Course Descriptions

Grace Kao regularly teaches the following courses at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Graduate University:

  • Introduction to Christian Ethics — face-to-face, online

    CST Graduation 2017

  • Christian Perspectives on War and Peace

  • Ethical Theory: Normative Ethics

  • Ethical Theory: Metaethics

  • Feminist Ethics

  • Animal Theology & Ethics

  • Asian American Christianity

  • Religion and Law in the U.S. 

  • Religion and Human Rights

Introduction to Christian Ethics

This course is designed to introduce students to the field of Christian ethics. We will read diverse selections from classical and contemporary Christian thinkers, examine various sources of and approaches to Christian ethical reflection, and critically assess a variety of contemporary moral issues. We will explore whether and how ethics done from a Christian perspective should differ from other (especially secular) traditions of moral inquiry. We will also discuss what role (if any) Christian ethics should play in the formation of public policy.

Christian Perspectives on War and Peace

This course explores Christian (especially Western) perspectives on the morality of war and peace. We will proceed thematically and somewhat chronologically as we cover the major approaches in Christian ethical reflection on the subject matter: pacifism, just war, holy war, and Christian realism. We will also consider the recently proposed conceptual frameworks of “just peacemaking” and “just policing” as we assess whether either approach can break the apparent centuries-long impasse between pacifist and just war commitments. Other topics to be discussed include weapons of mass destruction, guerilla warfare, terrorism, humanitarian intervention, the responsibility to protect (R2P), preemptive and preventative wars, “just rebellion,” drone warfare, and postwar justice. While not the focus of this course, some comparative references to Jewish and Islamic reflections on war and peace will be made where relevant.

Ethical Theory: Metaethics

Specific questions of good and bad or right and wrong (e.g., about abortion or war) are matters of applied ethics. When we ask more general questions about ethical properties (e.g. what makes something good or bad, right or wrong?), we move into the realm of normative ethical theorizing. When we concern ourselves further with the status of morality or ask ourselves what sort of activity morality is, we move into the terrain of metaethics (e.g., are moral judgments true or false, objective or subjective and relative, and can they be established in the same ways that empirical and scientific claims can?).

This course, designed for serious students of ethics, will focus on the third set of questions (metaethics); a companion course focuses on the second set (normative ethics). Theories and concepts to be discussed include the following: moral objectivism and relativism, nihilism, expressivism, error theory, cognitivism and non-cognitivism, realism and anti-realism, and naturalism and non-naturalism. We will also consider the kinds of metaethical claims that are often made in various religious traditions (e.g., divine command theory).

Ethical Theory: Normative Ethics

Specific questions of good and bad or right and wrong (e.g., about abortion or war) are the matter of applied ethics. When we ask more general questions about ethical properties (e.g. what makes something good or bad, right or wrong?), we move into the realm of normative ethical theory. When we concern ourselves further with the status of morality or ask ourselves what sort of activity morality is, we move into the terrain of metaethics (e.g., are moral judgments true or false, objective or subjective and relative, and can they be established in the same ways that empirical and scientific claims can?).

This course will focus on the second set of questions (normative ethics); a companion course focuses on the third set (metaethics). It is designed for serious students in ethics who wish to study both the classics and contemporary commentary and critique on those seminar texts. Normative ethical theories to be examined include the following: utilitarianism, Kantian ethics, contractualism, natural law, intuitionism, theories building on Aristotle’s virtue-based approach to ethics, and feminist ethics. We will also consider the various ways in which religious ethics intersects with philosophical ethics.

Feminist Ethics

The field of feminist ethics can be understood as an attempt to reformulate traditional ways of doing ethics insofar as the latter has been faulted for insufficiently attending to women’s perspectives and experiences. We will  discuss  whether and how feminist moral theorizing not only challenges existing patriarchal structures and modes of inquiry, but also presents novel ways of doing ethics. We will also explore several varieties of feminist ethics that arise from the different answers feminists give to the questions what explains women’s  second-sex  status  and  whether  the  universal category  “woman” is useful or itself oppressive in social analysis. Class readings will primarily be drawn from the Western philosophical and Christian theological traditions.

Animal Theology & Ethics 

Animal studies (a.k.a. human-animal studies) represents the cutting edge of academe. Scholars from a variety of disciplines are increasingly acknowledging that we can no longer bracket “the question of the animal” if we are to live truly examined lives.

This course provides a serious engagement with (secular) philosophical and (Christian) theological reflection on the ethical status of nonhuman animals as well as the nature and extent of human obligations toward them. As we raise classical philosophical, theological, and public policy/legal questions about other creatures (e.g., can animals be directly wronged? will animals be redeemed?), we will discover that we are simultaneously raising perennial questions about the human condition.

Asian American Christianity

How is Christianity being practiced within and among Asian American communities? What do theology, biblical hermeneutics, ethics, and ministry look like from Asian American Christian perspectives? Will the future of what originally began as Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Filipino, or other Asian ethnic churches in the U.S. see retention of the bilingual, ethnic-specific model (i.e., “mother tongue” for the immigrant community, English services for subsequent generations), the transition to primarily English-speaking pan-Asian congregations, or the development of truly multi-racial and/or multilingual services and ministries?

This course introduces students to the institutions and practices of Christians in America of Asian heritage and exposes them to the emerging fields of Asian American theology, biblical hermeneutics, and ethics. Additional topics include immigration and transnationalism, identity development and construction, racism and racial reconciliation, pastoral challenges in Asian American ministry (e.g., conflicts between the generations, gender and sexuality issues), and a comparison of the diasporic experiences of Asian American Christians with those of other racial-ethnic groups.

Religion and Law in the U.S.

This course adopts an interdisciplinary approach to the study of law and religion in the U.S. We will begin with a discussion of the historic “American experiment” in religious freedom and disestablishment and then pay special attention to the meaning and interpretation of the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as understood by the courts, scholars of law and religion, and other interested parties. We will cover four major topics: (1) the most important cases in Free Exercise and Establishment Clause jurisprudence, (2) their central legal principles and concepts, (3) the relationships particular religious individuals and groups have had and/or ought to have with the law (e.g., always or only selectively comply? attempt to use civil law to enforce religious observance, settle intra-group disputes, or provide remedies to injured individuals?), and (4) the manner in which the law has treated and/or ought to treat religious individuals or organizations (e.g., give constitutional or statutory exemptions to neutral laws of general applicability for religiously-motivated conduct? impinge upon a religious organization’s autonomy?).

Religion and Human Rights

What is the relationship between religion and human rights? Is it fundamentally adversarial or complementary — i.e., do religions impede the promotion of human rights or do religious communities offer resources to support their global protection and implementation? Is the very universality inherent the concept of human rights compatible with the particularity and plurality of the determine religion faiths? This course will explore such questions through philosophical and comparative ethical analysis. Other topics include international human rights law, the theoretical bases of human rights, and selected case-studies of historical conflict between religion and human rights (e.g., proselytization, blasphemy laws, women’s rights pertaining to reproductive health, children’s rights).

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Did you know? Grace Kao has been recognized for excellence in teaching at every institution at which she has worked. Read more about her awards and teaching philosophy.