Program on Medicine and Religion

Current Courses

Courses Offerings for 2023-2024

Autumn 2023

Good Hands: Research Ethics
RETH 31000
Instructor: Prof. Laurie Zoloth

Course Description:
Basic research is intended to explore and evaluate truth claims at the edge of our understanding of the natural and physical world, and it is this very quality that renders it useful as science. Yet, this often creates significant ethical questions for the research as well as for the social order in which all research takes place. Often, courses in research ethics focus on the establishment and enforcement of canonical rules of behavior, where the goal is to inform the investigator about how to follow these established rules. This course will turn to a different set of problems in research ethics. While we will begin with a foundation in the history of research ethics, reviewing the key cases that shaped the policies about which we have consensus, (human and animal subject protections; authorship, etc.) will consider the problems about which there is not yet a clear ethical course: what are the limits of human mastery? Why is research deception so prevalent? Are there experiments which are impermissible and why? What is the obligation of the researcher toward their community? How can we think clearly and ethically in situations of deep uncertainty? We will consider how moral philosophy as well as theological arguments have shaped research science and reflect on the nature, goal and meaning of basic and translational research in modernity. Course Note: Required course for new MS program in Biological Sciences. 

Judaism, Medicine, and the Body
RLST 26313
Instructor: Ranana Dine

Course Description:
For centuries the “Jewish doctor” has existed as an archetype, but is there such a thing as Jewish medicine? Does Judaism teach a distinct approach to the body, illness, and healing? And more significantly, why should religion have anything to do with one’s health today? In this course we will grapple with our assumptions regarding modern Western medicine by discussing topics in Jewish medical thought and ethics. We will study how Judaism – its texts, history, laws, and traditions – intersect with issues of science, medicine, and the body.In particular wewill think about how a Jewish approach to medicine, and more broadly a religious approach, might complicate contemporary assumptions about the body and healing. We will also consider how Jewish bodies have been imagined andstereotyped, andthink about how that might affect Jewish approaches to disease and medical ethics. This course will thus offer students a way to think about alternatives to assumptions about medicine, the body, and ethics in the secular West, which will be explored both in class materials and in personal projects. No prior work in Jewish studies, medical ethics, or religious studies necessary. 


Winter 2024

Contagion: Ethics and the Other
RETH 54320
Instructor: Prof. Laurie Zoloth

Course Description:
This is a graduate seminar which explores the complex ways that epidemic disease has shaped and been shaped by religion, philosophy, literature, and the emerging sciences of modernity. Contagion has long been a central moral problem in theology and philosophy, the organizing terror of all human civilization because of the sudden, stochastic, and terrifying spread of visible, embodied changes. Contagion is our most intimate companion: Plague as punishment, as test, and as a sign of divine judgement have long been a topic of sacred texts, defining how societies thought about, duties, telos, meaning, and salvation. Contagious diseases raise stark ethical choices as well. The uses of quarantine as a defense, the establishment of isolation, and the fear of the stranger mark the historical responses to plagues. In this course, we will consider both the science behind the plagues that have torn across the course of human history, and the sacred and secular textual responses to them. Plagues leave behind cultural artifacts and traces of the puzzle of human behavior in response to epidemics: compliance, resistance imagination, and innovation. We will explore this theme in all its complexity, focusing on the textual and literary responses to the challenge of contagion. 


Spring 2024

Magic, Miracles, and Medicine: Healthcare in the Bible and the Ancient World
RLST 20223
Instructor: Dr. Richard Zaleski

Course Description:
This course examines the complex issues surrounding the body, disability, and medical care in antiquity. It will be guided by a variety of questions, such as what was the root cause of bodily infirmity and disease in antiquity? How did cultural views of sex, gender, and race influence perceptions of the body and what it meant to be able bodied? Such questions are significant when considering what kind of access to healthcare marginalized groups had.In order toexplore these questions, we will examine ancient Mediterranean views of medical care through material remains (e.g., magical amulets and healing shrines) and textual evidence (e.g., Galen and Hippocrates). After considering this wider cultural context, we will examine treatments in the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, and early Christianity. We will also explore how Christian concepts of medical care evolvedin light ofaccounts of Jesus as a divine healer. In addition to this ancient evidence, we will engage with modern disability studies and sociological analyses to better orient our readings. At the end of the course, students will be better acquainted with the complex relationship between religion and medicine and how that affects modern healthcare decisions. 

Is It Ethical to Have Children in the Climate Crisis?
RLST 24000
Instructor: Kristi Del Vecchio

Course Description:
Climate change is not just an urgent environmental crisis for scientists, engineers, and policy makers: it is a moral problem that also informs individual and intimate aspects of human life, including choices about reproduction and parenting. For example, a 2018 survey published in the New York Times found that young adults in the U.S. are having fewer children than they would otherwise prefer, in part due to concerns about climate change and overpopulation. In this course, we examine the moral dimensions of having and raising children in an era shaped by climate change, looking closely at two main questions: 1) Is it ethical to have children
in light ofthe world that the next generation will inherit, which may include more extreme weather events, unvoluntary human migrations, diminished access to resources, and heightened insecurity? 2) Is it ethical to have children in the context of the affluent West, where consumptive human populations disproportionately contribute to the effects of climate change that impact the world’s most vulnerable? We will examine various points of view on these questions, engaging material from the disciplines of environmental studies and ethics, science and technology studies, and religious and philosophical ethics. Responses from feminist, queer, Indigenous, Black, and religiously diverse authors (and intersections therein) will shape our course readings and discussions.



The Making of the “Good Physician”: Virtue Ethics and the Development of Moral Character in Medicine (Scholars in Ethics and Medicine)
CCTS 21005 / MED 31005 (100 units)
Instructors: Kathryn Rowland, MD & Michael Hawking, MD

Course Description:
The Scholars in Ethics and Medicine program is a yearlong opportunity for students to collaborate with exemplar physician-scholars and medical ethicists to think through and critically discuss the traits required of a good health care clinician. Members of the group collaborate with invited speakers and mentors through participation in seminars, lectures, and small group dinners. The goal of the course is thus to gain a clearer picture of what constitutes the wise physician and to develop in wisdom.

The practice of medicine focuses on actions that are intended to promote health and healing, and to do so in ways that are respectful and compassionate. To be aimed at health and to be consistent with our ethical obligations, these actions need to be of a certain kind regarding the ends they pursue and the means they employ. This is to say that these actions need the virtue of practical wisdom, by which we identify the best means to achieve worthwhile ends. How we understand which ends are worthwhile and which means are best will depend on the virtues that guide not only our thoughts and motivations, but also our vision. For virtue influences not only our actions and motivations, but how we see world.  The Scholars in Ethics and Medicine will together explore deep connections between action, vision, wisdom, and virtue as they relate health and healing, in particular how wisdom and virtue are important for seeing patients as whole people, not just bodies to be fixed, in offering compassionate care, among others.