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Battelle Tompkins , Room 120

Philosophy / Religion 4400 Massachusetts Avenue NW Washington, DC 20016-8056 United States

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Explore the Great Questions

The MA in Philosophy offers rigorous academic training focused on engagement with primary texts while providing opportunities to put that training to work, both in and out of the classroom. In our program, you will apply philosophy to important issues concerning biomedicine, environmental protection, human rights, media, business, and race relations. You will leave the program prepared for doctoral study, law school, or the pursuit of other career goals.

Our program emphasizes flexibility and faculty mentorship with the goal of helping you develop a program tailored to your goals. We offer two tracks of study:

  • The Philosophy and Social Policy track applies ethics and political philosophy to today's complex social issues, combining philosophy with social science to provide a foundation for designing and evaluating social policy.
  • The History of Philosophy track emphasizes the diverse traditions and methodologies of the discipline, providing the opportunity to develop skills in analytic and continental philosophy, feminism and critical race theory, and Asian and Latin American philosophies as well as the Western canon.

MA Philosophy Graduate Student Handbook
MA Philosophy Qualifying Paper Guidelines
Department Course Offerings (also see Course Catalog)

Study Abroad in Ecuador

The department will be offering a study abroad program in Ecuador. Check back soon for more details!

Flexible, Outward-Directed Study

Our MA program uses a combination of coursework, research, and practical experience to prepare you for further graduate study or to apply what you’ve learned outside of the academy. To ensure that you complete the MA best suited to your goals, this 33-credit program is divided into two tracks.

The Philosophy and Social Policy track challenges you to extend your thinking beyond the university. In addition to your philosophy courses, you will study ethics, applied philosophy, and social science or social policy. You will produce one MA qualifying paper on ethics and one on contemporary on 19th or 20th century philosophy.  This outward-directed track includes an internship, in which you can explore your career options and examine how the study of philosophy contributes to engagement outside of the academy.

The History of Philosophy track provides rigorous academic training in philosophy. Following this track provides a solid foundation of philosophical knowledge with challenging coursework. You will refine your writing and research skills, expand your knowledge, and develop expertise while writing two MA qualifying papers of publishable quality. 

Please see complete Admissions & Course Requirements.

Explore Opportunities in the Capital City

Consistently ranked as one of the best cities for job seekers, DC offers access to an extraordinary array of professional and intellectual opportunities. Our MAs get a head start on their careers with internships with important area institutions, including Amnesty International, the Brookings Institution, the Central Intelligence Agency, Congress, the Department of Education, the Department of State, Human Rights Watch, the Institute for Policy Studies, the National Institutes of Health, the Smithsonian Institution, the Urban Institute, and local school districts. You can apply your critical reading, analytical problem solving, and writing skills in the federal government or in the area’s many research institutes, NGOs, think tanks, and business organizations.

While many of our students move on to PhD programs and take academic positions, the philosophy MA’s emphasis on research, writing, and philosophical interpretation will also prepare you for a number of careers in the DC area. Our graduates work at the World Bank, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Institute for Policy Studies, the Ethics Resource Center, the Ethics and Policy Integration Centre, the Department of Justice, the US Agency for International Development, the US Institute of Peace, and in education.

Knowledgeable Faculty Dedicated to Your Success

At AU, you will benefit from individualized mentorship and one-on-one intellectual interactions with your professors. Our world-class faculty has a broad range of expertise and research interests, including ancient philosophy, Asian philosophy, continental philosophy, ethics, feminist and critical race theory, Latin American philosophy, literature and literary criticism, political philosophy, and religion. Whether your interests are academic or applied, you can be assured of finding a faculty mentor who specializes in your field of study.  

See all Philosophy and Religion faculty.

Connect with the Experts

McDowell Conference: The professorship was established in 1937 on the basis of a gift to the Department of Philosophy and Religion from the estate of Bishop William Fraser McDowell. Every year, the chair of the department brings in a keynote speaker to speak with the AU community on issues surrounding philosophy and social policy.

Durfee Lecture: The Annual Durfee Lecture was initiated by a generous gift from Harold A. Durfee and Doris G. Durfee. Held every spring, the series provides our students and colleagues with the opportunity to meet distinguished thinkers.

Bishop Hurst Lecture: The Bishop John Fletcher Hurst Philosophy Lecture was initiated by the Department of Philosophy and Religion and named for the founder of American University, who was himself a philosopher. Offered annually in the spring, it brings to the American University campus some of the most distinguished thinkers from this country and abroad.

Ethics Bowl: The Ethics Bowl is a fun and rewarding way to get high school students thinking about the challenging ethical and political issues of our time. High school students are coached by current AU students to investigate and debate such issues as medical ethics, censorship, violence in schools, and the financial practices of world governments, all in a chiefly collaborative manner.


Your MA will prepare you for further graduate study or for a variety of careers in world-changing institutions. Some of our students pursue further education in law schools or doctoral programs. We have alumni in PhD programs at George Washington University, the New School, SUNY Binghamton, and Virginia Tech.

Many of our graduates work for the federal government in positions with the Department of State, Department of Justice, USAID, and the Peace Corps. Alumni interested in international development have found careers with the World Bank Group, Inter-American Development Bank, and Chemonics International. Other alumni work for humanitarian organizations such as the American Red Cross and Doctors without Borders or nonprofits like Planned Parenthood and the Internews Network. Across DC and around the world, MAs can be found in positions where they can make a difference.

For more information on alumni and internships, see our Career Prospects and Internships pages.

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Inspiring material that I continue to draw from to this day.

After graduation, Haley Stevens worked on the Obama presidential campaign and the Presidential Transition Team. She was chief of staff for the Presidential Task Force on the Auto Industry and a special advisor to the Department of Commerce. A former digital manufacturing executive, she is currently representing Michigan’s 11th district in the House of Representatives.