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A Mentored Introduction to Islam and Bioethics

A Mentored Introduction to Islam and Bioethics

Instructor: Aasim I. Padela, MD, MS

Course Description:

Islamic bioethics, both as a cohesive field of inquiry and as an academic discipline, is still under construction. Its content, scope and research methods are the subject of scholarly debate. Ambiguities regarding the contours of an Islamic bioethics do not stem from the lack of a moral theology outlined by scripture, nor from a dearth of ethico-legal judgments pertaining to medicine and healthcare formulated by Islamic jurists. Rather the challenge is to devise a comprehensive bioethical theory, rooted in Islamic moral theology and attentive to those juridical ethico-legal assessments, that can serve healthcare stakeholders (patients, health professionals, religious leaders, and others) in pluralistic Muslim-minority contexts as well as those living in Muslim-majority contexts where Islamic law may be a source of state legislation.

The multidisciplinary nature of bioethical inquiry leads to a crisis of epistemology and legitimacy. It is not clear how much weight should be accorded to the reality on the ground (what is) when considering the moral ordering of society (what should be). Hence an overstated, but nevertheless pertinent, tension exists between religious authorities and philosophers on the one hand, who consider moral reasoning to have normative value independent of social reality, and social scientists on the other, who describe contextually-driven human ethical decision-making. The epistemological and lexical challenges for an “Islamic” bioethics are arguably still more profound, because notions about moral norms, the good, and the ethical are scattered across different Islamic sciences including moral theology (uṣūl al-fiqh), scholastic theology (ʿilm al-kalām), jurisprudence and law (fiqh), as well as within various genres and practices related to moral formation and spiritual development (taṣawwuf and adab).The “Islamic” character of Islamic bioethics is thus also debated. As the academic study of religion has come to deploy social science-based methods for examining the lived experiences and meaning-making activities of religious communities, the primacy of the analysis of religious texts for understanding religion has become contested.

This course is a mentored and directed reading course that introduces students to critical concepts in Islamic theology and law that undergird normative ethical frameworks within Islam and exposes the student to exemplar works from the wide range of Islamic bioethics literature. The first part of the course will focus on the theoretical aspects of the Islamic moral and ethical tradition and cover scholarly contestations regarding Islamic moral theology as they relate to Islamic bioethics. The latter half of course will focus on the practical aspects of the emerging field by considering research methods for the field and selected literature reviews of Islamic responses to pressing bioethical issues.

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A Mentored Introduction to Islam and Bioethics

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