Political Theory Project

Origin & Milestones


Professor John Tomasi teaching undergraduate students at Brown
Professor John Tomasi teaching undergraduates at Brown

In 2003, two undergraduate student leaders from the respective Republican and Democratic groups approached Professor John Tomasi with a desire to engage in informed debate so as to articulate better their own views and understand better the positions of their intellectual opponents. As a member of the political theory subfield within the Political Science department, and as a philosopher by training, Tomasi noticed an opportunity for synergies across the philosophy and political science department. Faculty from other departments, notably Economics, History and Religious Studies, actively supported the initiative. Hence, the Political Theory Project was founded as an effort to provide intellectual and financial resources for student programs that allow a plurality of ideological and political viewpoints.

“ While other types of communities devise covenants so as to avoid conflict, our covenant is rooted in quarrel, in opposition. We encourage ideas and opinions to collide in the service of learning. We freely trespass boundaries, criticize each other’s views, test every theory. No idea is beyond range or out of bounds. ”

President Emerita Ruth J. Simmons 2001 Convocation Address

PTP Milestones



The Political Theory Project is founded by Professor John Tomasi in response to a desire among Brown undergraduate students to witness, and to engage in, civil discourse across political and ideological divides.



At inception, the PTP hosts its first class of resident scholars, including post-doctoral fellows and visiting faculty researchers on sabbatical from other institutions. Such efforts enable interdisciplinary research to be conducted on campus and provide students with access to a curriculum committed to the ideals of interdisciplinary and political pluralism expressed in the PTP’s mission.



Early programming includes Constitution Day Lectures, bi-weekly Liberty Lunches, Janus Conversations (an early form of current day Janus Lectures), Political Union Debates, and Open Seminars. The PTP pursues its mission in subsequent years by encouraging student initiatives including the Janus Forum Lecture Series and Odyssey Lectures, and by supporting a variety of grant requests made by individual students and student organizations.



PTP wins its first grant. The grant was awarded by the William F. Donner Foundation.



PTP sponsors its first undergraduate course at Brown.



PTP holds its first public event on the supreme court case Kelo v New London with a panel comprised of the key attorneys who argued both sides on the case, Scott G. Bullock of the Institute for Justice in Washington D.C. and Wesley W. Horton of Horton, Shields & Knox in Hartford, CT, as well as Susette Kelo, the plaintiff. This is a prominent case involving the use of eminent domain for economic development purposes that provide a public benefit.



The PTP hosts the first Janus Lecture on “Religion and the US Constitution” with Robert George and Kent Greenawalt. Three-hundred people attend. The Janus Forum provides a logistical venue for the Brown community to engage with intellectual substance across a variety of political and ideological perspectives--and, because of their immediate popularity, to do so in front of large audiences. Janus Forum Lectures continue to this day, addressing pressing social issues with speakers from diverse disciplinary fields, alternative methodological perspectives, and divergent ideological commitments.



The Janus Steering Committee is created as a student group charged with the power to choose topics and speakers for PTP events. Every student group with a political affiliation on campus has representation on the panel. Students groups include Democracy Matters, Republicans, Democrats, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Brio, ACLU, Hillel, Third World Center, Entrepreneurship Program, Spectator, and Queer Alliance, among others.



The PTP hosts its first Odyssey Lecture with Amity Schlaes on “Is Atlas Shrugging?” Over 100 people are in attendance.



The PTP’s Janus Forum becomes the largest undergraduate student group at Brown, eclipsing even the Brown Democrats, under the leadership of a dynamic student named Jesse Maddox ’08.



The student journal, Brown Political Review is founded.



The PTP increasingly moves away from a singular focus on political theory, towards a broader interdisciplinary approach at the intersection of Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE). This shift begins when the PTP hires Daniel D’Amico as Assistant Director.



Professor D’Amico expands the PTP’s programming with the PPE Society, an undergraduate reading group. This group grows by 30% over the next three years. Students in this group determine the current year’s Janus Lecture topic and discuss the guest speakers's books before the event.



The PTP continues to expand by successfully recruiting and hiring David Skarbek and Emily Skarbek from King’s College London where they spent five years developing and leading a program in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. Their expertise in program building, research and teaching is critical to the growth and research impact of the PTP.



Professor Emily Skarbek establishes the Philosophy, Politics, and Economics Research Seminar, thereby expanding the research activity of the PTP and creating a space on campus for interdisciplinary dialogue. The PPE Seminar is instantly popular among faculty members across departments including Economics, Political Science, and Philosophy.



The student publication, the Journal of Philosophy, Politics and Economics is founded.


The PTP moves to a beautiful historic building, 25 George Street, on the corner of Brown's main green. The move is necessitated by the project's continued organic growth and is a sign of good things to come in the years ahead.