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.
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Comparative Religious Ethics Unit
Call for Proposals
Reflecting this year’s presidential theme of "La Labor de Nuestras Manos," our call for papers focuses on the “work” of comparative religious ethics, particularly in ways that connect to a public understanding of comparative ethics and our roles as public intellectuals. Themes especially welcome this year include the following:
- CRE and Native American and Indigenous Religions, particularly on the theme of “the ethics of belonging.” How can the perspectives of Indigenous peoples and Native Americans help us in advancing climate solutions, building greater interdependence as communities, and promoting diversity
- Comparative perspectives on the implications of posthumanism for ethics and moral philosophy. Specifically, what is the role of the “human” in a posthuman world that problematizes agency and the ability of human beings to affect change within a material environment?
- How do normative traditions understand and advance LGBTQ+ protections in the context of their ideas of human dignity, association, and fellowship.
- Comparative perspectives on the “work” of religiously-affiliated organizations on matters of social justice and equality. How has CRE impacted or informed the labor of grassroots movements to advance policies and laws aimed at improving the quality of life and well-being of individuals and communities?
- Ethnocentrism and the nature and history of CRE. The origins of CRE can be traced to the efforts of religious ethicists in the 1960s and 1970s to move away from the dominance of Western paradigms, particularly Christian ethics, in the study of normative traditions. How well has the discipline succeeded in transcending Christian or Western models of comparison and assuming more global or international perspectives.
- Comparative understandings of “equity,” particularly in reference to human capabilities in areas like health, education, and control over one’s environment. How do traditions address inequalities that deform and diminish fundamental human capabilities?
- Co-sponsored with the Comparative Religious Ethics Unit, we invite papers that explore the experiences of religious minorities in mass atrocities. Topics may include, but are not limited to: the logics of the persecution of religious minorities; the role of religious ethics in rescue behavior of or by religious minorities; and the ethics governing post-atrocity processes among religious minorities, such as theodicies, reconciliation, and healing rituals.
Statement of Purpose
Steering Committee Members
Bharat Ranganathan, Case Western Reserve University1/1/2022 - 12/31/2027
Faraz Sheikh, College of William and Mary1/1/2018 - 12/31/2023
Kate E. Temoney, Montclair State University1/1/2020 - 12/31/2025
James Waters, Florida State University1/1/2023 - 12/31/2028