REL xxxx

Ethics in the World Religions


Course Description: This course explores modern concepts of ethics and their relation to five major religions; Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Course materials draw from various world religions such as primary religious documents, secondary literature, and case studies. We will consider religion as both a stimulus and barrier to moral change and discuss examples of modern moral issues as the encounter traditional religious ethics.


Course Goals:

During this course, students will:

  1. Develop a knowledge and understanding of relevant traditions, narratives, teachings, and practices reflecting the ethical approaches of Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam;
  2. Engage modern writers to explore contemporary applications of each religion’s respective ethical tradition;
  3. Examine the diverse application of ethical traditions between religions and within a single religion;
  4. Investigate various case studies concerning contemporary ethical dilemmas within world religions.


Learning Goals:

At the conclusion of this course, students will be able to:

  1. Identify themes, thinkers, and texts belonging to Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam;
  2. Reflect critically on the place of ethics in religion in general, and in world religions in particular;
  3. Recognize the application of ethical traditions from the world’s religions in the contemporary world events;
  4. Understand why ethical views result in cultural clashes between and within religions;
  5. Detect misinterpretations and/or misapplications of one religion’s ethical traditions by another religion.

Instructional Methods:

This course will consist of a combination of discussion, group work, lecture, and film that draw upon class readings and materials prepared by the students.


Required Texts:

The following required texts should be purchased from the GW bookstore.

  • The Blackwell Companion to Religious Ethics.
  • Fasching, Dechant, & Lantigua; Comparative Religious Ethics, 2nd edition.
  • Regina Wentzel Wolfe, Ethics and Worlds Religions: Cross-Cultural Case Studies.
  • Anthony Weston, A Practical Companion to Ethics

Readings marked with an ** in the course schedule are located on Blackboard under their respective module tab.



Discussion Participation(15%)

Total discussion participation will be calculated on a 10-point scale (see RUBRICS in the COURSE PACK on Blackboard). Your final grade will be an average of every participation grade you accumulate over the number of class days held (x/28). Please note, discussion participation is tied to your attendance: if you are not in class, you will not receive any credit. For those of you who are on the quieter side: aim to make at least one, thoughtful comment during each discussion. Remember: quality trumps quantity. Talking a lot is not necessarily the same as contributing constructively.


Homework (15%)

Homework (HW) for specified classes will be completed for respective modules on Blackboard and is due by 3:45 p.m. the day of class (i.e., the time class starts); NOT DURING CLASS The purpose of homework at the beginning of the semesters is to make sure everyone understands basic concepts from our reading material. The purpose of homework during the last third of the semester is to prepare you for discussion. The more prepared everyone is for discussion, the better our class discussions will be. Please see the COURSE PACKET on Blackboard for homework instructions and grading rubrics. Please see syllabus section on Late Policies for information on late homeworks.

NOTE: I will drop the lowest homework grade for students who complete every assignment (homework and journal) on time (i.e., no assignments are late or missed).

WARNING: There is a time stamp on everything submitted to Blackboard. If I notice that assignments are being submitted DURING class, I will suspend computer privileges for the entire semester.


Reflection Journal (20%)

Instead of writing a paper, students will keep a weekly reflection notebook on select course (See Course Schedule below). Entries should be a full 2 pages, double spaced (2 pages single-spaced if you wish to write your journal longhand–please be legible!). With the exception of the first journal entry, I will collect journal entries three times over the course of the semester. Be sure to keep up with your journal writing in the meantime as you will be asked to express the contents of your reflection in class. Bring your journal entries to class with you for reference during discussions. Think of it this way: you have already thought about the material AND written a comment about it. That means, in a discussion all you have to do is look at the paper and there’s your class participation! NOTE: Journal entries are not summaries of the readings but are analytical, critical and constructive responses to the readings.

Please see the COURSE PACK for further information on journal specifics. Here is a quick overview:

  • Journal entries will span readings from September 5 through October 31. You will see “Journal #” next to the readings to be included.
  • I will post reflection questions on BB for each journal. In your journal entries, reflect on how you find peace and conflict resolution operating within the readings. (See COURSE PACK for further details.)
  • Journal collection days: (See below). You may either post the journals as you write them in BB or, as mentioned above, handwrite your entries.

NOTE: I will drop the lowest journal grade for students who complete every assignment (homework and journal) on time (i.e., no assignments are late or missed).


Case Study Discussion Leadership (15%)

I know you’re thinking: Ick (or some four-letter word equivalent). I get it. However, this is not as scary as it sounds. During our final third of the course, a group of 4-5 students will be responsible for presenting the case studies we read for class. The discussion leaders are not expected to solve the problem, only to provide a way for the class to dig more deeply into the situation at hand and explore the complexities of the ethical dilemmas at stake. I will circulate a sign-up sheet during the second or third week of class, so you will have time to check out the case studies to see which one you would like to present. See DISCUSSION LEADER on BB for more details.


Final Exam(35%) Date TBD.

