Tag: secularism

Bioethics Blogs

Special Issue! Nonsecular Medical Anthropology by Anna Zogas

Ian Whitmarsh and Elizabeth F. S. Roberts have edited a Special Issue of Medical Anthropology called “Nonsecular Medical Anthropology.”  Here is an excerpt from their introduction to the issue, along with the abstracts of its commentary and six articles.  Enjoy!

Nonsecular Medical Anthropology (open access)
Ian Whitmarsh & Elizabeth F. S. Roberts

A nonsecular medical anthropology insists on the ways medicine and science have constituted ‘the secular’ itself through the ‘secular self’—how medical knowing has been used to craft the secular political subject. As James Boon noted, too often in social theory, “religion gets safely tucked away—restricted theoretically to ‘meaning’ rather than power” (1998:245). The authors of the six articles in this special issue ‘untuck’ religiosity from within the norms and numbers of medicine itself, and examine how ‘secular’ medicine has relied on religious traditions to produce political secularity. These articles demonstrate that ‘secular’ medicine relies on religious others whose exclusion bespeaks latent religious commitments of citizenship in the modern political realm of health.

In the past few decades, anthropologists of religion and secularity have provided a vigorous critique of the liberal political subject constituted through the distinction between the secular and the religious (Asad 2003; Mahmood 2005). Meanwhile medical anthropologists have developed tools to examine how medicine constitutes the human. With this special issue, we draw together insights from both these literatures to query the relationship between the secular and health, medicine, and the body.

Gods, Germs, and Petri Dishes: Toward a Nonsecular Medical Anthropology (open access)
Elizabeth F. S. Roberts

This commentary calls on medical anthropology to become programmatically non-secular.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Cross Post: Women’s-Only Swimming Hours: Accommodation Is Not Discrimination

Written by Miriam Rosenbaum and Sajda Ouachtouki 

This article was originally published in First Things.

Women’s-only hours at swimming pools are nothing new. Many secular institutions have long hosted separate swim hours for women and girls who, for reasons of faith or personal preference, desire to swim without the presence of men. The list includes Barnard College, Harvard University, Yale University, and swim clubs, JCCs, and YMCAs across the country. Recently, women’s-only swimming hours have become a topic of debate, especially in New York, where promoters of liberal secularist ideology (including the editorial page of the New York Times) are campaigning against women’s-only hours at a public swimming pool on Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn. They claim that women’s-only swimming hours, even for a small portion of the day, must be abolished in the interest of “general fairness and equal access” and to avoid “discrimination” in favor of certain religions.

This is doubly wrong. First, accommodation is not the same as discrimination. Second, critics emphasize the importance of upholding “public, secular rules” without recognizing that an honorable, fair, and therefore desirable secularity is not one that imposes secularism as an ideology; rather it is one that accommodates on terms of equality the needs of members of the various communities, including faith communities, composing society as a whole.

As two religious women who attend secular universities and work in secular environments, we speak about secularity and diversity from our mutual experience. On Princeton’s campus, where we met as college students in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and as leaders of the Religious Life Interfaith Council, we stood out among our peers both visibly (by the way we dress) and through practice.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics News

Bioethical debates. Contributions of religion in the field of research and biomedical practice

As a general rule, bioethical debates deal with the questions raised by scientific-technical breakthroughs in the field of research and biomedical practice. The swiftness with which these advances take place calls into question whether moral philosophy —and in particular theological ethics— can provide answers to the new questions raised, or whether it should capitulate to strategic ethics.

In the last few months, the Journal of Medical Ethics has reignited the debate about the place of religion in medical ethics. Nigel Biggar, Professor of Moral Theology at Oxford University [1], has criticised the moral ambiguity of secular ethics, which often obliges us “to settle for a somewhat messy compromise” [1]. Biggar denies that religious logic is irrational, and admonishes intellectuals to overcome their “scientistic” prejudices and recognise that moral theology is a repository of genuinely convincing and illuminating principles. Biggar’s theory is contested by Kevin Smith, professor at Abertay University in Dundee [2]; Brian Earp, researcher at Oxford University [3]; and Xavier Symons of Sydney Catholic University [4].

Smith’s criticism of Biggar’s arguments centres on the following: firstly, the principles of theological ethics are not universal, since they appeal to divine authority instead of rational discourse; furthermore, they were formulated when the possibilities of contemporary technology for detecting prenatal disease early on, creating and maintaining embryonic life outside the maternal womb, or eliminating intrauterine life using techniques that are safe for the pregnant woman were still unknown. Only “secular” ethics, he adds, guarantee discussion based on ethical principles open to rational analysis. He concludes that only utilitarianism has the potential to attract a universal consensus, because happiness and suffering are, respectively, highly valued and deprecated by all agents who participate in the debate.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Questions to which the Answer is Yes

Over at Practical Ethics, Charles Camosy asks a question: Can bioethics be done without theology?

Yep.  It can.

Well, that was quick and simple.

But – oh, all right: I probably ought to say a bit more.  Now, Camosy’s post is quite long, and that means that if I want to scrutinise it in any detail, I’d have to generate something at least as long.  I’m not sure if I – or any reader – has the patience for that, so what follows is probably not going to be without the odd gap.  All the same, this post has turned out to be something of a monster in its own right – so it might be worth going to make a cup of tea first if you intend to read it.

The tl;dr version is that I think that Camosy’s argument is fallacious in several places.  And though I’m arguing from a position of godlessness, I think that the problems ought to be apparent to those who do have faith as well.  With that caveat issued, here we go…

Camosy’s opening gambit is that “theological bioethics is in trouble”.  Part of the explanation of the trouble, he claims, is that the nature of ethics in Universities – I take him to mean theology departments here – is changing, and for a couple of reasons.  The first is that

as theology continues to morph into religious studies in many university departments, “social ethics” now swallows everything in its path—with almost all questions of ethics becoming questions exclusively about history, sociology and/or economics.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Belief In Ultimate Truth: Does it make for peaceful living?

As I have been saying in recent blogs, most of what we do in
clinical ethics, but also in most areas of bioethics, is procedural ethics.
That is when we are faced with an ethical dilemma, our approach, whether
consciously or unconsciously is usually to try to reach a reasonable compromise
or consensus among the key participants that are in conflict consistent with
well-established values and principles. This tendency reflects an obvious
reality about the nature of contemporary ethics that we often ignore: in the
current Western moral setting, our only viable methodology for resolving value
laden disputes, whether at the micro level in clinical ethics or macro level in
healthcare policy, is to attempt to craft an agreement or consensus among those
with a say. Whether we are dealing with patients and families at odds with
their physician on how to define the goals of care in the hospital setting or
trying to build a consensus of opinion among voters in the political arena, we
assume there are no final, authoritative moral answers that avail themselves to
us. Whether we like it or not, we humans must figure out ethical dilemmas for
ourselves and learn to get along.

Yet the idea of procedural ethics remains very worrisome for
many people, including such bioethicists and Tristram Engelhardt, Jr. He believes
that procedural ethics, such much of what we do in clinical ethics, is not
really ethics in because it is based on convention and legalistic type
standards. For him ethics worthy of the name must flow from a content-rich,
canonical moral tradition that provides moral authority to our everyday ethical
and moral judgments.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.