The Religion & Culture Web Forum
What Athens Has to Do with Jerusalem:
Location and the Origin of Ethics
University of Chicago
This month’s feature is adapted from a talk given at the Religion and the City Conference April 4-5, 2008, which celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Martin Marty Center and the 80th birthday of Martin Marty. In his essay, William Schweiker considers cities as mixing grounds for different kinds of people, creating urgency for the ethical task:
Augustine asks about what it means to be a “Christian,” Rousseau worries about the ways in which social life can distort human freedom, and Plato was most concerned with why his city executed a virtuous man. In each case, the question centers on what kind of person we ought to struggle to become… Not surprisingly, they connect reflection on the soul with reflection on the city, the just and faithful community. Ethics has always been concerned to explore and propose ideals about what a good person is, often through the idea of virtue or use of moral exemplars…This is also the place, it seems to me, that globalized cities, like Chicago, offer a new location for ethical reflection.
In global cities, peoples’ identities are constantly being negotiated: race, class, religion, gender, political outlook and the like are melded into an identity that seemingly does not have one dominate descriptor. The ethical question is then this: are these challenges now put to people’s identities within the sweeping force of global dynamics mainly a problem or mainly a possibility?