The Ethics & Society Certificate offers undergraduates multiple pathways to explore meaningful ethical questions. Certificate students engage in good pursuits through coursework, faculty mentored research, and fieldwork.

Does a government have the right to insist on another government’s adherence to human rights standards? Should a museum be forced to return artifacts that were stolen centuries before the museum acquired them? Is it ever OK to take drugs to improve performance on an exam? What similar problems were faced by people in the past, and how did they resolve them? How can art, music, and literature provide insight into our real-world challenges?

Students pursuing the Ethics & Society Certificate grapple with big questions and thorny problems using multiple perspectives.

Those who pursue the Ethics & Society Certificate will follow either a course-based pathway or an experiential pathway. Both share a Gateway and Capstone course. The course-based pathway requires a total of six courses, while the experiential pathway requires four total courses as well as two experiential components, such as mentored research or community-based field work.

Explore the Ethics & Society Certificate below. Please email Jesse Summers or Hillary Train if you have any questions.


This course is an interdisciplinary introduction to ethical inquiry using materials from film to philosophy to explore questions of personal ethics as well as political and social ethical challenges. CZ, EI. Fall and Spring. No prerequisites. Open to everyone.

This course should be taken in the spring semester of a student’s senior year, and it is open only to Ethics & Society Certificate students. The students choose a topic, read about and discuss that topic, and then write a book together on that topic, editing each other’s chapters.  Students bring together interdisciplinary insights from previous work in the certificate program and work collaboratively to produce their book. As appropriate, the research for this course can link with (but not substituted by) research undertaken to graduate with Distinction in a major or in the certificate. EI, R, W. Spring only.

A list of courses to fulfill the electives requirements will be available soon.

For questions about electives, please contact Jesse Summers

Experiential Pathway

experimental pathway components: gateway + 2 electives from any area + field experience + research experience + capstone

In the Experiential Pathway, students work with the Ethics & Society Certificate Director to craft their own coherent pathway bringing together coursework, research, and community engagement in a concentration of their choosing. Concentrations may focus on ethical issues within topics such as (but not limited to): environmental justice; civil and civic engagement; medicine; race and the United States.

In addition to the Gateway and Capstone courses, students must complete elective courses related to their concentration and two experiential components:

  • Research Experience: 150 hours of faculty-mentored research (either for-credit or not). This could include an independent research topic or work as part of a research team, like Bass Connections. Students usually complete the research experience over the course of one or two semesters.
  • Field Experience: 300 hours of a non-credit, community-based field experience. Students may choose any type of field work, but this could include an existing program such as DukeEngage or Kenan Summer Fellows. Students usually complete the field experience over a summer.

Course-based Pathway

course-based pathway components: gateway + philosophical + cross-cultural + either historical or arts + elective from any area + capstone

The course-based pathway engages students in classical and contemporary ethical debates across many disciplines. While not required,  students may choose to focus their study by declaring a concentration. Concentrations may examine ethical issues within topics such as (but not limited to): environmental justice; civil and civic engagement; medicine; race and the United States.

In addition to the Gateway and Capstone courses, students must take at least four electives, approved by the department, from the following categories:

  • Philosophical Ethics: Develop a foundation in philosophical ethical traditions.
  • Cross-Cultural Ethical Traditions: Develop insight into a variety of ethical traditions across cultures.
  • Ethics in Historical Perspective OR Ethics in Literature and Art: Ethics Historical Perspective electives develop knowledge of different ethical dilemmas across time, as well as the variety of solutions offered to those dilemmas. Ethics in Literature and Arts electives develop a moral imagination and gain a deeper understanding of human frailty, creativity, and strength by studying fiction, poetry, painting, and film.
  • Ethics of Contemporary Issues OR A course in any of the above categories: Ethics of Contemporary Issues electives explore the ethical challenges in today’s workplaces, fields of study, and everyday life. Students are not required to take a course in this category and may instead take an additional course in any of the categories listed above.

Additional Certificate Requirements and Restrictions


Course-Based Pathway (traditional certificate)

  • No more than half of the courses can originate in any one department or program.
  • No more than two course credits to fulfill the requirements of a traditional certificate can overlap with another major, minor or certificate.
  • At least half the courses taken to satisfy the certificate must be Duke course credits. Transfer students should consult with the department.
  • The combined number of majors, minors, and certificates may not exceed three.


Experiential Certificate


  • The combined number of majors, minors, and certificates may not exceed three.
  • Students must declare no later than the end of the drop/add period of the fall semester of junior year.

Students must work with the certificate director to develop the following declaration components:

  • An essay outlining the logic and rationale for the pathway
  • Identification of the four courses and two thematically related experiences that the student plans to complete
  • Establishment of a public facing e-portfolio
  • Selection of a three person faculty advisory committee (director may approve of a single standing faculty committee)


  • Students must take the Gateway course no later than the first semester it is offered following the student’s first thematically related learning experience
  • No electives can count toward the certificate that preceded the Gateway course
  • No more than one course credit to fulfill the requirements of the experiential certificate can overlap with another major, minor or certificate
  • The Capstone cannot be taken until the Gateway course, two elective courses, and the two thematically related experiences are completed