Religion, Ethics, and Conflict

Intermediate—Year

Religion’s role in starting, perpetuating, or accelerating conflict in the world has been the focus of a large number of academic and policy-driven analyses in recent decades. Much less broadly publicized, but just as extensively studied, has been its role in conflict resolution, social activism, and faith-based initiatives in domestic and foreign policies. The different roles that religion plays in contemporary public life sometimes support and sometimes challenge secular liberal notions such as the separation of church and state, universal human rights, and humanitarian actions and interventions. In this course, we will explore religious and secular justifications for the use of force and violence, definitions of individual and communal rights and responsibilities, universalist versus communitarian theologies and ideologies, and the development of contemporary political theologies. We will also look at how religion is talked about by public intellectuals, with someone like the late Christopher Hitchens arguing that “Religion poisons everything” and others speaking of “militant atheism” and “aggressive secularism.” We’ll examine the religious content in recent statements and speeches by world leaders. Readings will include discussions of “postsecularism” and critiques of “religious illiteracy” in education, journalism, the military, and foreign policy.