Religion & Culture Forum

Friends and Other Strangers: Studies in Religion, Ethics, and Culture | by Richard B. Miller

The May issue of the Forum features Divinity School Professor Richard B. Miller and his most recent book, Friends and Other Strangers: Studies in Religion, Ethics, and Culture (Columbia University Press, 2016). Friends and Other Strangers argues for expanding the field of religious ethics to address the normative dimensions of culture, interpersonal desires, friendships and family, and institutional and political relationships. Professor Miller urges religious ethicists to turn to cultural studies to broaden the range of the issues they address and to examine matters of cultural practice and cultural difference in critical and self-reflexive ways.

Friends and Other Strangers critically discusses the ethics of ethnography; ethnocentrism, relativism, and moral criticism; empathy and the ethics of self-other attunement; indignation, empathy, and solidarity; the meaning of moral responsibility in relation to children and friends; civic virtue, war, and alterity; the normative and psychological dimensions of memory; and religion and democratic public life. Miller challenges distinctions between psyche and culture, self and other, and uses the concepts of intimacy and alterity as dialectical touchstones for examining the normative dimensions of self-other relationships. A wholly contemporary, global, and interdisciplinary work, Friends and Other Strangers illuminates aspects of moral life ethicists have otherwise overlooked.

The first post in the May issue includes the introduction to Friends and Other Strangers, “Alterity and Intimacy” (below). In the coming weeks, scholars will offer responses to different chapters of the book. At the end of the month, Professor Miller will close out the series with a final response. We invite you to join the conversation by sharing your thoughts in the comments section.


  • Chapter 2, “On Making a Cultural Turn in Religious Ethics” (Thomas A. Tweed, University of Notre Dame)
  • Chapter 3, “Moral Authority and Moral Critique in An Age of Ethnocentric Anxiety” (Caroline Anglim, University of Chicago)
  • Chapter 4, “The Ethics of Empathy” (Cristina Traina, Northwestern University)
  • Chapter 5, “Indignation, Empathy, and Solidarity” (Courtney Campbell, Oregon State University)
  • Chapter 9, “The Moral and Political Burdens of Memory” (David Gottlieb, University of Chicago)
  • Chapter 10, “Religion, Public Reason, and the Morality of Democratic Authority” (Luke Bretherton, Duke University)

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Richard B. Miller, Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Religious Ethics at the Divinity School, is a scholar of religion and ethics, which he explores in an interdisciplinary, critical, and comparative way. Professor Miller’s interests include political ethics, theory and method in religious ethics, social criticism, and practical reasoning in ethics. Working with sources both classical and contemporary, Miller examines how normative claims that are generated by religious thought and practice provide guides to human conduct in personal and public life, and he does so in critical dialogue with moral and political philosophy. He is the author of Interpretations of Conflict: Ethics, Pacifism, and the Just-War Tradition (University of Chicago Press, 1991); Casuistry and Modern Ethics: A Poetics of Practical Reasoning (University of Chicago Press, 1996); Children, Ethics, and Modern Medicine (Indiana University Press, 2003), and Terror, Religion, and Liberal Thought (Columbia University Press, 2010).  In addition, he has edited War in the Twentieth Century: Sources in Theological Ethics (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992). His new book, Friends and Other Strangers: Studies in Religion, Ethics, and Culture charts and expands the field of religious ethics by exploring the implications of taking a cultural turn in the humanities and social sciences (Columbia University Press, 2016). His essays have appeared in the Journal of Religion, the Journal of Religious Ethics, Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal, the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Ethics and International AffairsHarvard Theological Review, and Theological Studies.

Thomas A. Tweed is the Harold and Martha Welch Professor of American Studies and Professor of History.  He is also Faculty Fellow in the Institute of Latino Studies and the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. Tweed’s research, which includes six books, has been supported by several grants and fellowships, including three from the National Endowment for the Humanities. He edited Retelling U.S. Religious History and co-edited Asian Religions in America: A Documentary History, which Choice named an “outstanding academic book.”  He also wrote The American Encounter with Buddhism, 1844-1912: Victorian Culture and the Limits of Dissent and Our Lady of the Exile: Diasporic Religion at a Cuban Catholic Shrine in Miami, which won the American Academy of Religion’s book award. Tweed’s Crossing and Dwelling: A Theory of Religion was published in 2006, and his most recent book, “America’s Church”: The National Shrine and Catholic Presence in the Nation’s Capital, also received the AAR’s book award for historical studies. In 2015, Tweed served as president of the American Academy of Religion (AAR), the largest professional organization for scholars of religion.

Caroline Anglim is a Ph.D. student in Religious Ethics at the University of Chicago Divinity School. Her research is interested in patterns of secularization and the theorization of religion in the history of medical ethics, as well as the broader intersection of science, religion, and politics. She has presented on religious responses to medical research ethics and on pragmatic definitions of religious difference, concentrating her analyses on the dialogue between constructive scholarship and religious practice.



*Image: Touching Strangers by Richard Renaldi 

About the Forum

The Martin Marty Center's Religion & Culture Forum is an online forum for thought-provoking discussion on the relationship of scholarship in religion to culture and public life. Each month the Marty Center, the research arm of the University of Chicago Divinity School, invites a scholar of religion to comment on his or her own research in a way that "opens out" to themes, problems, and events in world cultures and contemporary life. Scholars from diverse fields of study are invited to offer responses to these commentaries.

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The Religion & Culture Forum is edited by Joel A. Brown, Divinity School PhD student in Religions in America. Emily D. Crews, Divinity School PhD candidate in the History of Religions, was the previous editor.