Religion and ethics

Level 5 - DT2007-03

The relationship between religion and ethics is about that between revelation and reason.

Adherents to religious belief hold that God (however understood) has revealed insights into the true meaning of life, collected into sacred texts, and often supplemented by ‘tradition’, the accumulated wisdom of communities. From a strictly humanistic perspective, ethics is based on ‘reason’, so that anything that is not rationally verifiable cannot be considered justifiable. Such ethical principles are valued for promoting autonomous and responsible individuals who are capable of making decisions for their own good and that of the society within which they live. The challenge then is to establish some common ground between them, not only to avoid a destructive collision between the two, but to set the scene to expand the possibility of making constructive approaches to contemporary ethical issues.

Topics covered

Main topics of the module include:

  • The relationship between religion and ethics
  • Using reason: the perspective of natural law and human rights
  • Using reason: utilitarianism and deontology
  • Being virtuous, religious or not
  • What religion contributes to ethical discourse: Judaism, Christianity and Islam
  • What religion contributes to ethical discourse:  Hinduism and Buddhism
  • Towards a ‘Global Ethic’
  • Religion and Ethics:  environmental stewardship
  • Religion and Ethics: the sanctity of life
  • Religion and ethics: war and peace

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module, you will be expected to be able to: 

Knowledge and understanding 

  • Appreciate the distinction between ethical approaches, informed by ‘religion’ or not;
  • Understand different ways of reasoning ethically;
  • Appreciate and evaluate different ethical approaches from different religious traditions such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism
  • Demonstrate possible meeting ground in approaches to contemporary ethical issues.

Intellectual and cognitive skills 

  • Select and organise material from a range of primary and secondary sources; 
  • Identify and focus in detail on key issues within each topic studied; 
  • Conduct a detailed critical analysis of key arguments; 
  • Construct a sustained argument, drawing on material from secondary sources and own analysis. 

Practical and transferable skills

  • Represent the views of others with fairness and integrity;
  • Show an ability to assimilate and evaluate competing arguments; 
  • Show open-mindedness and make sound judgements; 
  • Produce clear, well-structured written work; 
  • Write fluently, with minimal grammatical and typographical errors.


A two thousand-word essay (40%) and a 1.5-hour unseen written examination (60%). 


Tutor in Religion, Philosophy and Ethics

Dr Sarah Pawlett Jackson: Divinity tutor

Dr Sarah Pawlett Jackson

Sarah Pawlett Jackson completed her PhD in Philosophy in January 2020. Her research interests are in intersubjectivity, social cognition, phenomenology, ethics and philosophy of religion. Her doctoral research focused on intersubjectivity beyond the self-other dyad. She has lectured and tutored at a number of Higher Education Institutions, including Heythrop College, Oxford University Department for Continuing Education and the University of Roehampton. She is currently a Tutor at St Mellitus College.