Paul Martens and Elise Edwards
<Season 6 - Episode 622
The Baylor Ethics Initiative is a community of scholars across campus who engage in purposeful conversation to elevate the role of ethics in their research and teaching. Paul Martens, associate professor of ethics, serves as Baylor Ethics Initiative director; Elise Edwards, assistant professor of religion, is co-convener of the Initiative’s Ethics in Leadership working group. In this Baylor Connections, they share how faculty come together to discuss interdisciplinary issues and sharpen a focus on ethics in their work.
Derek Smith:Hello and welcome to Baylor Connections, a conversation series with the people shaping our future. Each week we go in-depth with Baylor leaders, professors, and more, discussing important topics in higher education, research, and student life. I'm Derek Smith, and today we are talking ethics. The Baylor Ethics Initiative is a community of scholars across campus who engage in purposeful conversation to consider transdisciplinary ethical issues and to elevate the role of ethics in their research and teaching. They do so across groups within the initiative, Bioethics, Data Ethics, Ethics in Leadership, and Global Ethics. Today we are joined by Paul Martens and Elise Edwards. Dr. Martens serves as Baylor Ethics Initiative director and convenor of the Global Ethics research group, along with his role as associate professor of Ethics. Dr. Elise Edwards serves as assistant professor of Religion, and Ethics in Leadership Working Group co-convenor. And they're both with us today on the program. Dr. Edwards, Dr. Martens, thanks so much for taking the time to join us today.
Elise Edwards:Thank you. It's great to be here.
Paul Martens:Thanks, Derek.
Derek Smith:Well, we're going to dive into the work that you and fellow faculty across campus are doing to... Really it feels like in a lot of ways, sort of bridge some gaps to discuss ethics that relate to a number of different disciplines across campus. And I'd like to ask you both, just to start, if we were to eavesdrop on some of the conversations taking place within the groups within the Ethics Initiative, what are some of the conversations we might hear?
Paul Martens:Well, that's a good question and a terrible way to start in many ways because many of our conversations are incredibly mundane, trying to figure out what each other does, what each other teaches, how we're thinking about our research. And so many of the questions are simply getting to know one another at a deeper level and understanding how we're thinking about these questions. Of course, these then hopefully and generally lead to much more kind of pointed and sometimes very encouraging and exciting conversations about shared research agendas, shared priorities, shared possibilities for working with students and in the community. And I think each of our groups have very different content to their conversations, but I think in many ways there's some formal similarities here as we work beyond the getting to know you, getting to understand one another, which always takes more time than you imagined because that's what good communication does. To share projects that hopefully then can reshape our own agendas, but more importantly, our students as we engage them.
Elise Edwards:Yeah, I hear a lot of conversations or we have a lot of conversations in our group that are really about trying to figure out what's next. So like Paul said, those can be kind of mundane. It's figuring out what our research areas are, where the overlap is, but it's also very exciting to begin to ask also how we can help each other and what resources we need, what would better supplement our work, what would promote it, what would allow us to grow in ways that help the community and the university. So those are all pretty exciting, but it's a lot of planning, looking at the calendar and the next semester saying, "What's coming down the line? What can we offer? How can we do that?"
Derek Smith:Now, you all are united by the fact that you're Baylor faculty with an interest in going deeper into the ethical issues related to your field and then sharing that with your students. What are some of the other things that you would say unite someone, whether you're in Religion, whether you're in a STEM field, whether you're in another area of the humanities? What are some of the common bonds that kind of tie you all together as members of the Ethics Initiative?
Elise Edwards:I would say, one thing is that we're all interested in working across disciplinary boundaries. So we're not interested in doing work that could only be answered by our discipline, but rather contributing to bigger questions from our disciplines. So it's not as if we're pretending we're not, in my case, a religion scholar or someone else coming from journalism, or that we're not in these fields, but we want to see what we can do together. So that collaborative aim, that willingness to work across disciplinary boundaries, I think that's something that unites us.
