The AMRS Program is a concentrated program for those who seek greater knowledge of and sophistication in the academic study of religion. Students working in ethics examine the religious underpinnings of morality across a range of topics in professional and social life, and the manner in which religion orders societies and ecosystems. Courses deal with matters both theoretical and practical and draw on resources that are classical and contemporary in religious thought, moral philosophy, political theory, and the natural and social sciences. 


Program Length

The AMRS Program can be completed in one (1) year on a full-time basis. Students may study on a part-time basis.

Program Requirements

Completion of a minimum of nine courses, including:

  •  Introduction to the Study of Religion
  • Courses in at least three areas of study and in two committees of the faculty
  • One-hour oral examination based on a paper written for a class


Application Materials

  • Divinity School Application for GraduateAdmission
  • Personal Statement
  • Academic Transcripts
  • 3 Letters of Recommendation
  • TOEFL/IELTS Scores
  • Current Resume or CV
  • Writing sample

Click here to apply!

 

2020-2021 RELIGIOUS ETHICS COURSES

AUTUMN

RLST 24110 - The Ethics of War: Reading Michael Walzer's Just and Unjust Wars
Questions about war, the taking of human life, the obligations of citizenship, the role of state power, and international justice are among the most pressing topics in ethics and political life. This class will examine these matters through a close reading of Michael Walzer’s Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations, first published in 1977 and now in its 5th edition. Widely considered a classic in the ethics of war, JUW develops a theory for evaluating whether to enter war as well as decisions within war—what are known as the jus ad bellum and the jus in bello. Walzer applies his theory to a number of actual cases, ranging from military interventions to reprisals to terrorism to insurgencies to nuclear policy, all informed by the history of warfare and arguments in the history of Western thought. We will critically examine Walzer’s theory, his use of cases, and the conclusions to which his arguments lead. Along the way, we’ll examine core ideas in political morality, e.g., human rights; state sovereignty; morality, necessity, and extremity; liability and punishment, nonviolence, and killing and murder. Note: Grad students may take the course with instructor's permission. Richard Miller
RETH 30702 - Introduction to Environmental Ethics
This course will examine answers to four questions that have been foundational to environmental ethics: Are religious traditions responsible for environmental crises? To what degree can religions address environmental crises? Does the natural world have intrinsic value in addition to instrumental value to humans, and does the type of value the world has imply anything about human responsibility? What point of view (anthropocentrism, biocentrism, theocentrism) should ground an environmental ethic? Since all four of the above questions are highly contested questions, we will examine a constellation of responses to each question. During the quarter we will read texts from a wide variety of religious and philosophical perspectives, though I note that the questions we are studying arose out of the western response to environmental crises and so often use that language. Some emphasis will be given to particularly influential texts, thinkers, and points of view in the scholarship of environmental ethics. As the questions above indicate, the course prioritizes theoretical issues in environmental ethics that can relate to many different applied subjects (e.g. energy, water, animals, climate change) rather than emphasizing these applied issues themselves. Taking this focus will give you the background necessary to work on such issues. Sarah Fredericks
RETH 30802 - Contemporary Religious Ethics I: History and Method
This is the first quarter of a three-quarter sequence surveying the rise and development of contemporary religious ethics.  We will examine pioneering work that established a new style of scholarship and ethical argumentation during the “quiet revolution” when the study of religion gained an institutional footing in many North American colleges and universities in the 1950s and 60s. This quarter’s readings developed in the wake of that revolution and address moral controversies that arose within the cultural and intellectual ferment of the 1970s and 80s. The course is reading intensive, and it will focus on attempts to craft a method for doing religious ethics in the 1970s that aimed to situate the study of ethics within the academic study of religion and the humanities more generally.  These efforts were soon challenged by theories about the importance of history, interpretation, and power in the humanities and social sciences in the 1980s. Hence the title of this cycle: Method and History (1970-1990). Readings include works by Gene Outka, Sumner Twiss and David Little, John P. Reeder, Jr., Alasdair MacIntyre, Charles Taylor, Michel Foucault, Michael Walzer, and Stephen Toulmin and Albert Jonsen.  The course aims to introduce students to styles, genres, and patterns of moral reasoning and to innovative work in religious ethics as a foundation for future scholarship in the field.  Enrollment in other courses in this sequence is not required to enroll in this course. Richard Miller
RETH 35704 - Environmental Justice in Chicago
This course will examine the development of environmental justice theory and practice through social scientific and ethical literature about the subject. We will focus on environmental justice issues in Chicago including, but not limited to waste disposal, toxic air and water, the Chicago heat wave, and climate change. Particular attention will be paid to environmental racism and the often understudied role of religion in environmental justice theory and practice. Sarah Fredericks
RETH 50250 - Greek Tragedy and Philosophy
Ancient Greek tragedy has been of continuous interest to philosophers, whether they love it or hate it. But they do not agree about what it is and does, or about what insights it offers. This seminar will study the tragic festivals and a select number of tragedies, also consulting some modern studies of ancient Greek tragedy. Then we shall turn to philosophical accounts of the tragic genre, including those of Plato, Aristotle, the Greek and Roman Stoics (especially Seneca), Lessing, Schlegel, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Iris Murdoch, Sartre, and Bernard Williams. If we have time we will include some study of ancient Greek comedy and its philosophical significance. Prerequisites: Admission by permission of the instructor. Permission must be sought in writing by September 15. An undergraduate major in philosophy or some equivalent solid philosophy preparation, plus my permission. This is a 500 level course. Ph.D. students in Philosophy, Classics, and Political Theory may enroll without permission. Law students with ample philosophical background are welcome to enroll but should ask me first. Undergraduates may not enroll. Martha Nussbaum
RETH 54321 - Contagion: Plague, Power, and Epidemics
Plagues always take place within social orders, and human communities, causing havoc and chaos and reordering ideas about power and fate, befallenness, and desert. Plagues play a special role in Biblical traditions and text and in contemporary literature. This seminar will explore how epidemic illness is presented and managed within theological and philosophical literature. Laurie Zoloth

