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Comparative Religious Ethics Unit

Call for Proposals

Reflecting this year’s presidential theme of "Religion, Poverty, and Inequality: Contemplating Our Collective Futures," our call for papers focuses on the potential contributions of comparative religious ethics on understanding poverty and inequality in normative contexts. Themes especially welcome this year include the following:

  1. Normative Responses to the Pandemic
    What has been the response of particular faith communities during the pandemic in articulating their normative visions through concrete relief efforts? How have they prioritized particular kinds of relief and what criteria have they used in determining which communities or groups to help? We invite empirical case studies that highlight the specific, lived ways that particular religious communities are responding to the pandemic.

  2. Caste as a Category of Interpretation
    In response to Isabel Wilkerson’s "Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent," how does the category of caste transform or alter our understanding of poverty and inequality, particularly in those contexts like the United States where caste has not traditionally served as a category of analysis? What are the “consequences of caste”? How do these consequences figure in the differential outcomes of human development and the distribution of the goods of social cooperation?

  3. Alienation and Human Connection
    What can comparative religious ethics tell us about the human implications of living in a time of pandemic, particularly in regard to psychological states such as grief, loneliness, and alienation? What do normative traditions recommend in regard to repairing the fragmentation of our collective lives and asserting human connection even in the midst of a pandemic?

  4. Justifying Inequality
    How do religious and normative traditions justify social statuses, hierarchies, and entrenched inequalities? Can these rationalizations of social inequalities be reconciled with normative exhortations by those same traditions on our collective responsibilities towards the poor and dispossessed?

  5. Sumner B. Twiss’s Contributions to CRE
    Sumner Twiss has been a signal voice in the field of comparative religious ethics from its inception in the 1970s as a discrete academic subject to its maturation in the 21st century. Four decades after the publication of Comparative Religious Ethics, what has been the impact of Twiss’s work on CRE in regard to methodology, the self-understanding of the field, and the role of CRE within the larger academy.

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.

Chairs

Steering Committee Members

Method

PAPERS

Review Process

Proposer names are visible to chairs but anonymous to steering committee members