A Community of Scholars, Focused on Ethics

November 7, 2022

As their research addresses some of the world’s most pressing issues related to human health, technology, human flourishing and more, many Baylor professors are engaged in collaborative groups that facilitate a focus on ethics in their work: the Baylor Ethics Initiative (BEI) is a community of scholars across campus who engage in purposeful conversation to consider trans-disciplinary ethical issues, and to elevate the role of ethics in their research and teaching.

Infusing Ethics in Scholarship

“We aim to bring forward the idea that ethics is always a part of what we do as academics, but also as people who are equipping others for the future,” Devan Stahl, Ph.D., assistant professor of bioethics, said. “We always want Baylor to be a place where ethics saturates all our decisions at the highest levels, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with wonderful colleagues to pursue these questions.”

Stahl convenes the Bioethics Research Group, one of five groups that comprise the initiative. Each group convenes faculty from different disciplines to focus on ethical issues in distinct areas: bioethics, data ethics, ethics in the professions, global ethics and the science of human flourishing.

BEI groups grew from Illuminate, the University’s strategic plan for preeminence as a Christian research university. Collectively and individually, the groups seek to grow ethics-related research opportunities and to develop programming or curriculum around needs within these areas.

“Three goals drive what we do: support the highest quality research in ethics, cultivate ethical literacy across our faculty and utilize those to train our undergraduates,” Paul Martens, Ph.D., associate professor of ethics, Baylor Ethics Initiative acting director and convener of the Global Ethics Research Group, said. “Together, the Baylor Ethics Initiative allows us to gather across disciplines and to cultivate multiple levels of conversation across campus that have similar interests and concerns, but reach different audiences.”

Conversations around ethics are rooted in foundational ethical principles, infused by Christian faith and focused on timely issues.

“Theory is always present in our conversations, but it really is about real-world needs. Theory is always a part of practice, but the practical concerns are really where the rubber meets the road,” Elise Edwards, Ph.D., assistant professor of religion and Ethics in the Professions Research Group co-convener, said. “Ethics is an abstract exercise unless there’s action associated with it. So, we apply this to real-world implications and questions about health, race, gender, equity, justice and more.”

Building New Programs

Participants apply insights from the gatherings to their own research and scholarship, multiplying its impact through their interactions with their students on key ethical topics. Additionally, tangible outcomes fostered by BEI include research projects, a bioethics certificate program for students and an ethics seminar for faculty:

Stahl partnered with Sarah Schnitker, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology and convener of the Science of Human Flourishing Research Group, on a project which earned a $2.5 million John Templeton Foundation grant. The project will explore how to tackle complex problems of human flourishing by training theologians to incorporate the methods and insights of the psychological sciences into their work.

A second BEI outgrowth is the Bioethics Certificate Program for undergraduates, comprised of classes in medical humanities, public health, philosophy, religion, anthropology, social work and history. The selected courses ground students in biomedical ethics and cover common issues that arise in the fields they plan to enter. BEI hopes to build additional programs across other disciplines as well.

Through a partnership with Baylor’s Academy for Teaching and Learning (ATL), a Summer Ethics Seminar provides an additional vehicle for faculty to further enhance their ethical literacy. Open to 15 to 20 faculty each summer, the program began this year.

Fostering Community

Baylor Ethics Initiative faculty hope to encourage additional colleagues to join the conversation. While many of the connections have formed organically, growth in programs could lead to more formal partnerships and opportunities for more faculty to join in the initiative’s work.

“It’s a delight and an honor to get to work with colleagues who are not just really smart, but also very passionate and motivated by Christian concerns in a way that doesn’t narrow the way they see the world, but motivates them to listen and pay attention to the world around us,” Edwards says. “We work with people who are compassionate and caring and are ready to tackle complex problems together.”

Faculty interested in learning more can contact Paul Martens at Paul_Martens@baylor.edu.