Posts Tagged ‘ethics’

March 1st, 2013

Reconciliation in the real world

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In Just and Unjust Peace: An Ethic of Political Reconciliation, I argue that religious traditions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in particular—offer a way of thinking about justice that poses an alternative to the globally dominant liberal peace and that holds out great promise for societies rebuilding in the wake of massive injustice.

Bronwyn Leebaw, in her post, notes that I seek to stave off the fate of Sophie Wilder, a character in a novel who converts to Catholicism then becomes estranged from her friends and family. Mirabile dictu, unlike Sophie Wilder, my book has met with great efforts to understand it, absorb it, and engage it thoughtfully, this at the hands of six reviewers each of whose own scholarship has contributed crucially to the contemporary conversation about the justice of dealing with past injustice. I am grateful. I am heartened, too, that each reviewer fundamentally “got” the book, grasping and in many ways finding sympathy with what I strove to argue.

February 19th, 2013

Reconciliation and the pursuit of peace

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Today, at the beginning of 2013, the world is confronted by a bewildering array of protracted and new armed conflicts: Syria, Gaza, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Sudan, Myanmar, Mali, Chad, the Central African Republic, and Libya are just a few of the many parts of the world wracked by violent conflict. And, although some of the rhetoric about the burden of civilian suffering compared to military casualties in these so-called “new wars” may have been overblown (not least because civilians have always paid a heavy cost in war), there is little doubting that non-combatants remain firmly in the firing line. The injustices of war are legion and extend to killing, torture, mutilation, sexual and gender based violence and abuse, forced displacement, and much else. For all that the world’s governments proclaim their commitment to the protection of civilians of armed conflict, and for all the writings on the moral and legal constraints introduced over the past three millennia or so, war always produces more than its fair share of injustice.

January 31st, 2013

Recasting an agenda for peace

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The International Criminal Court (ICC) celebrated its ten-year anniversary last summer. During its first decade of life, both the shadow and the actuality of international justice in the form of investigation, trial, and judgment have become a central feature of many conflicts, ongoing and concluded. Nearly a decade before the ICC opened its doors, South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission attracted enormous global attention, and the moral sanction against racial violence at its core resonated across the globe. And yet, the concept of reconciliation that defined the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has not occupied the same coveted (if also contested) international space that international justice—through trials—does today. If anything, advocates of justice and trials have subsumed reconciliation and truth seeking into a package of justice that has trials at its core. In his new book, Just and Unjust Peace, Daniel Philpott forces us to rethink this ordering.

January 29th, 2013

Janus-faced justice

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One of Philpott’s goals in Just and Unjust Peace is to challenge both sorts of reactions to the role of religion in debates on ethics and justice: the polite, but perhaps patronizing, stance of detachment, as well as the presumption that religion is essentially incompatible with democratic freedoms. He proposes bridging the two as a way to broaden and better ground an ethical debate on the central question that animates the book: What does justice consist of “in the wake of its massive despoliation?” (3). This is the question that has been at the center of ongoing debates on transitional and international justice, but Philpott goes about addressing it in a wholly original way. Instead of grounding the inquiry in a preliminary engagement with prevailing international legal standards, he begins by articulating a general theoretical approach to justice and reconciliation, and then uses it to examine contemporary institutions and practices.

November 27th, 2012

A new theory on political wounds

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Daniel Philpott has written an impressive book that offers a new conception of political reconciliation for the field of transitional justice.

The meaning of political reconciliation for Philpott centers on what he calls the “restoration of right relationship.” When a society emerges out of war or dictatorship, it is full of wounded relationships: among citizens, among communities, and between the state and its citizens and communities. These wounds are created by political injustices, the particular sort of injustices that transitional justice, at its best, seeks to address. Philpott argues that an effective conception of political reconciliation must address such injustices, and he roots his conception in a mix of religious and legal doctrines and traditions: human rights, restorative justice, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. He offers a conception of transitional justice that goes well beyond the liberal peace.

