kenan Institute’s Moral Attitudes and Decision-Making Lab (MADLAB) and Rethinking Regulation program will spend the 2017-2018 academic year teaching ethics in Canada.

Aaron Ancell, who has been a part of research in civility in public discourse and co-authored a paper on regulation and democratic theory among other work, will act as the Postdoctoral Fellow in Ethics for the University of Toronto’s Centre for Ethics. He’ll share his expertise in political philosophy and ethics through research and teaching two classes at the college.

“Kenan has been one of the most important parts of my experience at Duke,” Ancell said. “It’s easy to get lost in the particular questions, frameworks, and debates of one’s own discipline and to lose sight of how one’s research fits into the bigger picture, but my involvement with Kenan has left me with a much better view of that big picture.”

Ancell’s dissertation, “Public Unreason: Essays on Political Disagreement,” advances research on political disagreements informed by social epistemology and psychology. All four of Ancell’s dissertation committee members (Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Allen Buchanan, Wayne Norman, and David Wong) have affiliation with the Kenan Institute. Ancell defends his dissertation this September.

Jun 062017
 June 6, 2017

The co-director of the Kenan Institute for Ethics’ Moral Attitudes and Decision-Making Lab is featured in a special 10th anniversary issue of GIST Magazine, produced by Duke’s Social Science Research Institute (SSRI).

Jana Schaich Borg was among attendees at Kenan’s “Ethics, Codes, and Learning” symposium in April 2017.

In a Q&A with the magazine, Jana Schaich Borg, who also serves as an assistant research professor at SSRI, shares insight on what it’s like to teach one of the most popular Massive Open Online Courses on learning site, Coursera, and what it takes to be a successful data scientist. Her work with Kenan and at Duke has included research on how and why humans and animals make social decisions, including moral decisions.

“It is very difficult for me to get my head wrapped around the fact that humans intentionally hurt each other,” Borg said in the interview. “The only way I could handle learning about such events is if I tried to do something to stop them or at least understand them.”

Since 2010, Borg has co-authored seven publications with Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, the Chauncey Stillman Professor in Practical Ethics in the Department of Philosophy and the Kenan Institute for Ethics, who directs the Moral Attitudes and Decsion-Making Lab. Their most recent work, “Distinct neuronal patterns of positive and negative moral processing in psychopathy,” was published last year in Cognitive, Affective, & Behaviorial Neuroscience.

See Jana Schaich Borg’s Q&A in the latest issue of GIST.

Jun 052017
 June 5, 2017

As part of a series of commentaries on the book, “Friends and Other Strangers: Studies in Religion, Ethics, and Culture,” Senior Fellow Luke Bretherton was selected to write a response to a chapter on issues related to religion and public policy.

Posted to the University of Chicago’s Religion & Culture forum, Bretherton provides analysis of a portion of the latest book by Richard B. Miller, the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School. Bretherton’s primary teaching interests include theological ethics, Christian political thought, and practices of social, political and economic witness.

In his post, Bretherton discusses themes of civic empathy, including the idea of whether people should consider religious literacy as part of civic engagement.

“Liberalism is just as much a comprehensive doctrine as Communism or Christianity, yet, in Miller’s account, it is assumed to be neutral and the kind of anthropology it presupposes (namely, the self-reflexive, autonomous subject) and values it requires conformity to (namely, equality, autonomy, and reciprocity) are never subject to critique and so never problematized or interrogated,” he writes.

Read Bretherton’s full response: A Political Ethic of Alterity: Liberalism or Agonistic Democratic Politics?


Jun 012017
 June 1, 2017

Lori Bennear, co-director of the Rethinking Regulation Program at the Kenan Institute for Ethics, has been named Duke’s inaugural Juli Plant Grainger Associate Professor of Energy Economics and Policy.

A leading voice in research and scholarship assessing effectiveness of environmental policies and regulation, Bennear has contributed to Rethinking Regulation’s research and teaching efforts, including Bass Connections teams and the upcoming book, “Policy Shock: Recalibrating Risk and Regulation after Oil Spills, Nuclear Accidents and Financial Crises.”

In addition to a primary appointment as associate professor of environmental economics and policy at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, Bennear holds secondary faculty appointments at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy and its Economics Department, along with serving as co-director of Rethinking Regulation. Bennear will assume the Grainger Professorship and begin a concurrent one-year term as associate director for educational programs at the Duke University Energy Initiative July 1.

