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    10 Weeks
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    2–4 hours per week
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About this course

The challenges of sustainable development are more than technical or political—they are also moral, calling on us to examine who we are as human beings, and who we want to be going forward. 

This examination of what makes a “good person”—called virtue ethics—has long been the purview of philosophers and theologians. So what do the world’s great religious and secular philosophies have to say about ethical conduct? Which virtues are common across creeds and cultures? And what role do ethics, spirituality, and religious communities have to play in sustainable development? 

In 2016, distinguished leaders from the world’s major religious traditions, philosophers, scholars, and scientists were invited by Pope Francis to the Vatican for a series of meetings. Known as the Ethics in Action initiative, these meetings sought to promote dialogue and find consensus about the values needed to advance transformative action for our common home and the human family. 

This course features Ethics in Action meeting participants, as well as other leading voices, and discusses the perspectives of some of the world’s great traditions and their role in addressing our world’s most pressing challenges, including poverty, corruption, and climate change. It presents multi-faith cooperation as essential for achieving sustainable development, and calls for the development of a new shared virtue ethics to bring us all into a sustainable and peaceful future.

This course is for:
  • Religious and spiritual communities and individuals who want to contribute to the work of sustainable development
  • Development professionals who want to understand and engage local faith communities
  • Advanced undergraduates and graduate students interested in philosophy, religion, theology, and their relation to global issues

What you'll learn

  • The meaning of virtue ethics and its expression in several major religious and philosophical traditions
  • The importance of establishing multi-faith consensus to advance sustainable development
  • The importance of involving faith communities in peace and development work
  • How ethics motivates the actions of religious and secular leaders, politicians, scientists, civil society, and business
  • What shared virtue ethics are needed to create a more peaceful and prosperous world for everyone
Module 1: Introduction to Ethics in Action
Chapter 1: Sustainable Development and the Need for Ethics in Action 
Chapter 2: The History of Sustainable Development and the SDGs 
Chapter 3: The Moral and Practical Limits of Global Capitalism
Chapter 4: Moral Teachings and Sustainable Development: An Overview from the World’s Religions 
Chapter 5: The Scope of the Ethics in Action Course 

Module 2: Religion and Virtue Ethics - Part I
Chapter 1: Lessons from Classical Greece
Chapter 2: Lessons from Classical China 
Chapter 3: A Hindu Perspective 
Chapter 4: A Buddhist Perspective 

Module 3: Religion and Virtue Ethics - Part II
Chapter 1: A Jewish Perspective 
Chapter 2: A Catholic Perspective 
Chapter 3: A Protestant Evangelical Perspective 
Chapter 4: An Islamic Perspective
Chapter 5: An Indigenous Perspective 

Module 4: The Virtuous Society
Chapter 1: Virtue Ethics as a Multi-Religious Consensus
Chapter 2: Inquiry and Moral Reasoning 
Chapter 3: Spirituality and the Common Good 
Chapter 4: Virtue Ethics and Science 
Chapter 5. Gender Equality: A Confucian Perspective

Module 5: Poverty and Inequality
Chapter 1: The Challenge of Global Poverty 
Chapter 2: The Rights to Health, Education, and Decent Work
Chapter 3: Christian Social Teachings on Poverty
Chapter 4: Ethical Conduct Towards the Vulnerable
Chapter 5: Ethical Actions to End Poverty 

Module 6: Peace 
Chapter 1: The State of Conflict around the World
Chapter 2: Barriers to Lasting Peace among and within Nations    
Chapter 3: Tenets of Peace of the World’s Religions 
Chapter 4: Religion and Peacebuilding 
Chapter 5: Actions for a Lasting Peace: Lessons from Syria 

Module 7: Refugees, Trafficking, and Modern Slavery 
Chapter 1: Drivers of Migration, Human Trafficking, and Modern 
Chapter 2: The Ethics of Migration and Refugees
Chapter 3: The Ethics of Modern Slavery and Trafficking 
Chapter 4: Political and Social Responses to Forced Migration

Module 8: Environmental Justice
Chapter 1: Environmental Perils Facing the Planet 
Chapter 2: A Hindu Approach to Environmental Care 
Chapter 3: Laudato Si’ and Climate Justice 
Chapter 4: The Rights of Indigenous Populations 
Chapter 5: Defending our Common Home: Global and Local Actions 

Module 9: Politics and Power
Chapter 1: Politics, Power, and the Common Good 
Chapter 2: The Moral Underpinnings of Statecraft
Chapter 3: Ethics and the International Political Order 
Chapter 4: Corruption and Politics Today 

Module 10: Business, Work, and the Common Good
Chapter 1: The Moral Basis for Business Activity 
Chapter 2: Corruption and Global Business
Chapter 3: Technology and the Dignity of Work 
Chapter 4: Business Leadership for Community Well-being 

Course Conclusion: Towards a New Virtue Ethics for Sustainable Development 

Examining Ethics in Action: Case Studies
  • Pope Francis and Multi-Faith Action
  • Religions for Peace 
  • Community-based Healthcare in Africa 
  • Health and Climate Change 
  • Reflections from the Business Community 
  • Move Humanity

Meet your instructors

Dr. William Vendley
Secretary General
Religions for Peace
Jeffrey D. Sachs
Columbia University

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