Vulnerability seems to present a paradigmatic form of ethical imperative: if we know that something bad might happen, we should act now to prevent or mitigate its effects. But in what ways, to what ends, and at what cost? Should we protect ourselves even if it prevents us from pursuing other goods? Who gets to decide what kinds of protection and preparation are necessary? These questions are complicated by the fact that we often see our vulnerabilities most vividly when they have been realized in wounds, and so the conversation proceeds from situations of trauma, mourning, and the immediate needs of caregiving and recovery. Do these occasions aid the discussion, or obscure it? This course examines the concept of vulnerability in contemporary discussions of trauma, mourning, terrorism, gun violence, violence against women, and racially motivated violence to consider this critical question of ethical thought: what does our past experience have to do with our preparation for the future? The course draws on recent work in religious ethics, political philosophy, feminist thought, critical race theory, and Christian thought to examine this concern. No prior experience in religious studies, philosophy, political science, or gender studies is required, nor is any knowledge of religious traditions.
Prof. Bialek provides a lot of really valuable, thought–provoking readings and discusses important, relevant topics. This class has made me completely rethink things I thought I knew.
— Fall 2018
This is one of the best classes I have taken at WashU thus far. Each day, we were able to stick to our lesson plan, yet allow ourselves to feel and understand what was really going on in the world around us.
— Fall 2018