WINTER

RETH 30803 - Contemporary Religious Ethics II: Identity and Difference
This is the second of my three-quarter sequence of courses examining the rise and development of contemporary religious ethics. It will continue examining pioneering work that established a new style of scholarship and ethical argumentation during the “quiet revolution” when the study of religion gained an institutional footing in North American colleges and universities. Readings will examine theories of subject formation; cultural norms and human agency; relationships between human and non-human animals; religion and global conflict; race, gender, and politics; and challenges and opportunities that encountering the Other poses for ethical responsibility and coexistence in political life. Hence the title of this cycle: Identity and Difference (1990-2010). Authors include William F. May, William LaFleur, Cornel West, Charles Taylor, Judith Butler, Avishai Margalit, Lisa Sideris, Saba Mahmood, Aaron Stalnaker, John Kelsay, and Jeffrey Stout. Over the arc of the quarter we will examine how normative inquiry moves across overlapping domains of religion, culture, politics, and science. This course will be followed by Contemporary Religious Ethics III: Peril and Responsibility (2010-2020), next year.  Enrollment in other courses in this sequence is not required to enroll in this course. Richard Miller
RETH 32800 - Religion, Ethics, and the Sciences
Basic concepts in the philosophy and history of science are critical to understanding debates in bioethics, environmental ethics, information technology ethics, and other related fields. This class will examine how scientific authority, methods, and information may relate to ethics, particularly religious ethics. We will also study objectivity, subjectivity, and values in the sciences; the development of scientific knowledge; risk, precaution, and accidents; and the development and use codes of ethics for scientists and engineers. Note: This course is open to undergrads by Petition. Sarah Fredericks
RETH 37000 - Moral Theory and Philosophical Ethics
Asking the basic ethical question, “how shall we live?,” this course explores answers to that question in selected major historical writings in Western moral theory and philosophical ethics. Its purpose is to explain the elements and tasks of moral theory and also to explore the work of seminal philosophical ethical thinkers. One thread through the course will be the question of the relation between ethics, or moral philosophy, and religion. In this way, we are also exploring fundamental questions in religious ethics, including questions about human “nature” and action, the relation between the human good and God, and how to validate moral judgments. Note: Undergraduates should contact professor about enrollment. William Schweiker
RETH 44000 - Methods and Theories in Comparative Religious Ethics
This course explores the major theories and methods for doing comparative religious ethics and also looks at key contemporary works comparing religions ethically. Undergraduates must contact professor in order to enroll. William Schweiker
RETH 44802 - Contemporary Political and Social Ethics
In 1971 John Rawls set new terms for political and social ethics with the publication of his landmark work, A Theory of Justice. This seminar will focus on the work of Rawls along with critical engagements with his ideas in the 1980s and 1990s by Michael Sandel, Michael Walzer, Susan Moller Okin, Richard Rorty, Seyla Benhabib, and Will Kymlicka. In order to provide an understanding of the evolving nature of this engagement, the seminar’s readings are arranged roughly in chronological order. One aim is to make plain the nature of public philosophy regarding social justice as it was carried out from 1971-1996, and to identify how and where Rawls adjusted his ideas in response to his critics during this time. Another aim is to correct for the ongoing misrepresentation of liberal democratic theory in the academy and in public culture more generally. Topics include theories of distributive justice, gender equality, cultural rights, religion and politics, toleration, identity and difference, and, more generally, the relation between the right and the good in political thought. Prerequisite: All students--Please petition Prof. Miller to enroll in this class by describing your background and relevant interests in this course. This course is open to undergrads by petition. Richard Miller
RETH 52555 - Narration and Law: Levinas's Talmudic Readings and the Imperative of Ethics
This is a seminar that will closely read the Jewish writings of Emmanuel Levinas, in particular, the talmudic exegesis that he undertook for the French Jewish Community in the 1990s.  Levinas explicates his ethical theories via the recovery of a series of texts from the Babylonian Talmud, the classic text of Jewish law, literature, and theo-philosophic interpretation. Laurie Zoloth