October 23rd, 2012

Relevance of religious episteme in search of a just peace

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Daniel Philpott’s book, Just and Unjust Peace, can be regarded as a milestone for policymakers and academics looking for ways that go beyond the liberal peace frameworks. As a “student” of international relations and religion, I see the book as a tremendous contribution to the conversations surrounding conflict transformation and peacebuilding. In this short essay, I am not evaluating the myriad possibilities the book offers in multiple fields. Rather, I would like to convey two important implications of Philpott’s approach for those of us sitting at the intersection of religion and international affairs.

October 12th, 2012

Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship

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The Woodrow Wilson Foundation is currently accepting applications for the Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship.

June 12th, 2012

Sexuality and the Catholic Church

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This past week the Catholic church denounced Sister Margaret A. Farley, an American nun and professor of Christian Ethics at Yale Divinity School, for her book Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics.

May 2nd, 2012

What Matters? Ethnographies of Value in a Not So Secular Age

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Columbia University Press has just released What Matters?: Ethnographies of Value in a Not So Secular Age, edited by Courtney Bender and Ann Taves.

February 27th, 2012

A response to three readers

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I am grateful to Mark Juergensmeyer for organizing a panel on my book at the November 2011 meetings of the American Academy of Religion (AAR), only a couple of months after publication. Given a somewhat different response from the American Sociological Association (ASA) I can only say that although I have never taught in a university with a department of religious studies, I am as much a religious studies person as a sociologist. Or perhaps better, I can say that I am a sociologist in the image of my own teacher, Talcott Parsons, who never recognized any disciplinary boundary and tended to define sociology as concerned with the world and its contents.

I am also grateful to the three panelists who spoke so graciously at the panel and who have provided written versions of their comments. I tried to respond to them ex tempore at the event and have seen a video of my remarks, but I will use this occasion to give a more considered answer to the many questions they raised, having to deal with some overlap between them as I go along.

January 5th, 2012

Axial axioms

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The word “magisterial” in publishers’ blurbs usually means little more than “too long,” and indeed Religion in Human Evolution is very long, but it is also magisterial in many of the ways that the Oxford English Dictionary suggests: “Of, relating to, designating, or befitting a master, teacher, or other person qualified to speak with authority; masterly, authoritative, commanding.”   It is certainly all of those, a book full of the wisdom and erudition that comes only when someone quite brilliant has thought about a big subject for many years.

November 4th, 2011

Is there a global ethic?

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It snowed on Saturday throughout the American Northeast. Six weeks ahead of the official start of winter, it snowed on the hundreds of protesters camped out in lower Manhattan who have, for the past month and a half, given voice to growing popular anger over the state of our economic system.

August 15th, 2011

A struggle between faith and human action? Or, a question of apples and oranges

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But then here, on another level, a question similar to that of the Christians above arises: when is human action deemed to veer away from this will of nature and the universe?

June 16th, 2011

Book review: Bridging the maximalist-minimalist divide

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Must human rights be grounded in a religious or metaphysical worldview in order for them to be understood and implemented globally? Or should they be developed based on broad consensus, divorced from religious grounds?  These are the questions that open Grace Kao’s new book Grounding Human Rights in a Pluralist World. Kao situates herself between these two positions, developing a rationale for human rights that is based on her retrieval of particular elements of the most prominent methods for justifying human rights approaches.

May 3rd, 2011

CFP: “Ethics, Religion, and Civil Discourse”

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How might schools play a role in encouraging or discouraging civil discourse across religious and political lines? The National Endowment for the Humanities announces a two-year project designed to explore these issues, housed in the Philosophy Department at Fresno State. The department has issued a call for papers for an inaugural conference for the program, which will take place October 13-15, 2011, and will be followed by an edited volume and a workshop for teachers on how to cultivate civility in an increasingly religiously diverse classroom environment.

April 1st, 2011

Implicated and enraged: An interview with Judith Butler

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Judith Butler, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, is among the leading social theorists alive today. Her most recent books are Frames of War (2009) and The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere (2011), an SSRC volume that puts her in conversation with Jürgen Habermas, Charles Taylor, and Cornel West. As we carried out our conversation by email between Brooklyn and Berkeley, uprisings were occurring across the Arab world, and a U.S.-led coalition had just begun conducting airstrikes in support of rebel forces in Libya. We had discussed some similar questions, and some different ones, a year earlier in an interview for Guernica magazine.

