Contemplative Studies Initiative and Concentration

Engaged Scholarship Certificate

Sponsored by the Department of Sociology and the Swearer Center, the Engaged Scholarship Certificate (ESC) allows undergraduate students to investigate public, civic, and/or social justice issues that they are passionate about through the integration of academic study with community-based learning, research and action. 

Contemplatives, in all traditions and throughout history, have tended to live their lives along a spectrum.  At one end are the recluses, those who withdraw from the world and live in seclusion: one thinks of the yogi living in a mountain cave.  At the other end are the activists, those who are engaged in the struggle for peace, justice and social equality. One thinks of Martin Luther King, Thich Nhat Hanh, Mahatma Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Tenzin Gyatso, Nelson Mandela, A.K. Ariyaratne and countless others, all deeply contemplative and all deeply engaged in transforming the world. Contemplative education requires that we introduce our students to this broad range of possibilities, so they can decide for themselves how they would like to bring their contemplative lives to helping solve some of the major social, environmental, and global problems of the 21st century. The Engaged Scholarship Certificate is one way our concentrators can prepare to transform society.

Structure and Eligibility

Detailed information about the Engaged Scholarship Certificate (ESC) can be found in the ESC Student Handbook.

The ESC can complement any single concentration. Students pursuing the ESC conduct intensive course-based interdisciplinary inquiry into their defined public, civic, and/or social justice issue (e.g., criminal justice reform, educational equity, environmental justice), coupled with direct engagement with communities, organizations, and practitioners outside of the academy. Each student will take a required foundational seminar and propose a set of three experiences—a three-course interdisciplinary elective sequence, a community-based practicum, and a capstone—related to the issue they define as their focus. 

ESC’s Four Requirements

  • Foundational Seminar (1 credit): SOC 0310: Theory and Practice of Engaged Scholarship (One section of SOC 0310 is currently offered each Fall and Spring semester, typically on Wednesdays between 3:00-5:30 p.m.)

  • Interdisciplinary Electives (3 credits): 

    • One Community-Based Learning and Research (CBLR) Course that relates to the student’s stated public, civic, and/or social justice issue.

    • One Issue Area Course that addresses the student’s stated public, civic, and/or social justice issue.

    • One Critical Perspectives Course that relates to the student’s stated public, civic, and/or social justice issue and examines the broader ethical, political, and social context of that issue area. Students are strongly encouraged to consider Race, Power, and Privilege-designated courses or other courses that address issues of structural inequality, the root causes of social problems, and the production of knowledge and difference in the context of discourses on race, power, and privilege.

Sample Courses and Pathways

Sample courses and student pathways through the ESC can be found in the ESC Student Handbook. However, these courses and sample pathways are not comprehensive. When declaring the ESC in ASK, students may propose other courses as electives (e.g., a course that is engaged but does not carry the CBLR designation or an independent study course that meets the criteria for any elective category). Students are encouraged to email or meet with Swearer Center staff to discuss their ESC Program Plan, including any proposed course substitutions or transfer credits from a course at another institution.

Grading Options

There are no defined expectations around grading options and the ESC. Students may elect their ESC courses to be graded on a basis of either A,B,C/No Credit or Satisfactory/No Credit.

  1. Practicum (0-1 credits): The ESC practicum is a significant practice-based experience (e.g., internship, fellowship, volunteer role, etc.) with a community organization or project, during which students also complete a series of reflective assignments. In most cases, the practicum will be completed as a non-credit-bearing experience. However, it may be fulfilled through a credit-bearing course, such as the Brown in Washington, D.C. Practicum course.  A list of past Engaged Scholars' practicums.

  2. Capstone (0-1 credits): The ESC capstone will provide students with a culminating learning experience through which they reflect back on their certificate work and demonstrate achievement and competency with respect to key learning outcomes articulated in their ESC declaration. A list of past Engaged Scholars' capstones. ESC students will have two options for fulfilling the capstone requirement:

    • Credit-Bearing Option (Engaged Research): Students who elect this option will pursue an engaged course involving research or other project-based work with a community partner organization. Students may select an upper-level course—including potentially a concentration/honors capstone course—or propose an independent study (Departmental Independent Study Projects or Group Independent Study Projects) aligned with their research interests and, with the agreement of the instructor, pursue a project with a collaborating non-academic partner.

    • Non-Credit-Bearing Option (ePortfolio/Reflection Essay): Students who elect this option will create an electronic portfolio (ePortfolio) of representative ESC work. The ePortfolio will consist of papers, projects, and/or other artifacts developed in courses and the ESC practicum. It will be accompanied by a reflective essay that responds to a series of prompts about the student’s community-engaged learning experiences.

Required Courses

The ESC will require four to five courses, depending primarily on whether a student elects a credit- or non-credit-bearing capstone.

Undergraduate Certificates

The College Curriculum Council has provided an overview of undergraduate certificates at Brown, as well as detailed guidelines for students who wish to pursue a certificate, including the ESC. Students may formally declare their intention to pursue the ESC if they meet the following criteria:

  • have an approved concentration on file in ASK; 

  • have completed or are currently enrolled in at least two courses that will meet requirements for the ESC. In most cases, one of these courses will be the required ESC foundational seminar, SOC 0310: Theory and Practice of Engaged Scholarship, which ideally will be taken during a student’s third, fourth, or fifth semester at Brown, although it is open to students at every semester level

  • have included a written statement in ASK discussing their rationale for pursuing the ESC and the relationship between it and their declared concentration;

  • are enrolled in at least their fifth or sixth semester,* and it is no later than the last day of classes in their antepenultimate (typically the sixth) semester. (See Brown’s Academic Calendar for more  details.)**;

  • are not pursuing another certificate at Brown;

  • are pursuing only one concentration at Brown; and

  • have no more than one course in their ESC Program Plan that overlaps with their declared concentration. When feasible, students are encouraged to have the credit-bearing capstone option be that course. 

