University of Wisconsin–Madison

Brian Christens


Ph.D., human & organizational development, Vanderbilt University

Departments & Organizations

Department of Civil Society & Community Studies, School of Human Ecology;
Center for Community and Nonprofit Studies;
Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies

Research Focus

civilc engagement, community organizing, empowerment and systems change


4255 Nancy Nicholas Hall,
Madison, WI, 53703


Brian D. Christens, is the Rothermel-Bascom associate professor of human ecology in the Department of Civil Society & Community Studies. He is also an affiliate faculty member in the departments of Community & Environmental Sociology, Population Health Sciences, Sociology, Urban and Regional Planning, and the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. He is faculty director of the Center for Community and Nonprofit Studies – a hub for faculty, staff, students and community/nonprofit partners collaborating on research and action.

Christens’s research is on civic engagement, community organizing, empowerment and systems change. He studies processes that enhance people’s and organization’s’ ability to take actions to benefit the groups and communities to which they belong. Much of this work takes place alongside community and youth organizing efforts and community-driven health promotion initiatives. An overarching goal is to identify the mechanisms – at multiple levels of analysis – that account for links between engagement in empowerment processes and well-being.  Christens’s background is primarily in psychology (community, developmental, and applied social), but he applies concepts from multiple social science disciplines and use multiple methods to understand and inform community-driven efforts to improve systems.  Consequently, he is also engaged in applied fields such as community development and public health. He serves on the editorial boards of the Adolescent Research Review, the American Journal of Community PsychologyCommunity Development, the Journal of Community Psychology, the Journal of Youth and Adolescence and Youth & Society.

Christens earned his Ph.D. in 2008 from Vanderbilt University, where his dissertation work received the 2009 Newbrough Graduate Award for best scholarly work in human & organizational development. In 2012, he received the Michele Alexander Early Career Award for scholarship and service from the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues. He is an editorial board member of Youth & Society and the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.