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THCP603 Issues in Christian Ethics

Teaching organisation

This unit involves 150 hours of focused learning. This unit will be taught in attendance mode or online.

Unit rationale, description and aim

Understanding the contemporary issues in Christian theological ethics is important to developing a nuanced and contextually sensitive approach to many moral challenges facing the Church, the world and the relation between the two in modern pluralist societies.

This unit will introduce students to a number of key debates in contemporary Christian theological ethics. While not necessarily presupposing previous systematic study of Christian ethics, it assumes an understanding of introductory Biblical and theological concepts and methods. It focuses on human dignity in the light of the Christian tradition and explores the ways in which Christian moral reasoning can develop the meaning of human dignity in contemporary contexts. It considers the sources of moral insight, including the teaching tradition of the Church, and the ways in which these contribute to the formation of Christian conscience. It further considers methodological issues such the role of reason and faith; intentions, ends and means; authority and freedom of conscience; religious ethics in a pluralist social context; individual and common good. 

Training in the methodological, conceptual and theological issues will equip students to critically engage with contemporary moral discourse and develop moral decisions based on the notion of informed conscience.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - justify the distinctiveness of the Christian ethical tradition, especially in its portrayal of the dignity of the human person and the common good (GA1; GA2);

LO2 - demonstrate a critical understanding of the nature of Christian ethical reasoning in a pluralist social context, including the meaning and role of the Church’s teaching authority (GA4);

LO3 - employ skills in moral reasoning informed by an understanding of contemporary debates on the character of moral norms and the various sources of moral knowledge and insight (GA3; GA6);

LO4 - articulate an informed appreciation of the meaning of a Christian conscience and its relationship to Christian identity (GA1).

Graduate attributes

GA1 - demonstrate respect for the dignity of each individual and for human diversity

GA2 - recognise their responsibility to the common good, the environment and society 

GA3 - apply ethical perspectives in informed decision making

GA4 - think critically and reflectively 

GA6 - solve problems in a variety of settings taking local and international perspectives into account


Topics will include:

  • The dignity of the human person in the Christian tradition: Biblical sources; Church tradition; philosophical and theological contributions.
  • The human person in a relational context: the common good
  • Christian moral reasoning in a pluralist social context: the nature of a moral tradition in tension with modern and post-modern conceptions of moral reasoning; the contemporary meaning of natural law; the meanings of secularity; the teaching authority of the Church.
  • Engaging in moral reasoning on a specific topic: skills in discerning the contributions from philosophy, the sciences and Christian tradition and applying these to contemporary ethical discernment.
  • Christian conscience and Christian identity: the meaning of conscience in contemporary theological ethics.

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This unit involves 150 hours of focused learning. This unit will be taught in attendance mode or online.

 Attendance mode strategy and rationale

The attendance mode will be selected as the primary offering when student numbers allow or as required by the needs of stakeholders. This will typically be as an intensive. The students in this model benefit from direct interaction and collaboration with their peers. This ensures a common understanding of the learning outcomes and their attainment, which is of benefit to the students. Moreover, this mode offers direct engagement with the lecturer-in-charge who can moderate discussions on sometimes challenging issues, guide reflection, and ensure content is adequately grasped through immediate feedback characteristic of this mode of learning and teaching. 

 Online strategy and rationale

The online mode will be used when the attendance mode cannot be run due to insufficient numbers on a single campus, or when a stakeholder funding a cohort requests it. The online mode will make use of interactive learning platforms and activities, such as online journals and forums, to encourage student engagement. This strategy involves provoking student thought with concrete examples and allowing students to access academic texts online to answer directed questions, to which students then construct active answers and comment on the answers of others. This peer-assisted, asynchronous learning is meant to emulate the ‘in-class’ discussion, but with the advantage of not having to be in the room, and gives all students an opportunity to prepare an answer and respond to others. This enables students to develop not only passive understanding of conceptual content but also to develop an active vocabulary and to practice methodological reasoning techniques in ways that prepare them for assessment and application outside the learning context. 

Assessment strategy and rationale

A range of assessment procedures will be used to meet the unit learning outcomes and develop graduate attributes consistent with University assessment requirements. Such procedures may include, but are not limited to: essays, reports, examinations, student presentations, case studies and online interactive student performance tasks.

Attendance Mode:

The rationale for the assessment strategy in this unit is to ensure not only that students have an adequate understanding of theoretical content, but also that they are able to actively engage that understanding in applied cases. Ethics is a discipline which requires practice to develop an active grammar and vocabulary and a well-formed practical reasoning skillset which can critically analyse arguments and develop robust alternatives.

The strategy for this unit, therefore, uses the class exercises and a learning journal as the basis for two written assignments, a reflective essay and a research essay. The reflective essay has an important formative dimension in that it asks students to reflect on those aspects of their learning which are most influential for their own thought. This kind of reflective practice is an important skill set for the professional ethicist. The research essay encourages students to apply their knowledge and skills to a concrete problem, be it theoretical or applied, covered in the unit. The research essay helps students to develop a mode of communication that is characteristic of the field.  

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Reflective Essay

This essay gives students the opportunity to reflect on their learning in relation to important theoretical, conceptual and contextual issues and to report on how this learning has made a difference to them. 


LO1, LO2

GA1, GA2, GA4

Research Essay

This essay gives students the opportunity to demonstrate their acquisition of both conceptual knowledge and practical skills by producing a scholarly essay in a mode typical of the discipline (i.e. as might appear in a peer-reviewed journal or book chapter)


LO3, LO4

GA1, GA3, GA6

Representative texts and references

Autiero, A. ed., The Catholic Ethicist in the Local Church. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2018

Bretzke, J. A Morally Complex World: Engaging Contemporary Moral Theology. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press/Michael Glazier, 2004.

Burggraeve, R. An Ethics of Mercy: On the Way to Meaningful Living and Loving. Leuven: Peeters, 2016.

Cahill, L. Theological Bioethics: Participation, Justice and Change. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2005.

Gascoigne, R. The Church and Secularity: Two Stories of Liberal Society. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2009. .

Hogan, L., ed. Applied Ethics in a World Church: The Padua Conference. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2008.

Hollenbach, D. The Global Face of Public Faith: Politics, Human Rights and Christian Ethics. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2003.

Keenan, J.F. A History of Catholic Moral Theology in the Twentieth Century: From Confessing Sins to Liberating Consciences. London and New York: Continuum, 2010.

McCormick, P., T. and R.B. Connors. Facing Ethical Issues: Dimensions of Character, Choices and Community. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2002.

Pinckaers, S. Morality: The Catholic View. South Bend, IN: St Augustine’s Press, 2001. 

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