*Students do not advance to being a fifth or sixth semester student until the beginning of each full-time term (with four semester enrollment units) in question. For example, a full-time student that is in their fourth semester during any given spring semester will not advance to being a fifth semester student until the beginning of the following fall semester. Therefore, most students will not be able to declare the ESC until the start of their fifth semester during any given fall semester. 

**Students pursuing a 5th-year combined degree at Brown (e.g., Brown | RISD Dual Degree Program) may petition the Committee on Academic Standing (CAS) in ASK for the option to pursue the ESC, and must do so no earlier than their sixth semester and no later than the last day of classes in the antepenultimate (typically the eighth) semester. 

Students Who are not Eligible to Declare the ESC

May still enroll in the foundational seminar (SOC 0310: Theory and Practice of Engaged Scholarship) and/or meet with Swearer Center staff, including the Swearer Center Peer Advisors, to discuss their interests and other opportunities for pursuing engaged scholarship at Brown. Please email with any questions.

Contemplative Studies ESC Courses

HIST 0150C

Locked Up:  A Global History of Prisons and Captivity (Remensnyder)
A long history lies behind the millions of men and women locked up today as prisoners, captives and hostages.  Beginning in antiquity and ending in the present, this course draws on materials from a variey of cultures across the world to explore incarceration's centuries-old past.  In examining the experience and meaning of imprisonment, whether as judicial punishment, political repression, or the fallout of war, the class will ask fundamental questions about liberty as well.  History 150 courses introduce students to methods of historical analysis, interpretation and argumentation.  This course presumes no previous history courses.

HMAN 1971F

World of Walden Pond:  Transcendentalism as a Social and Intellectual Movement (Sacks)
The World of Walden Pond examines the 19th century phenomenon of Transcendentalism:  this country's most romanticized religious, philosophical, and literary movement.  Focusing on Emerson, Thoreau, and Fuller, we'll examine the ideas of the Transcendentalists in the age of reform and evaluate the application of their principles to abolition, feminism, and nature.  The central problem which they wrestled with will be the focus, too, of our investigations:  then tension between individualism and conformity.  

RELS 0068

Religion and Torture (Bush) 
The debates about the moral and legal status of torture have acquired a new urgency since 9/11.  People are now questioning the consensus of law and human rights declarations that torture is never permissible. Indeed, some argue that in extreme cases, it may be obligatory to torture a captive for information that could save many lives.  This class explores the recent debates about torture from secular and religious perspectives.  It also deals with the more general themes related to torture:  What are the nature and effects of pain?  Are human beings sacred, and does sacredness involve a prohibition against torture?

RELS 0260

Religion Gone Wild:  Spirituality and the Environment (Cladis)
A study of the dynamic relation between religion, ethics, and ecology.  Religion, in this course, includes forms of religion within and outside the bounds of conventional religious traditions.  The religions we study include Buddhism and Christianity, on the one hand:  and ecofeminism, nature literature, and Australian Aboriginal religion, on the other.   Topics include:  religious depictions of creation, nature, and the place of humans in the natural world; religions' contribution to environmental degradation and environmental health; religion and environmental justice; and environmentalism as a form of religion.  This course is taught in the tradition of the liberal arts, exposing us to cultural history and to ethical inquiry.  "What is the relevanace of this material to me and to my community?" will be an implicit, sometimes explicit, question in this course.  

COST 0410 (RELS 0290E)

Engaged Buddhism (Roth)
"Engaged Buddhism" is a term used to describe social activism that applies Buddhist insight and ethics.  This course will examine the historical background of engaged Buddhism, explore its central concepts, analyze it theoretically, and look at practical applications.  Since many engaged Buddhist movements employ meditation, we will also study, first hand, the effects of meditation on prosocial attitudes in the "Meditation Labs" that are integral to the pedagogy of the course. Students will have the option of class projects on engaged scholarship that will be worked out with the Swearer Center for Public Policy.  

COST 1080 (PHP 1880)

Meditation, Mindfulness and Health (Loucks)
This course provides an overview on the relation of meditation and mindfulness (the ability to attend in a nonjudgemental way to one's own physical and mental processes during ordinary, everyday tasks) with various health outcomes and disease risk factors such as depression, anxiety, pain management, diet, substance use, and cardiovascular disease.  Mechanisms by which mindfulness may influence health will be addressed.  The course will assess studies in the field for methodological rigor, and students will be taught strengths and weaknesses of current research.  Students will be taught various mindfulness practices including direct experience with mindfulness meditation.  

PHP 1920

Social Determinants of Health (Loucks)
This course provides an overview of social determinants of health.  Examples of topics include health effects of educational attainment, social integration, racial discrimination, childhood psychosocial environment, mindfulness and job strain.  Mixed teaching methods will be used, such as small and large group discussions, debates, student presentations, and lectures.  The human body is embedded in communities with particular attributes such as collective lifestyles and health practices, population-based health programs, economics, health services, built environments and social characteristics.  Those communities are embedded within contexts of the natural environment, culture and politics, which all exist within a particular place and time in history.  These upstream factors influence health and the physiologic underpinnings of disease.

Note:  It is possible to take other courses in order to fulfil your ESC Requirement.  You must consult with your COST and ESC advisors for approval.