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by admin Dec 15, 2020
The Rock Ethics Institute supports interdisciplinary ethics research and leadership across Penn State. This is a list of the Institute's current co-sponsored research projects.


TOPIC: Public Life

Moral Agency and Moral Development Initiative 

The Rock Ethics Institute’s Moral Agency and Moral Development initiative focuses on fostering research collaborations about moral experience, deliberation, judgment, and action, and forms of education that support the development of moral agency. 

Integral to the initiative is the Moral Agency Workshopwhich is directed by Daryl Cameron, the convener of this initiative. The Moral Agency Workshop is an interdisciplinary working group that brings together faculty and graduate students from a diverse range of disciplines to study ethics and morality.

The Moral Agency and Moral Development initiative also hosts a number of events, including the recurring Expanding Empathy speaker series and the Moral Psychology and Research Group Conference in October 2017. 

The Ethics of Representing/Re-Presenting Trauma Initiative

Co-convened by MaryEllen Higgins, Judith Newman, and Brian Onishi, this initiative focuses on the ethics of lingering trauma in films and eponyms.

Using a collective, interdisciplinary approach to ethical dilemmas and solutions, the initiative examines, for example, the representations of discrimination, criminalization, violent conflict, assault, and climate anxiety in film, and the re-presentations of trauma when buildings, awards, and diseases are named after people who have committed ethically egregious acts.

Restorative Justice Initiative

The Rock Ethics Institute’s Restorative Justice Initiative brings together philosophers, social scientists, and other experts to examine the ethical challenges involved in responding to injustice. Co-convened by Joshua Inwood and Eduardo Mendieta, the Restorative Justice Initiative pursues interdisciplinary research that explores how, in the wake of injustice, individuals and communities can respond in ways that promote both accountability and healing.

The Initiative primarily focuses on two (overlapping) areas of research: criminal justice policy and racial reconciliation in societies characterized by histories of injustice. Activities of the initiative include organizing public lectures and conferences, an education program for inmates housed in facilities near Penn State, and fostering collaboration on grants and peer-reviewed publications that advance scholarship on restorative justice. 

TOPIC: Sustainability

Climate and Sustainability Ethics Initiative

Who bears responsibility for protecting those whose basic rights are threatened by climate change, and what constitutes an ethically justifiable response? The Rock Ethics Institute partners with researchers, stakeholders, educators, and policy makers to insure that questions like these do not go unaddressed.  

Research that focuses on ethically-informed decision-support in response to climate change is a unique signature of the initiatives undertaken by the Rock Ethics Institute and Penn State. Among the initiatives are CLIMAthe SCRiM network, and VIFF, which are supported by major National Science Foundation grants. 


Penn State’s Center for Climate Risk Management, CLIMA, brings together scholars to inform the design of ethically defensible climate risk management strategies that are scientifically sound, technologically possible, and economically efficient and to advance real-world climate risk management. 


Centered at Penn State, the Sustainable Climate Risk Management networkSCRiM links a transdisciplinary team of scholars at 19 universities and six research institutions across six nations to answer the question, What are sustainable, scientifically sound, technologically feasible, economically efficient, and ethically defensible climate risk management strategies? 


Visualizing Forest FuturesVIFF is a new approach to sustainable forest management under climate change that links human values, projections, and visualization to decision-making under uncertainty.   

Environmental Philosophy Journal 

The Rock Ethics Institute also partners with the International Association of Environmental Philosophy to publish the journal Environmental Philosophy. 

Human and Ethical Dimensions of Antimicrobial Resistance

Microorganisms (like viruses and bacteria) can mutate and make the medications used to combat them (antimicrobials) ineffective. When microorganisms become resistant to antimicrobials, they sometimes are popularly called “superbugs.”

Highly industrialized nations like the U.S. and China tend to overuse antimicrobials in their agricultural systems, which contributes to increased resistance to antimicrobials. Developing nations, like those on the African continent, lack access to agricultural pharmaceuticals, which contributes to both human and animal suffering through loss of income from animal products and loss of animal life due to sickness and lack of treatment.

This distributive dilemma raises complex moral questions of justice, such as: how to identify conflicting values associated with antibiotic use in agriculture; how antimicrobials should be regulated nationally and globally; and the importance of education and behavior-changing interventions that seek to improve the level of knowledge and inaction surrounding antimicrobial resistance.