March 21st, 2011

Our Values

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Our Values is a new blog published by the Michigan Institute for Social Research and featuring the writing of sociologist Wayne Baker. Its purpose is “to show that civil discussion is possible about the values and ethics that shape our lives—even when stark conflicts arise over core issues.” Each week, Baker discusses a different theme in-depth, with a special emphasis placed on reader feedback.

March 1st, 2011

When democracy alone is not enough

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At Patheos, philosopher Roger Gottlieb discusses why “spirituality” is a necessary supplement to democracy.

February 28th, 2011

Falling on the sword of the spirit

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There is no doubt that anthropology needs new approaches for understanding dramatic change, a new way of figuring the relationship between structure and subjectivity (often abusively assimilated by anthropologists to consciousness or the individual person), which I take to be part of the gambit of the project of an anthropology of Christianity. There is also a real need for a renewal of critical thought on the problems of exploitation, oppression, injustice—on the devastating ravages of late neoliberal capitalism on the masses of the Global South, which are also the populations most engaged in the new wave of conversions. Nothing testifies to this more dramatically or poignantly than the recent wave of self-immolations that has swept across North Africa in the past weeks, nor, might I add, to the ongoing force of a sacrificial politics. But can we really claim that something called Global Christianity (a shorthand, here, for its Pentecostal or charismatic forms), if not able to provide a model for emancipatory action, might, in dialogue with the atheist, post-foundational left, give us something better to think with?

September 17th, 2010

Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship

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The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation is currently fielding applications for the Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship.

August 20th, 2010

A spiritual and moral approach to capitalism and aid

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Speaking of Faith’s Krista Tippett interviews Jacqueline Novogratz, founder and CEO of the Acumen Fund, on the ethics of aid and the coining of the term “patient capitalism.”

July 30th, 2010

The ethical dimensions of kashrut law

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Should the ethical standards applied to the slaughter of animals be expanded to cover the standards of the human work environment in which kosher foods are produced? Rabbi Morris Allen believes so.

July 13th, 2010

Can greed be good?

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In the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s new Religion and Ethics section, renowned American theologian Stanley Hauerwas asks, “Can greed be good?”—a question obviously prompted by the ongoing economic crisis. Hauerwas argues that greed is more than just an (individual) desire to be rich. Instead, it has to be understood in the context of wider economic relations. Greed can appear a virtue only in an economic system that is premised upon unlimited economic growth.

July 6th, 2010

After secularization?

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In their posts, Vincent Pecora and Jonathan Sheehan suggest imagining secularization as an open-ended, ongoing project. Neither doubts that something described as “secular” is worth seeking. Given that a major goal of this DPDF program is to ask what might come “after secularization,” I find this a little curious—especially because it’s not clear why Pecora and Sheehan think that the term “secularization” is worth reclaiming or conceptually fine-tuning in the first place. What is particularly “secular” about the principles—openness to contingency, falsifiability, treating humans as ends and not means—that Pecora and Sheehan embrace? Do we believe that such principles are alien to religious or theological traditions? If so, why?

May 7th, 2010

Casting away our crutches

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The various essays on A Secular Age gathered in Michael Warner, Jonathan VanAntwerpen and Craig Calhoun’s Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age raise a host of important and interesting questions with respect to Taylor’s account of secularism: Do we really need recourse to a notion of transcendence that takes us beyond the immanence of natural and human life in order to re-enchant our world? What kind of history—or, perhaps better put, story or narrative—of secularism is Taylor offering us? Can one properly define Western secularism in isolation from explicit consideration of the West’s encounters and intertwining with non-Western cultures?

What I think is most intriguing, however, about this book is how it unfolds as a dialogue between various visions of secularism informed by different background beliefs, thus illustrating the very kind of interaction between different options of belief and non-belief that characterizes secularism itself according to Taylor.

March 9th, 2010

Christopher Hitchens shows God how it’s done

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In the latest issue of Vanity Fair, Christopher Hitchens takes a stab at re-founding western culture.

March 4th, 2010

Judith Butler on Judaism, Israel, and anti-occupation politics

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In Haaretz, Judith Butler gives a long and personal interview to American-Israeli filmmaker Udi Aloni.

February 8th, 2010

“American depressions”

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At Tikkun Magazine, Harriet Fraad points to five sources that have “devastated the American moral, economic, psychological, and social landscape.”