Paul Martens:Yeah, I mean... And I would add to that. I mean, the motto of Baylor is for the world, for the church, and there's a sense in which the world is a complicated place, and well, as is the church. And so none of us imagine that we have all of the answers. All of us are trained in very particular ways to answer very particular questions, the way in which our discipline shapes them. And that's great, but there's a sense in which our students and we live lives that cross all of those boundaries. And so what we're trying to do is think together in ways that we can together work better towards serving the world and serving the church and helping our students see that. And many of them see that better than we do since they're not yet professionally trained in a particular area. And so that's where the research community, and in fact, the whole kind of collaboration emerged.
Derek Smith:Dr. Martens, let's rewind just a little bit. The Baylor Ethics Initiative, when and how did it begin? How was it formed?
Paul Martens:Well, that's a good question, and it might depend on who you ask, but there's a couple of moments that kind of shape how it is today. So probably five or six, maybe even seven years ago, we were looking towards kind of cultivating a more robust conversation on campus around ethics. And we thought at that time that, "Well, we need to bring someone really famous or important in, and then they can carry this conversation." And then after a while, as we were talking about this and thinking about this, and as Baylor decided to strengthen its research profile and to move towards the R1, we realized we have a lot of faculty on campus, we have a lot of resources here. Why don't we just work with what we've got and people will want to come here, rather than bring someone in to develop this thing for us. And so we began then, when Baylor committed to R1, with a push towards developing a research community. We didn't want a community that was divided by, shall we say, public policy statements first. That's in a sense why we decided to go research first. If faculty want to speak publicly about what they want to speak publicly, great, that's all perfectly fine. But we want to begin with the good work, and we want to be able to share our good work and talk about our good work amongst ourselves and amongst our students, and amongst our colleagues. And then we can work from there so that we have a shared platform of work from which we can disagree. And the goal then is, as we move forward, to model careful and sustained agreements and disagreements in a society increasingly divided by very superficial kind of divisions. They're certainly real divisions, but certainly not reflective divisions. And so that's a very brief thumbnail sketch of the evolution of the project to where it is today. And Elise, I'm sure you can add more here.
Elise Edwards:Yeah, I mean, I think early on it was a lot of figuring out what this could be. And we had conversations in the Religion department, conversations in the College of Arts & Sciences at Baylor, and there was an early workshop where we gathered people... This is about a year or two into the process where we gathered people from around the campus who were interested in various things. And it was largely just, "Okay, who do we know that's doing things where they would want to explore these ethical issues, these big complex problems? Can we literally get everybody in a room, talk about this thing, and then break out into these groups?" Which were reflective of the different research groups. And I remember there just being a lot of excitement about that for the first time sitting down with all these scholars, that people will tell you about, like, oh... When you're talking about your work, someone will say, "Oh, do you know so-and-so over in this department, or is so-and-so over at the seminary? They're doing this kind of thing." And for us to just be in the room together actually talking about what could we do if we have the resources to do them together.
Derek Smith:We are discussing the Baylor Ethics Initiative with Dr. Paul Martens, initiative director and convenor of the Global Ethics research group, associate professor of Ethics at Baylor. And Dr. Elise Edwards, assistant professor of Religion and Ethics in Leadership Working Group co-convenor. And I want to ask you both. If you would, can you give us a thumbnail sketch of how you would describe your research if someone asked you kind of what your focus is and then how... Dr. Edwards start with you, how the Ethics Initiative helps you tie into that?
Elise Edwards:Sure. Well, my research is in the area of Christian ethics, so I do a lot of contemporary social issues within Christian ethics. So in my teaching, I cover lots of current-day topics. In my research, I dive deeper into questions about the production of art and culture and how in particular that relates to concerns about justice for marginalized communities. So I do a lot of work related to race and gender, informed by Black feminist scholarship and women in scholarship. I am interested in all sorts of concerns that fall into the umbrella of liberation ethics. So again, this ties back to Christianity in a sense of what does it mean to be free? What does it mean to be pursuing justice motivated by Christian concerns?
Derek Smith:What about you, Dr. Martens?
