Monday, March 25, 2013


This seems to be my lucky year professionally! For the November Annual Meeting, the American Academy of Religion's Comparative Religious Ethics and Teaching Religion Groups are co-sponsoring a session - and mine is one of the proposed papers they've selected. "Exploring Religious Ethics" gets its fifteen minutes of fame! I won't tire you with the detailed proposal, here's the abstract.

Wider moral communities: A framework
for teaching comparative religious ethics 

A course in religious ethics has to be a course about religion too, otherwise it risks reproducing secular western understandings of ethics which render much of religious practice unintelligible or merely symbolic. Especially in courses for non-majors we face students who think that all religions are flavors of “compassion” or iterations of moralistic therapeutic deism - or, if not, are dangerously (or perhaps excitingly) irrational. This paper describes a way of exploring religious ethics which challenges the idea that ethics is preeminently about what living adult human beings owe each other. A focus on the bounds of the moral community in different religious traditions – we are part of larger communities including the dead, spirits, God(s), animals, etc. – allows a richer appreciation of the nature and norms of religious action (including ritual) across traditions and a deeper understanding of human participation in religious worlds.

It takes my thinking in "Exploring Religious Ethics" to a further level, considering the different forms of agency of non-human members of our moral communities. This, I propose to explore, will make clearer the specific obligations and opportunities of human existence, but also broaden our sense of agency in such a way as to reassess the different sorts of things different sorts of human beings do. Are some of our actions more like the actions of ancestors or mountains or God? I'm excited: a chance for me to bring to reflection (and pedagogy) some of what I have learned from trying to teach about Australian Aboriginal traditions, as well as from Everyday Religion and Sustainable Environments in the Himalaya; I think there's things from work with Parsons colleagues to be explored here, too.

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