The study is conducting interdisciplinary analyses of decision-making surrounding agricultural pharmaceuticals among goat farmers in Pennsylvania and Rwanda and of the factors that may contribute to different levels of antimicrobial use among farmers (such as, gender, income, education, and attitudes toward sustainability).

The study is led by Elizabeth Ransom and co-convened with REI research associates Sarah Rajtmajer and Caitlin Grady, as well as Maurice Byukusenge (Michigan State) and Suresh Kuchipudi (Penn State).

TOPIC: Technology

Engineering, Technology, and Ethics

The Engineering, Technology, and Ethics Initiative further positions the Rock Ethics Institute as a thought leader in the ethics of technology and engineering education, as the Initiative examines the intersection of ethics, engineering, and technology by examining these topics from both  research and pedagogical perspectives 

 From a research perspective, researchers hope to better understand how the use of technology impacts student ethics, engineering students in particular, and to develop new methods to enhance engineering education. Co-convened by Tom Litzinger, Daniel Susser, and Eduardo Mendieta, the initiative also focuses on faculty development and teaching aimed at fortifying ethics understanding and decision-making in the classroom.

Ethics, Security, and Critical Network Project

Co-convened by Caitlin Grady and Sarah Rajtmajer, the Rock Ethics Institute’s Ethics, Security, and Critical Network Project focuses on the inextricably intertwined critical infrastructure in the United States—systems and processes increasingly connected to the internet and increasingly at risk for cyberattack.

The project seeks to understand the interdependencies of critical infrastructure across time and space,  while also seeking the best responses to ethical questions posed by the potential risks of disruption.

TOPIC: Health

Ethics and Health Initiative

Co-convened by Jonathan Marks and Francisco Javier Lopez Frias, the Rock Ethics Institute’s Ethics and Health initiative brings together an interdisciplinary group of scholars who share an interest in the systemic and institutional influences on health, and in their ethical and policy implications.

Among the topics of interest to the group: the relationship between individual and public health; the influence of industry actors on health research and policy; the impact on health of food systems and the environment (whether local or global; both natural and built); the framing of exercise as medicine; and the social construction of gender.

The Rock Ethics Institute frequently partners with the Penn State Bioethics Program for this initiative. The Bioethics Program is directed by Jonathan Marks and assistant director Michele Mekel, an REI affiliate faulty member.

Health Ethics, Ecology, and Policy (HEEP)

The Health Ethics, Ecology, and Policy (HEEP) initiative is an interdisciplinary and collaborative research project that bridges the humanities, social and natural sciences, and a variety of applied fields across several Penn State colleges, consolidating a university-wide research initiative within the Rock Ethics Institute.

It is driven by the recognition that health care policies and practices are embedded within political, economic, environmental, agricultural, and industrial contexts.

Meaningful advances in health research and public health policy must address this broader ecology on which our health depends, and to do so successfully requires interdisciplinary and collaborative research that bridges the humanities, social and natural sciences, and a variety of applied fields. Unifying this research is an ethical commitment to human health as a shared and guiding value.

Ready, Set, Pause

Convened by Dr. Jeremy Engels (with Robert Roeser in Penn State’s College of Health and Human Development), the Institute’s Ready, Set, Pause initiative seeks to create a professional development workshop series to help build capacity and community among Penn State faculty who are interested in integrating contemplative practices including mindfulness and compassion training into their courses.

The workshops would provide the ability to create an enhanced experiential learning/contemplative practices component into coursework, renewing education in the Liberal Arts to include the experiential, practical learning of ethical skills (e.g., self-awareness, mindfulness, and compassion) alongside the declarative, verbal learning that characterizes much of a university classroom today. This approach to the development of intellectual and ethical values goes back millennia to the Greco-Roman and Sanskritic India traditions in which the acquisition of ethical know-how was seen as predicated on both habit learning and contemplation, as well as dialogue and debate.

TOPIC: Gender and Sexuality

Ethical and Psychological Dimensions of Gender and Pronouns

Co-convened by  Evan Bradley and Laura Evans (2020–2021 REI Faculty Fellows) the Ethical and Psychological Dimensions of Gender and Pronouns initiative investigates ethical principles that impact gender-neutral pronoun use in interpersonal communication and pilots intervention strategies based on an ethical framework.

The findings will be used to develop materials for ethical education and inclusion initiatives at Penn State and beyond.