Paul Martens:Well, that's a very good question. My research loosely can be described as Global Ethics, as you might guess, given where I fit in this whole big program. But I've been doing considerable work lately on human dignity and human rights, particularly in interreligious engagements. And the kinds of questions that are raised when you're talking about human dignity across cultures, across religions, can't be solved by one person. And so this is a great forum where I can talk to people in the business school about how economic relations between United States and say Brazil or economies in the Middle East play out in relation to human beings, the everyday life, or Southeast Asia. And so I have partners in a variety of parts of the world as well. And so this is the kind of work that cannot be done individually, and one needs to be in conversation across disciplines but also across religious groups to figure out what language even works in different contexts. So for example, in parts of the world, the rights language is seen as an imposition of Western secular values. Well, great. That's not the best way to move forward then in some of these contexts. What language can we use to communicate the same sorts of value of human life that is appropriate to these contexts? And we found that dignity is embedded in a variety of religious traditions that are resistant to the language of rights. This is a trade-off, but is it a way forward? Yeah. Is it perfect? Well, probably nothing's perfect, but these are the kinds of engagements then once you're in the room with other people who can help you understand these things better than you can understand them yourself, are all possible. And that's in my mind, specifically related to my own research, why these sorts of things and institutionally are incredibly important to our research agendas.
Derek Smith:Well, Dr. Martens, I know you're in the Global Ethics group, and Dr. Edwards, you're in the Ethics in Leadership, and I want to ask you about those and really all of them. Again, the four groups are Bioethics, Data Ethics, Ethics in Leadership, and Global Ethics. Starting with Bioethics, can we just give a brief thumbnail of what each of these groups do and what they're about?
Elise Edwards:Sure. The Bioethics group really focuses on issues that are emerging related to new medical technologies and questions about new boundaries, new emerging questions raised by science, particularly related to health and wellbeing.
Paul Martens:And one piece that we do particularly well in this conversation is questions of disability. And oddly enough, despite the fact that the Christian Church claims to care for the oppressed and people who are marginalized, we're finding in the research... And you need to talk to Devan Stahl about this, one of our colleagues. We're finding that the church is awfully resistant to creating spaces for people with disabilities for all kinds of reasons. And so it's this kind of work as well that is kind of fitting under the umbrella of Bioethics, and it's profoundly important in many ways to the everyday life of people in our communities.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. What about Data Ethics?
Paul Martens:This one is a good question. Incredibly important. In many ways, this group was started aspirationally. We didn't have a lot of research expertise in this field. We do have a couple of faculty now who have training and have worked in AI companies and experiences of this sort. And they're starting a podcast, actually, that should be out, well, any day now. But yeah, this is an incredibly complicated part of our existence where technology is... Well, our value is determined by our data in our health, and well, you name, it's there. And so what we're trying to figure out and this group is working on is how do we become humans, or well, remain human, but sometimes even become humans in a world that's increasingly defined by our technology, whether that's social media or big data.
Derek Smith:Dr. Edwards, what about the group that you convene, Ethics in Leadership?
Elise Edwards:This group started off with a few different names. And at one point, we were Ethics in the Professions, which I think helps understand what we're about. This group really brings together scholars from different disciplines, different areas that are related to professional life. So law, music, marketing, ministry. Architecture is where my background is. So these are fields that have specialized training to do particular types of work in the world, and we are interested in studying the questions that emerge out of those professions. So our goal is to form a sustained interdisciplinary dialogue around ethics within those professions. So one of the questions we're looking at right now has to do with ethical listening, something that relates to almost all the disciplines represented by our area. How do we listen to each other well? How do we represent ourselves in ways that can be heard? And how do we as organizations listen to disadvantaged groups with attention to our own power in that dialogue?
Derek Smith:And Dr. Martens, Global Ethics, the group you convene?
Paul Martens:Well, this is a real mix... All of them in many ways are real mixes, but this is a real mix of folks who are interested in migration, hunger, the environment, climate, economics. And I think one of the big research focus areas that's coming out of this is the correlation between food security, climate and migration, particularly as it pertains to Central America, that's kind of a research focus of several of our faculty. And some are worried about the political side of this, and some are worried about the environmental side of this, and some are worried about the very human cost of this. So these are very complicated issues that can only be dealt with, again, in a strange mix like this.
Derek Smith:We are discussing the Baylor Ethics Initiative with Dr. Paul Martens and Dr. Elise Edwards. And you can take some of these conversations you have in the group that can obviously inform your teaching or your research that have even actually been... research projects that have developed from this. Dr. Martens, I'll start with you. What are some of the ways that these conversations have spilled out of the group into ways that impact students and faculty alike in the work they're doing?