January 27th, 2010

Making compassion cool: An interview with Karen Armstrong

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A former Catholic nun, Karen Armstrong has written more than 20 books on comparative religions, including A History of God, The Great Transformation, and, most recently, A Case for God. In 2008, she received the TED Prize, which granted $100,000 to support her proposal—her “wish,” as it’s called—for a Charter for Compassion “based on the fundamental principle of the Golden Rule.” Since then, she and TED have parlayed the Charter into a movement of political and religious leaders, as well as, through its website, thousands of people around the world.

December 15th, 2009

Obama, Christian realism, and Just War theory

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A round-up of some of the recent commentary on President Obama and the ethics of war, following the invocation of Just War theory during his Nobel Prize acceptance speech.

November 20th, 2009

Jürgen Habermas and Charles Taylor in conversation

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rethinkingIn a symposium convened by the Institute for Public Knowledge at NYU, the Social Science Research Council and the Humanities Institute at Stony Brook University, Judith Butler, Jürgen Habermas, Charles Taylor, and Cornel West came together last month to discuss the project of “rethinking secularism.” Today we are posting audio and a transcript of the October 22 discussion between Habermas and Taylor, moderated by Craig Calhoun, in which the two leading philosophers discuss the place of religion in the public sphere and whether there are differences in kind between religious and secular reasons. (Listen to the paper presentations that preceded this discussion here. Add your own voice to the discussion here.)

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October 19th, 2009

The philosopher-citizen

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habermasJürgen Habermas is one of the most prominent philosophers on the global scene of the last half century. His work is of an impressive range and depth. It would be impossible to sum it up in a short essay, but I shall try to single out three facets of his extraordinary achievement which help throw light on his deserved fame and influence.

July 8th, 2009

Humanists as cultural agents

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Without art, Victor Shklovsky writes in “Art as Technique,” “life is reckoned as nothing. Habitualization devours works, clothes, furniture, one’s wife, and the fear of war….And art exists that one may recover the sensation of life.” In this spirit of freedom from anaesthetizing habit we can, and urgently should, take up the torn threads that tie humanism up with civic education. We humanists can join artists as cultural agents who promote creativity and interpretation as resources for social development. The objective is not a partisan victory but the formation of “thick” civic subjects who are alive to the world and exercise the free judgment that we learn, as Kant taught us, through developing a disinterested enjoyment of beauty. Democracy depends on sturdy and resourceful citizens able to engage more than one point of view and to wrest rights and resources from limited assets. In other words, non-authoritarian government counts on creativity to loosen conventional thought and free up the space where conflicts are negotiated, before they reach a brink of either despair or aggression.

May 26th, 2009

Niebuhrian in the White House

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Barack Obama is often described as some kind of Niebuhrian, a tag he has encouraged by describing Reinhold Niebuhr as a major influence on his thought. Niebuhr was a complex figure who prized ambiguity and paradox, changed his positions many times, and found his way by reacting pragmatically to events—all of which may turn out to be true of Obama. But the key to Niebuhr, and to Obama’s interest in him, is the idea of combining a realistic understanding of politics and human nature with a religiously inspired idealism. Had Niebuhr lacked the humility and intellectual flexibility to change his mind numerous times, he would not have become the leading American Christian public intellectual of the twentieth century. […]

December 22nd, 2008

Heraclitean spirituality: divine conflict

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<br />From the vertiginous summit of his virtue, and against all evidence to the contrary, Heraclitus informs us that “it is wise, listening not to me but to the logos, to agree that all things are one.” Thus, with far greater subtlety than his ancient Stoic heirs, and long before his greatest modern disciple, Nietzsche, Heraclitus enjoins an affirmation of the whole world. But many aspects of this world are hard to affirm—conflict, suffering, death—and he does not ignore them, nor does he dismiss them with the sort of pat theodicy that has given other immanent spiritualities a deserved reputation for insensitivity. Instead, he makes them integral to his paradoxical worldview. […]

March 5th, 2008

Taking religion seriously

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What distinguishes Habermas from Rawls on religion in the public sphere is not Habermas’s slightly amended view of public reason, but his willingness to entertain the idea that religion has a positive and substantive role to play in public debate.