As a contribution to debates about ethical standards and practices in the study of religions, we draw your attention to the following "Framewrok of professional Practice" produce by the Ethics Working Party of the ASSOCIATION OF UNIVERSITY DEPARTMENTS OF THEOLOGY AND RELIGIOUS STUDIES (AUDTRS).
ASSOCIATION OF UNIVERSITY DEPARTMENTS OF THEOLOGY AND RELIGIOUS STUDIES
FRAMEWORK OF PROFESSIONAL PRACTICE
1.0 The situation facing teachers and researchers
Various professional bodies, including academic associations have drawn up codes of professional practice. As concern for good standards of ethics is increasing, it is appropriate that AUDTRS, as a consultative body for Theology and Religious Studies (TRS), should be responsible for developing a framework for good practice within the subject area.
This framework of professional practice aims:
Codes of practice should not hamper good research and good practice. Questions of ethics are often controversial, and hence any code should not impose prescribed courses of action in situations where conscience and moral choice should be legitimately exercised. TRS involves the teaching of ethics, which itself is a controversial activity, and in which there are often no agreed answers.
1.2 The context of TRS
TRS is a large and diverse area, ranging from textual analysis to ethnographical study. It is an inter-disciplinary field, crossing with other disciplines such as history, politics, anthropology and archaeology. Codes of practice already exist in other subject areas, and hence teachers and researchers in TRS can reasonably be expected to give serious attention to their guidelines.
1.3 The status of AUDTRS
AUDTRS is not a membership organization, and hence does not have ‘members’ over whom to exercise jurisdiction. Therefore, any such ‘policing’ of a code of ethical practice would be unfeasible and undesirable. Many ethical decisions are inherently controversial, and are matters either for individual conscience or institutional policy. However, it is expected that teachers and researchers would give serious attention to the issues highlighted in this framework, and not simply act out of expediency or without regard for those affected by professional decisions.
2.0 Framework of Professional Practice
2.1 To whom is this framework of practice addressed?
Teachers, researchers and students are the principal categories of people who are faced with ethical decisions relating to TRS. Since AUDTRS is an association of teachers, it is envisaged that those who teach and supervise research would oversee good practice among students.
2.2 How does the TRS Framework of Practice relate to other professional codes?
This Framework of Practice addresses subject-specific issues, and not generic ones that apply to all teachers and researchers. Teachers and researchers in TRS are affected by (i) their own institutional codes of practice and regulations; (ii) codes of practice in related and overlapping areas, e.g. sociology, psychology; (iii) human rights legislation. Teachers of TRS can be expected to pay due regard for such codes and relevant legislation.
2.3 How are matters of conscience to be regarded?
Teachers and researchers in TRS will feel constrained to exercise individual conscience, either because their own religious or ethical beliefs are incompatible with the demands of another faith that they are studying, or because of the complex and controversial nature of many ethical issues. Any framework for professional practice should not override the religious or ethical sensitivities of teachers, students or researchers.
2.4 What bearing do the religious convictions of teachers, researchers and students have on teaching and studying TRS?
A teacher’s religious beliefs (or lack of them) potentially have a bearing on his or her teaching. There is no clear answer to the question of whether one declares one’s own religious beliefs, or whether one asks students to declare theirs.
2.5 What people or bodies have an interest in one’s work?
A variety of individuals and bodies — sometimes referred to as ‘stakeholders’ — are affected by teaching and research in TRS: teachers, researchers, students, academic institutions, religious communities, funding bodies.
2.6 What are one’s relationships with religious communities?
Religious communities are often subjects for research in Religious Studies, but they also provide the environments from which many students come. While secular institutions are normally committed to equal opportunities policies, including avoidance of discrimination on the grounds of religion, religious training colleges cannot readily implement such a policy, and would consider it undesirable.
2.7 From whom is it appropriate to receive funding?
There is no agreed view among academics as to whether to accept funding or sponsorship from bodies that are at times judged to be controversial, and AUDTRS has no wish to impose an answer on this difficult area. Colleagues are encouraged to weigh up the issues involved, paying due regard to the notions of academic freedom, conscience, possible bias that can result from external funding, and the purposes for which one’s research might be used.
3.0 How will AUDTRS maintain professional standards of practice?
AUDTRS exists as a consultative body. It is committed to integrity and responsibility within TRS, and encourages reflection and discussion on issues of ethics and professional practice. This framework of practice is formally endorsed by TRS, and is subject to periodic review.
AUDTRS Ethics Working Party: Dr George Chryssides (University of Wolverhampton — Chair), Dr Andrew Dawson (Chester University College), Dr Michael Higton (University of Exeter), Dr Hiroko Kawanami (University of Lancaster), Professor Stephen Pattison (Cardiff University), Dr Helen Waterhouse (Open University).