Paul Martens:Good. That's a great question. And this is an important question that we're wrestling with now, now that we've kind of become a real thing as a group of scholars. We have a variety of programming options that are emerging out of this. One of them is a certificate in Bioethics for undergraduate students. There's a four core sequence they can take. So they can leave Baylor with a real good foundation of bioethics as they move towards perhaps a career in medicine or other careers. We're developing an MA in Global Ethics shared with Hong Kong Baptist University, where a cohort of students will be there for a period of time and then come here for a period of time and have a wrestling with the complications of ethics across these cultural and all kinds of divides. And so there's curricular pieces that are emerging, and new classes are emerging. And in fact, last week, one of the more exciting things that have happened recently is the Environmental Humanities Minor that's launching at Baylor in fall. Spent a week in the summer ethics seminar working on new courses or new research projects or refining kind of existing projects and research agendas to incorporate intentionally kind of ethical questions. And so these are ways in which we're beginning to engage students, and we're working towards developing, well, hopefully funding possibilities, but kind of structured ways in which we can support students in the National Bioethics Bowl, National Ethics Bowl, and these sort of... It seems a little bit odd to be competitive about ethics, but there's a way in which it at least gets students engaged in thinking about these questions at an age where they can still think about these things in new ways. And so we are really working hard now to incorporate programming and programming options for students to become really part of these things at a deep level.
Elise Edwards:Yeah. And in our group, we're looking at taking this topic that I mentioned of ethical listening and developing modules that could be brought into different types of courses. So if we have students who are being trained on how to do ethnography or how to take oral histories, Baylor has a fabulous institute for oral history. How do we train students to listen in ways that align with the highest ethical principles of honoring the person in front of you, their dignity, as Paul would talk about? Taking note of their life experiences in a way that's attentive to who they are and what they're saying rather than the kind of research we're trying to maybe extract from them. So we're looking at developing these modules that could be brought into a variety of courses or even a standalone training to accompany the-
Derek Smith:So official classes, certificates. And even, I recall you mentioned Devan Stahl's name earlier. She and Sarah Schnitker developed a highly funded research project, if I recall correctly, that grew from this. Is that correct?
Paul Martens:Yes. And in fact, that the first phase one of that project was also occurring last week. A bunch of faculty, and at least it was part of that actual [inaudible].
Elise Edwards:Right, I was in it. Another one of these overlapping areas, right?
Paul Martens:And these are the kinds of things that have only become possible with this broad initiative. And, yeah, it's weird that you should say that, but Tuesday morning I'm starting to get excited about ethics in the middle of the holidays here.
Derek Smith:That's great. Well, as we head into the final moments of the program, I want to ask you, for faculty who are interested in getting involved or students who hear something that piques their interest, what are some ways they can connect with the Baylor Ethics Initiative?
Elise Edwards:Well, the best thing for them to do is to simply reach out, email us or grab us on campus and have a conversation about this. We really want to support the work that people are doing and to be a resource for that. So if they can come to us with ideas or an explanation of what they're doing and how that fits in with what we're doing, or if they simply are just open to learning and have some skills that they want to contribute, we're welcoming that too.
Paul Martens:And I mean, all I'd want to add to that is, we're here to serve our students and serve our faculty. So if these four research areas don't fit your research agenda or your interests, let us know. We're here, we're flexible, and our goal is to make a community where these sort of conversations are possible. And so happy to start new ones that don't exist, anytime.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. And if you Google Baylor Ethics Initiative, I know from doing this recently, you can find it. It's the first thing that pops up. Well, Dr. Martens, Dr. Edwards, thanks so much for taking the time today to share with us, and hope others will join in what you're doing.
Elise Edwards:Great. Thank you so much.
Paul Martens:Thanks, Derek.
Derek Smith:Discussing the Baylor Ethics Initiative today with Dr. Elise Edwards, assistant professor of Religion and the co-convenor of the Ethics in Leadership Working Group. Dr. Paul Martens, associate professor of Ethics and Baylor Ethics Initiative director, and convenor of the Global Ethics research group. I'm Derek Smith. A reminder, you can hear this and other programs online at baylor.edu/connections, and you can subscribe to the program on iTunes. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.