PAPERS Resources

AAR Annual Meeting
San Diego, CA
November 23-26, 2019

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Comparative Religious Ethics Unit

Statement of Purpose: 

While comparative assessment of the ethics of different religious groups is an ancient and widespread pursuit, the modern field of comparative religious ethics arguably dates from the founding of the Journal of Religious Ethics in 1973. (For the purposes of this statement, “ethics” as a subject will refer to reflection about how best to live as human beings; an “ethic” is one more or less determinate position on the best mode(s) of life.) While there have been a variety of motivations for the attempt to study “religious ethics” rather than or in addition to “Christian ethics,” one animating idea has been the growing recognition that people from numerous religions propound sophisticated and powerful moral visions, which possess intriguing similarities and differences and are not easily reducible to a common denominator. In addition, the variety and particular characteristics of such visions are historically and politically significant in the modern era of increasingly pervasive globalization. Indeed, comparative ethics may be desperately needed in our contemporary context of global interdependence, misunderstanding, and mutual mistrust. There are thus ample grounds, both social and purely intellectual, to suggest that this ethical variety needs to be engaged directly via rigorous comparison. Comparative ethics makes such diversity central to its analysis, which includes three main aspects:

• Describes and interprets particular ethics on the basis of historical, anthropological, or other data
• Compares such ethics and requires searching reflection on the methods and tools of inquiry
• Engages in normative argument on the basis of such studies, and may thereby speak to contemporary concerns about overlapping identities, cultural complexity and plurality, universalism and relativism, and political problems regarding the coexistence of divergent social groups, as well as particular moral controversies

Ideally, each of these aspects enriches the others; for example, comparison across traditions helps generate more insightful interpretations of particular figures and themes. This self-conscious sophistication about differing ethical vocabularies and the analytical practices necessary to grapple with them is what makes comparative ethics distinctive within broader conversations in religious and philosophical ethics. Comparative ethics as envisioned here induces conversation across typical area studies boundaries by involving scholars of different religions; all sessions in this Unit are constructed with this goal in mind, so that data from multiple traditions will be brought to bear on any comparative theme.

Call for Papers: 

Reflecting this year’s presidential theme of “Scholarly Workers in Public Spaces,” our call for papers focuses on the intersection between public discourse and comparative ethical reflection, not only in regard to what CRE can contribute to contemporary moral debates but also in regard to the role that religious ethicists can have in “creating, redefining, and expanding” spheres of public discourse. Themes especially welcome this year include the topics below:

● Migration Ethics in Comparative Perspective -
In the context of the Trump administration’s immigration policies and the recent events at the American-Mexican border, what can religious ethics contribute to the debate surrounding the ethics of migration and our moral duties to asylum seekers, the undocumented, and climate/economic migrants.

● Comparative Religious Ethics, Public Scholarship, and Reporting on Ethics: How Public Discourse Informs CRE -
What should be the public role of the comparative ethicist? Do we have a responsibility towards greater social engagement? Conversely, how do public discourses, including how ethical issues are “reported,” inform the academic study of CRE? How can we foster greater dialogue between comparative ethicists and those reporting on ethics?

● The Ethical Implications of Gene Editing: What Religious Ethics Can Contribute to the Debate -
The recent gene editing controversy in China raises important moral questions about the potential dangers of “designer babies,” future genetic inequality, ideals of human flourishing, and the ethics of research. This session will be organized as a workshop with pre-circulated papers (available in the Fall of 2019 on the AAR website) with each panelist presenting a summary of his or her paper (5-10 minutes) and then leading a discussion on the chosen topic.

● Teaching Comparative Religious Ethics -
This session will focus on the pedagogical methods and practices that instructors have employed in teaching religious ethics in comparative contexts. The session will be organized around brief presentations (5-10 minutes) of particular pedagogical strategies, learning experiences, or assignments that have been effective in a classroom setting. These presentations will then serve as points of departure for group discussions by participants and audience members at arranged tables. Accordingly, rather than the traditional proposal for a paper or panel session, we invite proposals that illustrate specific pedagogical strategies, methods, or experiences that have proven effective in the teaching of comparative religious ethics.

● Grammars of Hope and Resilience: Religious Ethics in Times of Crisis -
This panel seeks proposals that address the grammars of hope and resilience that religious traditions employ in times of crisis. Panelists can imagine the notion of “crisis” in the broadest terms, both in regard to content (i.e., political, existential, environmental) and scope (i.e., local, national, cosmic).

Method: 
PAPERS
Process: 
Proposer names are visible to chairs but anonymous to steering committee members
Leadership: 
ChairSteering Committee