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 "Religion and Catastrophe," our call for papers focuses on the potential contributions of comparative religious ethics on understanding the catastrophes of the past and present and its role in analyzing, historicizing, and envisioning alternative forms of life in the context of climate change. Themes especially welcome this year include the following:
- Climate Change and Economic Justice
What are the socio-economic consequences of climate change? How can religious ethics respond to the disparate impacts of climate change among different communities and populations? What are the ethical responsibilities of wealthier nations towards those states and regions who suffer disproportionately in regard to the effects of climate change?
- Faith-Based Environmental Activism
How are particular religious communities and faith-based organizations mobilizing in regard to climate justice? What concrete forms of environmental activism have taken shape among religious communities in response to the climate crisis? What are religious ethical arguments for taking climate concerns seriously?
- Defining “Nature” and Its Normative Implications
Religious traditions have defined “nature” and creation, as a matter of metaphysics, theology, and/or cosmology, to reflect particular normative agendas. How have religious and moral traditions imagined and conceptualized environmental degradation? What constitutes a "healthy" environment? What normative implications do they draw from the state of nature and its disintegration?
- Redemption, Repair, Restitution
The tropes of redemption, repair, and restitution are often invoked and/or championed by religious traditions/communities when facing various aspects of (climate) disasters. What are the logics of such constructs and rhetoric? In which ways do they reinforce extant systems of excessive extraction and asymmetrical benefit?
- Disaster Displacement and Climate Refugees (Co-sponsored with the Religion, Holocaust, and Genocide Unit)
As climate change increasingly compels people to move and migrate beyond their borders, particularly those in climate “hotspots,” what should be our attitude in regard to immigration and asylum policies towards refugees, internally displaced people (IDPs), and the stateless who wish to escape the violence of the climate crisis? As climate change is a threat-multiplier, what constructive role should state and non-state actors play in the refugee crisis in the interest of decreasing the likelihood of mass atrocities?
- Anthropogenic vs Non-Anthropogenic Catastrophes
While many/most environmental disasters blur that distinction, there are still some that are due almost exclusively to human activity. For example, economic collapses, warfare (genocides, terrorism, etc.), intellectual degradation (willful ignorance, disinformation campaigns, excessive censorship, etc.) - are often as devastating as environmental crises and the like. How do religious ethics distinguish these kinds of catastrophes (if they do), and what sorts of responses/preventions do they propose?
Statement of Purpose
Steering Committee Members
David Decosimo, Boston University1/1/2017 - 12/31/2022
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