Civil Society Initiative

The Civil Society Initiative is devoted to the theory and practice of responsible democratic citizenship

The Civil Society Initiative at Washington University in St. Louis promotes responsible democratic citizenship by supporting research, teaching, and public engagement, on the premise that individual and collective reasoning about value questions is an essential part of a flourishing democracy.  The term “civil society” in our name refers to the non-state elements of a democratic society, which crucially include our formal and informal practices of thinking about and debating moral and political issues.  We believe that the capacity to reason about value questions is an important complement to political action and civic engagement.  We aim both to understand the nature of responsible democratic citizenship by asking theoretical questions in political theory, social epistemology, and moral psychology and to support the practices of responsible democratic citizenship by creating spaces for disagreement and dialogue about timely moral and political questions.   

The Civil Society Initiative is a collaboration of the Departments of Philosophy and Political Science and is supported by the Frick Initiative and the Weidenbaum Center on the Economy, Government, and Public Policy.

For more information, please contact Allan Hazlett.

Courses and Events

three people in a classroom talking

Dinner & Dialogue

Our Dinner & Dialogue series brings together students, faculty, and members of our community for constructive conversations about timely moral and political questions.

Learn More

Disagreement, Extremism, and Polarization

This course will provide an introductory survey of research in political science, philosophy, and psychology on the causes and rationality of disagreement, the nature of political extremism, and the sources of ideological and affective political polarization.

Learn More

Topics in Ethics: Civil Society

In addition to learning strategies for studying controversial moral and political questions and methods for reasoning in the face of disagreement, students in this advanced seminar will organize our Dinner & Dialogue series, which models reasonable disagreement and constructive debate.

Learn More
photograph of Simone Weil

Solidarity and Silence: Religious Strategies in the Political Sphere

Although political action is often considered a problem of making oneself heard, religious practices of silence, self-effacement, and withdrawal from certain worldly struggles have guided many significant political and social movements, particularly forms of non-violent resistance. This course considers the role of religious thought and practice in such movements in the twentieth century.

Learn More
a professor giving a lecture

Civil Society Brunch

Our Civil Society Brunch brings experts and activists to St. Louis to share their ideas with the public.

Learn More


Our events bring speakers representing diverse perspectives on contemporary moral and political issues together for conversation and reflection and provide public access to our work

Upcoming Events

Our Team