One final exam will be administered on Blackboard. The exam will be open for three full days to be decided at a later date (dates depend on the course’s scheduled exam day). The exam will consist of two parts: (1) a section consisting of quote identification, short answer, fill-in-the-blank style questions (similar to the homework), (2) a section devoted to responding to a case study not covered in class (case study options will be posted the week before the exam). The purpose of this exam is to demonstrate knowledge and mastery of material covered within this course. For detailed instructions on the exam see FINAL EXAM in BB where I will post more information beginning in October.


Extra Credit (EC) Opportunity +5%

Students may elect to write one 5-7 page paper for extra credit. No more than one paper will be accepted. Extra credit will be applied to the Attendance/Participation grade. See the EC tab on Blackboard for more details. The EC paper is due the last day of class.


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Readings designated with ** are located on Blackboard.

[This course schedule is subject to change at the discretion of the instructor.]


Week 1: Introduction to Ethics

Tuesday: Introduction to course and syllabus

Thursday: **Idinopulos, “What is Religion?”; **Schweiker, “On Religious Ethics”; DUE: HW #1


Week 2: The Narrative of Religious Ethics & Hinduism I

Tuesday: Comparative Religious Ethics, chapter 1; Blackwell, Part I, Ch. 2, 3; DUE: HW #2

Thursday: Comparative Religious Ethics, CH 5, pp137-59; Blackwell, Ch. 33, 34, 36; DUE: HW #3


Week 3: Hinduism II

Tuesday: **Das, “The Concept of Dharma;” **Dhand, “The Dharma of Ethics, the Ethics of Dharma”; DUE: Journal 1

Thursday: **Bose, “Sati: the Event and the Ideology,” **Brick, “The Dharmaśātric Debate on Widow-Burning” (Journal 2)


Week 4: Buddhism I

Tuesday: Comparative Religious Ethics, CH 6, pp165-96; Blackwell, Ch. 29, 30, 32; DUE: HW #4

Thursday: **Epstein, “Applications of Buddhist teachings in modern life;” **Evans, “Ethical Confusion” (Journal 3)


Week 5: Buddhism II & Judaism I

Tuesday: **Barnhart, “Buddhism and the Morality of Abortion;” **Florida, “Buddhism and Abortion” (Journal 4)

Journal Collection Day: Journals 2-4

Thursday: Comparative Religious Ethics, CH 7, pp205-229; Blackwell, Ch. 17, 18, 20

DUE: HW #5


Week 6: Judaism II

Tuesday: **Rackman, “Jewish Medical Ethics and Law;” **Crane, “Because…: Justifying Law/Rationalizing Ethics” (Journal 5)

Thursday: **Jotkowitz, “The Role of Theology in Contemporary Jewish Ethical Decision-Making;” **Jotkowitz, “Surrogate Motherhood Revisited” (Journal 6)


Week 7: Christianity I

Tuesday: Comparative Religious Ethics, CH 8, pp234-25; Blackwell, Ch. 21, 22, 24

DUE: HW #6

Thursday: **Simpson, “Transcending Justice;” **Badham, “The Contemporary Relevance of the Just War Tradition in Christianity” (Journal 7)


Week 8: Christianity II & Islam I

Tuesday: **Watts, “Just War, Pacifism and the Ethics of Protection;” **Fisher, “Can a Medieval Just War Theory Address 21st Century Concerns?”; **Zahl, Bell, Stiltner, “Just War vs. Technology” (Journal 8)

Journal Collection Day: Journals 5- 8

Thursday: Comparative Religious Ethics, CH 9 pp262-286; Blackwell, Ch. 25, 26, 28

DUE: HW #7

Week 9: Islam II

Tuesday: **Kelsay, “Islam and the Study of Ethics”; **Akpinar, “The Ethics of Islam” (Journal 9)

Thursday: **Oh, “Approaching Islam”; **Hamid, “Sexual Ethics and Islam” (Journal 10)


Week 10: Considerations for Ethical Debates

Tuesday: Weston, Ch. 2, 3 (Journal 11)

Thursday: Weston, Ch. 4, 5 (Journal 12)

Journal Collection Day: Journals 9-12


Week 11: Case Studies I: Marriage & Medicine

Tuesday: Ethics & World Religions, CH 4 (student presentation)

DUE for non-presenters: HW #13

Thursday: Blackwell, Ch. 53; Ethics & World Religions, CH 15 (student presentation)

DUE for non-presenters: HW #14


Week 12: Case Studies II: Women

Tuesday: Comparative Religious Ethics, chapter 10; Blackwell, Ch. 54

DUE: HW #15

Thursday: Ethics & World Religions, CH 1(student presentation)

DUE for non-presenters: HW #16


Week 13: Case Studies III: Culture Clash

Tuesday: Ethics & World Religions, CH 7(student presentation)

DUE for non-presenters: HW #17

Thursday: THANKSGIVING–No Class


Week 14: Case Studies IV: Ecology

Tuesday: Blackwell, Ch 47; **Tucker & Grim, “Overview of World Religions & Ecology.” From this link, use the left-hand tab to click through to articles on: Hinduism, Buddhism, Indigenous Religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Read each one (skip the links I did not list here).

DUE: HW #18

Thursday: Ethics & World Religions, CH 11 (student presentation)

DUE for non-presenters: HW #19


Week 15: Conclusions


Thursday: Discussion Day

DUE: EC paper; Journal Rewrites