“Through her unbiased and clear-eyed scholarship, Lori is helping reshape how we evaluate the real-world impacts of environmental regulations and measure their successes and shortcomings,” said Jeffrey Vincent, Stanback Dean at the Nicholas School.

For more information about Bennear’s new appointment, see this announcement.

May 312017
 May 31, 2017

Catherine Mathers, left, and Sucheta Mazumdar, right, will join the Duke Human Rights Center at Kenan.

Catherine Mathers, a Senior Lecturing Fellow in the International Comparative Studies Program, and Sucheta Mazumdar, an Associate Professor in the Department of History will join the DHRC@KIE next year as inaugural Faculty Fellows.

Mathers’ work will focus on post-apartheid identities in South Africa and Mazumdar’s research will compare the Dalit and African-American experiences.

May 302017
 May 30, 2017

Research which suggests that many students have a fairly well-developed sense of moral identity was recently presented at the American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting in San Antonio by Amber Díaz Pearson, research scholar at the Kenan Institute for Ethics, together with Tara Hudson, a post doctoral scholar and collaborator at the University of Notre Dame. The authors found that college students think about the meaning of a moral and ethical life in complex ways and that understanding these ideas can shed light on students’ future participation as citizens of a democratic and pluralistic society.

The paper, “Developing the Moral Self: College Students’ Understandings of Living a Moral or Ethical Life,” presented findings from surveys of undergraduates at two private U.S. universities: one faith-based and one independent. “Honesty” and “respect” were the most frequently cited principles and values identified as important by students, followed by characteristics like kindness, loyalty and compassion. Responses specifically referenced interest in promoting the wellbeing of others, avoiding acts of harm, and doing what is morally or ethically right even when it may not be the easiest choice. One respondent noted it was important to “use your light to bring out the light in others.”

“One of our most interesting findings was how often students used other-centered language when describing their values and what living morally and ethically means to them,” Pearson said. “Over half of responses from students at both institutions referred to other people and their needs.”

The study producing this research was funded by a three-year, multi-institutional grant from the Teagle Foundation. Overall, the study aimed to understand the frameworks of students’ ethical and moral decision-making and identify educational practices that promote moral and ethical development. This research provides insight to institutions seeking to fulfill their missions of educating students for citizenship and lives of meaning and purpose.

Suzanne Shanahan, Nannerl O. Keohane Director of the Kenan Institute for Ethics, Robert Thompson, Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University, and Jay Brandenberger, director for research and graduate student initiatives at the Center for Social Concerns at University of Notre Dame are co-PI’s of the project.

Researchers are currently developing articles focused on other findings from the study. The full draft of the conference paper, “Developing the Moral Self: College Students’ Understandings of Living a Moral or Ethical Life,” will be posted in the AERA Online Paper Repository along with other papers presented at the 2017 Annual Meeting.

May 302017
 May 30, 2017

The Kenan Institute for Ethics and Parr Center for Ethics at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill recently announced the winners of the 2017 Moral Purpose Award, an annual contest to highlight the role a liberal arts education plays in students’ exploration of their personal and social purposes.

This year’s entries – submitted by undergraduates at Duke and UNC – addressed questions about how a student’s core beliefs or larger aims have been tested, transformed or confirmed at college, as well as lessons learned from defending or challenging ideas and social norms. Entries included essays of 500 to 800 words that considered the intellectual, emotional, and moral commitments that make for a full life.

Winners and essays included:


Grand prize:

  • Amulya Vadapalli, PPS ’19, Public Policy Studies – A Closed Mind

Honorable Mention:

  • Brian Wong, ’19,Political Science via a joint degree program with the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and the National University of Singapore – For Liberty, and Love of Learning

Vadapalli and Wong both received a $1,000 prize.

May 292017
 May 29, 2017

In the latest edition of the Kenan Institute for Ethics’ “Good Question” series, Valerie Ashby, Dean of Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, offers insight about how diversity plays a pivotal role on today’s college campus.

Ashby, who took on the role as Trinity’s Dean in 2015, she said she was lucky to inherit a diverse senior leadership team made up of Duke faculty and staff of different genders, race and ethnicities with backgrounds in everything from art to architecture and medicine. Weekly meetings with the group means “I never have to worry about whether or not we can find an answer to a complex problem,” she said, because of all the different ways the team approaches issues that face the university.

“At Duke, diversity is just who we are,” she said.

Read more of Ashby’s ideas on diversity and how it’s played an important role in her life in her Good Question profile.