SPRING

RETH 30600 - Bioethics
This is a lecture and discussion class that will explore how a variety of philosophic and religious thinkers approach the issues and problems of modern dilemmas in medicine and science in a field called bioethics. We will consider a general argument for your consideration: that the arguments and the practices from faith traditions and from philosophy offer significant contributions that underlie policies and practices in bioethics. / We will use a case-based method to study how different traditions describe and defend differences in moral choices in contemporary bioethics. This class is based on the understanding that case narratives serve as another core text for the discipline of bioethics and that complex ethical issues are best considered by a careful examination of the competing theories as work themselves out in specific cases. We will examine both classic cases that have shaped our understanding of the field of bioethics and cases that are newly emerging, including the case of research done at our University. Through these cases, we will ask how religious traditions both collide and cohere over such topics as embryo research, health care reform, terminal illness, issues in epidemics and public health, and our central research question, synthetic biology research. / This class will also explore how the discipline of bioethics has emerged to reflect upon such dilemmas, with particular attention to the role that theology and philosophy have played in such reflection. We will look at both how the practice of theologians and philosophers has historically shaped the field of bioethics and at how these claims, methodology, and praxis have continued to shape and inflect bioethics. We will examine the issue of epistemic stance, of truth claims, and of how normative policies are created amid serious controversy. We will explore the nature of the relationship between religion and public policy and study how religious traditions and moral philosophy shape our view of issues as “bioethics controversies” in the first place. Laurie Zoloth
RETH 33599 - Christian and Anti-Christian: Kierkegaard and Nietzsche on Religion and Morality
This course explores two radically different assessments of religion and morality, one by the Protestant thinker Søren Kierkegaard, and the other by an arch-critic of religion and morality, Friedrich Nietzsche. The course will focus on their assessments of Christian faith and its relation to morality and the human good. Both thinkers wrote in complex and confusing styles: Kierkegarrd used pseudonyms; Nietzsche wrote in aphorisms. In order to explore their styles of writing and their critiques of religion and morality we will read Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling as well as Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals. The general aim of the course, then, is to explore two seminal minds in the development of Western thought with the question in mind of their possible contribution to current theological and ethical thinking. William Schweiker
RETH 50800 - God and Morality
Currently the world’s religions are having profound impact on social, cultural, and political realities around the world. From questions in genetics to global conflict, sexuality to the reality of death, the religious have global moral significance. This seminar addresses a basic question within this current reality, namely, what is and ought to be the connection between religious beliefs about the divine and the domain of moral value and right. The seminar addresses a range of contemporary answers to this question mindful of the history of the question, reaching the West at least back to Socrates, and also different religious and philosophical traditions. Note: This course is open to undergrads by Petition. William Schweiker