Seminar 1: The Family and Religion

University of Wales, Newport, 25 April 2008

Given that the family is a crucible of religious expression and socialisation, how far can the state intrude upon its autonomy? Do public officials have rights to interrogate the religiously-informed gender-specific and age-specific roles of spouses, partners, parents and children? Can we reconcile religious and secular views on marriage, divorce, adoption, civil (same sex) partnerships and other key family policies?

This seminar will engage with these and related questions by discussing various perspectives – religious and otherwise – on questions of both the composition of the family and the rights and obligations that arise within families. The seminar features four papers, each followed by a roundtable discussion between distinguished scholars and practitioners working in the field of family and religion. Seminar participation is by invitation only.

This seminar is convened by Dr Gideon Calder (Reader in Ethics and Social Philosophy, Newport) and Jurgen De Wispelaere (Lecturer in Philosophy, Trinity College Dublin).


Prof. Brenda Almond, University of Hull
Diversity and the Family: Secular and Religious Perspectives

The argument of this paper is that some frequently asked questions about the composition of the family represent a false dichotomy. As far as the Christian religion is concerned, Christians can be ‘liberal’ in the sense of regarding abortion as not wrong in certain circumstances, contraception as morally acceptable, and homosexuality as a natural tendency that can be accommodated within a Christian ethical perspective. At the same time, secularists opposed to religion are not necessarily broad-minded individuals who favour indiscriminate sexual and moral laissez-faire, but may be rigidly opposed to abortion, and dislike homosexuals or homosexual practice. In contrast to stereo-typical positions, then, I argue that the concept of marriage as a gender-specific and potentially procreative arrangement, together with that of the family as a biological reality rather than a social construct, can be defended on grounds that are rooted in rational argument and concern for the common good.

Dr. Adam Swift, University of Oxford
Prof. Harry Brighouse, University of Wisconsin

“Parents’ Rights and Children’s Religion”

We will be presenting our ‘relationship goods’ account of family values, and discussing its implications for the religious lives of parents and children. Our view is that parents’ rights over their children are fundamental (i.e. not all derivative or justified as being instrumental to the well-being of children) but conditional and limited. (Compared to most conventional views about such rights, we claim that they are extremely limited.) Parents have a right to the conditions necessary for enjoying spontaneous, intimate, loving relationships with their children, and these may yield some space within which parents may transmit their religious values. But they have no right to influence their children’s values, including their religious beliefs, as such, and such rights as they do have are conditional on their also promoting their children’s autonomy, which will include the conditions necessary for those children to reject their parents’ values (and to act on that rejection).

Ms. Philippa Taylor, CARE Trust
Should We Support Judeo-Christian Marriage in the 21st Century?

I shall look at the composition of marriage and family life from both Judeo-Christian and a secular perspective, in order to explore whether marriage is significantly different to other family forms, and thus whether we should privilege it. My purpose is to try to steer a middle way and suggest we should support a marriage that brings together the best elements of the more ‘traditional’ understanding of marriage along with the best elements of today’s more diverse conceptualization of family relationships, so that ‘healthy’ marriage becomes the relationship of choice in the future. In doing this I hope to show that it is possible to have an epistemology that is informed by theistic assumptions but that allows Christians to argue publicly and persuasively for the common good in the marriage/family policy debate.

Prof. Adrian Thatcher, University of Exeter
Secular Family Theory: Contributions from Theology?

Avoiding the customary theological claim that marriage and/or the nuclear family is the best family form because it has been ordained by God, this paper examines alternative religious advocacies of marriage, based on social-scientific findings on the well-being of spouses, partners and children. Historical shifts in the understanding of what marriage is, how entry into it (and exit from it) is achieved, and what purposes it is thought to serve are examined. More recent shifts (hierarchical to egalitarian; patriarchal to companionate; institutional to relational; formal to qualitative, etc.) are then examined. It will be shown how a developing marital and familial tradition is congruent with these. There are important elements in the teaching of Jesus Christ about families which are generally ignored or misunderstood. Scholars are generally content that these teachings derive from Jesus himself. Specifically a) the adversarial teaching of Jesus about families and family forms is a trans-historical warning against social investment in any one family model; b) his anti-divorce teaching renders him a champion of minority rights; c) the teaching of Jesus about children is a theological foundation for children’s rights. There are other theological ideas embedded within the tradition whose time for retrieval has come. These include ‘kin altruism’ (and its bearing on father absence); and the peculiar spin the tradition puts on early concepts of ‘person’ and ‘relation’.