Gender and Sex Equity Initiative

Co-convened by Hil Malatino and Sara Clark Miller, the Rock Ethics Institute’s Gender and Sex Equity Initiative engages in research and outreach projects designed to address forms of oppression, disadvantage, bias, and general inequality pertaining to gender and sexuality.

The working group brings interdisciplinary, intersectional, feminist, trans-inclusive, and critical race approaches to the examination and redress of contemporary ethical issues that impact gender and sexual minorities. 

TOPIC: Global Issues

Children, Youth, and Media in International and Global Conflict Zones

Children and youth are the largest populations in conflict zones. Since they most impacted, this Initiative aims to shine the spotlight on media rights and uses that best aid and empower children and youth.

Convened by Rock Ethics Institute research associate Yael Warshel (co-convened with Idan Shalev of Penn State’s Department of Biobehavioral Health and Oana Albu of the Copenhagen Business School), the Initiative established the Children, Media, and Conflict Zones Lab in the Bellisario College of Communications to achieve its aims.

Human Rights and Forced Migration Project

Co-convened by Rock Ethics Institute research associates Yael Warshel and Désirée Lim, the REI’s Human Rights and Forced Migration Project seeks to positively impact refugee policy and to offer alternatives to the current model of forced migration by scrutinizing refugee issues from three main points: 

  1. Arguing for a broader human right to communicate, which entitles refugees to minimally decent communication technologies
  2. Theorizing alternatives to the current state-centric refugee model, which presumes that refugees must either return to their states of origin or join new ones
  3. Analyzing a variety of assumptions often made about refugees—for example, the belief that they must be settled within a fixed territory, which disregards traditionally nomadic refugee groups like the Sahrawi. 


Critical Philosophy of Race

Convened by Robert Bernasconi, the Critical Philosophy of Race Initiative (CPR) seeks to develop the philosophical tools necessary to meet the ethical and intellectual challenges posed by new forms of racism, as well as the legacy of the inherited racisms. It also turns the spotlight on philosophy itself, its history, and the shocking lack of diversity within many philosophy departments today.

The CPR Initiative seeks to:

  • promote the recruitment, retention, and graduation of racial minorities both at the graduate and undergraduate levels
  • sponsor workshops on contentious issues with a view to promoting interracial understanding
  • be a clearing house for resources that promote the study of the history and current state of race thinking and racism
  • mentor young philosophy faculty toward tenure
  • become a site for interdisciplinary engagement with issues of race both in the Penn State system and more broadly
  • set up global as well as local partnerships at every level with a view to promoting a better informed discussion of racial issues

As part of this initiative, as well, the Rock Ethics Institute sponsors Critical Philosophy of Race, which is regarded as the premier journal in this area.

TOPIC: Food and Agriculture

Ethical Decision-Making Among School Foodservice Stakeholders

School administrators and foodservice directors face many challenges when trying to makethical decisions about what meals to provide students through the National School Lunch ProgramConsidering menu items, the environment where the children eat, the time allowed for lunchesand more, the decisions are frequently made with little decision-making guidance and under tight regulatory, cost, and resource constraints. 

The Rock Ethics Institute’s Ethical Decision-Making Among School Foodservice Stakeholders initiative seeks to understand the obstacles and challenges stakeholders face in making such decisions and to leverage this understanding to develop an ethical decision-making framework to guide such decisions for these stakeholders. 

The project creates far-reaching research and pedagogical synergies by leveraging the expertise of Penn State’s Food Decisions Research Laboratory (which is directed by initiative convener Amit Sharmaand the REI’s Food Innovation, Ethics, Leadership, Development, and Sustainability (FIELDS) initiativeunder the direction of co-convener Robert M. Chilesproviding deep, meaningful research opportunities for both Penn State undergraduate and graduate students.

Food Innovation, Ethics, Leadership, Development, and Sustainability (FIELDS) Project

Convened by Robert M. Chiles, the Food Innovation, Ethics, Leadership, Development, and Sustainability (FIELDS) Project is an interdisciplinary research and teaching initiative dedicated to agricultural and food ethics.   

FIELDS is centered around the ethical and economic implications of cellular agricultureintegrating ethical concerns, processes, and objectives into interdisciplinary food and agricultural scholarship, from field to fork, across multiple stakeholder groups.  

Current thematic areas include: sustainable agri-food systems and climate change; food security and international development ethics; the ethics of meat production and consumption; plant-based proteins and meal options; and social innovation and corporate social responsibility in the agri-food system.