Respect and Human Flourishing

November 20-21, 2013

Given a world characterized by sharp differences (religious and otherwise), the question of respect for and across difference is not only moral but political. What is the nature of respect, to whom or to what is it rightly owed, and of what importance is respect to the flourishing of individuals, communities, and societies in the wake of globalization?

Ever since Kant, the concept of respect (as a correlate of human dignity) has played a central role in Western political and moral culture. There is a widespread agreement that all persons have equal dignity and, on this account, demand equal respect (even if it is true that there is a lively discussion as to whether ‘dignity’ here needs a theological grounding and whether the widespread capacity-based accounts of dignity are adequate).

Yet many people today feel that such a “politics of equal respect” (say, as articulated by Ronald Dworkin) is inhospitable to cultural differences. As modern societies become increasingly multicultural, people of various cultures—particularly of various religions—have a stake not just in ensuring their integrity as persons but also in their survival and thriving as members of a particular group and, therefore, in the survival and thriving of that group. Do religious differences have dignity (to use a phrase of Jonathan Sacks), differences therefore demanding respect? Or do only persons, the bearers of those differences, have dignity and demand respect? If differences do demand respect, what would respect for differences entail, and what then would be the relation between dignity of and respect toward persons and dignity of and respect for differences?  


Alon Goshen-Gottstein, “Arguing For/Over the Dignity of Difference” [lecture video]

Gilbert Meilaender, “Transcendence and Alienation”

Michael Peppard, “Paul Would Be Proud: The New Testament and Jewish-Gentile Respect”

Miroslav Volf, “Culture of Respect”

Contributing Scholars

Alon Goshen-Gottstein
Elijah Interfaith Institute

Alon Goshen-Gottstein is the founder and director of the Elijah Interfaith Institute. He has held academic posts at Tel Aviv University and has served as director of the Center for the Study of Rabbinic Thought, Beit Morasha College, Jerusalem. From 1989 to 1999, he was a member of the Shalom Hartman Institute for Advanced Studies, Jerusalem, where he also served as director for interreligious affairs.


“Arguing For/Over the Dignity of Difference”

Gilbert Meilaender
Valparaiso University

Gilbert Meilaender is Professor of Theology at Valparaiso University. Previously, he has taught at the University of Virginia and Oberlin College. He has served on the Editorial Board of various journals including Journal of Religious Ethics, Religious Studies Review, and Annual of the Society of Christian Ethics. His interest lies in bioethics, and he is a Fellow of the Hastings Center, and has been a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics since its inception in January 2002.

“Transcendence and Alienation”

Michael Peppard
Fordham University

Michael Peppard is Assistant Professor of New Testament, Early Christian Studies, and Religion and Public Life at Fordham University. His work brings to light the meanings of New Testament and other Christian sources in their social, political, artistic, and ritual contexts. Several of his current research projects deal with early Christian art, ritual, and material culture.

“Paul Would Be Proud: The New Testament and Jewish-Gentile Respect”

Miroslav Volf
Yale Divinity School

Miroslav Volf is Henry B. Wright Professor of Systematic Theology at Yale Divinity School. He is also the founding Director of Yale Center for Faith and Culture. A member of the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A. and the Evangelical Church in Croatia, Professor Volf has been involved in international ecumenical dialogues and interfaith dialogues, and is active participant in the Global Agenda Council on Values of the World Economic Forum. A native of Croatia, he regularly teaches and lectures in Central and Eastern Europe, Asia, and across North America.

The God and Human Flourishing consultations are sponsored by the McDonald Agape Foundation.