Prof. Brenda Almond is Emeritus Professor of Moral and Social Philosophy at the University of Hull and has taught philosophy at various universities in the UK and worldwide. She has served on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and is currently a member of the Human Genetics Commission. Her books include Exploring Ethics: A Traveller’s Tale (1998), Exploring Philosophy: The Philosophical Quest (1995), and The Fragmenting Family (Oxford University Press, 2006). She is also the author of several books on education.

Prof. David Archard is Professor of Philosophy and Public Policy at the University of Lancaster. He has previously taught at the University of Ulster and the University of St Andrews. He is the author of numerous published works in applied ethics, especially on the topic of children, family and the state. He is a member of the United Kingdom’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, and also the Chair of the Society for Applied Philosophy.

Prof. Harry Brighouse is Professor of Philosophy, and Affiliate Professor of Educational Policy Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He has written widely about topics in political philosophy, philosophy of education, and education policy, and his most recent book is On Education (Routledge, 2006). He is currently working on a book about the family in egalitarian liberal theory with Adam Swift.

Prof. Ian Butler is Professor of Social Work at Bath University, a position he combines with being Cabinet Advisor on Children and Young People’s Policy at the Welsh Assembly Government. He is an Honorary Member of the Council of the NSPCC and a member of the Academy of Social Sciences. He has written widely on children’s experiences of their social world and on child and family policy. His books include Scandals, Social Policy and Social Welfare (2005), Children and Decision Making (2005) and Divorcing Children: Children’s Experience of the Parents’ Divorce (2004).

Dr. Gideon Calder is Reader in Ethics and Social Philosophy and Director of the Social Ethics Research Group at the University of Wales, Newport. He has published books and articles on Richard Rorty and on varous aspects of ethics. His current projects inlude a book on ethics and social ontology and the European Commission funded Euro-ethos project.

Mary Crawford is the Director of Brook NI. Brook provides young people’s dedicated sexual health clinics in Belfast and Coleraine as well as two outreach clinics in Belfast. Mary joined Brook in 1992 after working with young people in various settings within the voluntary sector. Mary sits on a number of DHSSPS groups which deal with sexual health issues. She is particularly interested in advocating the rights of young people in accessing information, education and services. She provides training on all aspects of sexuality including policy issues, working with under 14’s and young men.

Jurgen De Wispelaere is Lecturer in Philosophy and a Visiting Research Fellow at the Policy Institute, Trinity College Dublin. His research interests are in the philosophical foundations of public policy and institutional design. He has published articles and contributed to books on basic income, altruism, disability, amongst other topics. He is co-editor of The Ethics of Stakeholding (Palgrave 2003) and Recognition, Equality and Democracy: Theoretical Perspectives on Irish Politics (Routledge 2008), and is currently completing a project on asset-based welfare reform in Ireland.

Dr. Anca Gheaus is a researcher at the Centre de recherche en éthique économique, Université catholique de Lille. She has published papers on the ethics of care and theories of distributive justice, justice in education, gender and the welfare state and forgiveness.

Prof. Sheila Greene is a developmental psychologist and the Director of the Children’s Research Centre, Trinity College Dublin. She is the holder of the AIB Chair of Childhood Research. Her publications include The psychological development of girls and women: Rethinking change in time (2003, Routledge) and Researching children’s experience: Approaches and methods (2005, Sage), which she co-edited with Dr Diane Hogan. Recent research and publications pertaining to the family include work on the effects of parental separation on children; the experience of children of lone mothers; the attitudes of young men to fatherhood; and inter-country adoption.

Humera Khan is a founder member of An-Nisa Society, an organisation managed by women working for the welfare of Muslim families. Through the organisation she has been involved in setting up many projects and has written a series of books on sexual health from an Islamic perspective, called Cycle of Life. In November 2007 she concluded an 18 month project on Muslim fatherhood with a national conference, entitled Searching for Dad: Exploring Muslim fatherhood. Humera was part of the Home Office Working Group on Forced Marriages in 1999, and is the Family specialist member for the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Christian Muslim Forum. Over the last 20 years, as a freelance consultant Humera has written numerous articles for various publications, including Q-News, The Guardian and The Independent, and has had various media and public appearances speaking on a wide range of family issues, including sexual abuse, generation conflicts, domestic violence and gender.

Enzo Rossi is research fellow with the EuroEthos Project at the Newport Social Ethics Research Group. He is currently completing a PhD in philosophy at the University of St Andrews. His research focuses on the theoretical foundations of liberalism; in particular, he is interested in the legitimacy and justification of political authority, in the accommodation of ethical diversity, and in the intersection between those two sets of issues. Enzo is also executive editor of SWIF, an Italian digital imprint for philosophy.

Dr. Jonathan Scourfield is a Senior Lecturer in the Cardiff School of Social Sciences. He has research interests in gender, social work and child welfare, amongst other things. He is currently principal investigator on a research project on religious nurture in Muslim families, as part of the AHRC/ESRC Religion and Society programme.

Prof. Steve Smith is Professor in Political Philosophy and Social Policy at the Newport Social Ethics Research Group. He has a particular interest in the application of philosophical debates and concepts to issues in contemporary social welfare. His interests have centred on political ideologies as articulated by policy-makers and government, and contemporary political philosophy, most particularly debates over values such as ‘social justice’, ‘equality’ ‘individual autonomy’ and ‘citizenship’. His work has also explored how these debates in turn might be used to understand better the political demands of social movements, most notably the Women’s Movement and the Disability Rights Movement. He is also editor of the journal Imprints: Egalitarian Theory and Practice.

Dr. Adam Swift is Director of the Centre for the Study of Social Justice, and Fellow in Politics and Sociology at Balliol College, University of Oxford. He is co-author of Liberals and Communitarians (Blackwell, 2nd ed 1996) and Against the Odds? Social Class and Social Justice in Industrial Societies (OUP 1997), and author of How Not to Be a Hypocrite: School Choice for the Morally Perplexed Parent (Routledge 2003) and Political Philosophy: A Beginners’ Guide for Students and Politicians (Polity, 2nd ed 2006). He is currently working, with Harry Brighouse, to develop a liberal egalitarian theory of the family.

Philippa Taylor is Senior Researcher on Bioethics, Marriage and the Family for CARE Trust. She is a member of the Family Law Review for the Centre for Social Justice and is currently studying for an MA in Bioethics. She has also been Associate Director at The Centre for Bioethics and Public Policy (CBPP). As well as doing some media work and presentations, she has written many of CARE’s resources on the family, including numerous consultation responses, briefing papers, articles and booklets, including For Better or For Worse: Marriage and Cohabitation Compared, 2005, CARE (now in its 3rd edition) and Counting the Cost: The Effects of Family Breakdown.

Prof. Adrian Thatcher is currently part-time Professorial Research Fellow in Applied Theology at the University of Exeter, England. From 1977 until his retirement in 2004 he worked at University College, Plymouth, St Mark & St John, and was Professor of Applied Theology there for ten years. His most recent books are Theology and Families (Blackwell, 2007), The Guide to Christian Marriage (Continuum, 2003), Living Together and Christian Ethics (Cambridge University Press, 2002), Celebrating Christian Marriage (ed. T&T Clark, 2002) and Marriage after Modernity (Sheffield Academic Press, New York University Press, 1999). His latest book, The Savage Text, on the misuse of the Bible in the churches and in Christian ethics, will be published in the Blackwell Manifestos series in September 2008. He is an Anglican.

Judy Walsh is currently Head of the Equality Studies Centre, which is housed within the UCD School of Social Justice. A qualified lawyer, her research interests and publications span various aspects of human rights law, discrimination law, feminist and socio-legal theory. Judy has considerable experience of the NGO sector having worked as Assistant Director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), continuing on with the ICCL as a member of the Executive Committee and most recently as Co-Chairperson (2003-08). She has also engaged in training and policy work with numerous other human rights organisations including the Women’s Human Rights Alliance, the Participation and Practice of Rights Project, SOLID (Strategies on Litigation Tackling Discrimination in EU countries), and Marriagequality.

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