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Ethics Awareness Week: Crossing Boundaries -- Dr. Peter C. Phan Receives Ethics Award

Monday, February 10, 2014
A charity fund raiser at a student house in the neighborhood is noisy at 7 p.m. What are the obligations to the neighbors? A doctor refuses to honor a patient’s request for an acupuncture referral because he believes surgery is the best option. Is he acting ethically?

These are just a couple of the issues addressed by students during Ethics Awareness Week at Marymount University.

At Marymount, the discussion of ethical concerns related to coursework is ongoing. However, Ethics Awareness Week, organized by the university’s Center for Ethical Concerns, gives students, faculty, and staff a chance to focus on ethical dilemmas related to a specific theme. This year, it was Crossing Boundaries. Dr. Brian Doyle, director of Marymount’s Center for Ethical Concerns and associate professor of theology, explains, “Our theme of Crossing Boundaries allowed us to focus our conversations about ethics on the issues of similarity and difference. Students, faculty and staff tackled ethical dilemmas and were pushed to see that our common ground consists of people of different ages, races, nationalities, cultures, and religions.”

During the first week of February, students presented their research on topics including the privacy of health records, medical ethics, and town-gown issues. They also examined immigration concerns, especially for children born in the U.S. to undocumented parents. And, to set up a discussion on the death penalty, graduate forensic psychology students gave a reading of the play Exonerated by Erik Jensen and Jessica Blank, which is about six people wrongly convicted of murder, who were later exonerated.

Dr. Peter C. Phan Honored
A highlight of the week was the GEICO Ethics Lecture, given by Dr. Peter C. Phan, Ellacuria Chair of Catholic Social Thought at Georgetown University, who was also presented with the Marymount University Ethics Award in recognition of his scholarly and personal contributions to interreligious dialogue and his work to make Catholic teachings accessible worldwide.

In his presentation Being Religious Interreligiously, he discussed the practice of faith in today’s global community. He began by listing the “many barriers that confront and isolate different world peoples – ethnic, cultural, existential, psychological, geographical, and perhaps the most intractable, religious.”

He stated, “Religion, in principle, should unite us, but instead, it is one of the major contributors to violence. I would propose that to be religious today is to be interreligious. A Christian today must be in dialogue with believers of other religions. Our religious identity shouldn’t separate us, but instead join us together.”

In explaining how to break down religious barriers, Dr. Phan used the metaphor of borders. He observed that their function is to define our identity (who we are), to separate (“us” vs. “them”), and to serve as a limit beyond which we can go. But given our global world community, Dr. Phan argued that the containment and divisions that religious borders create are constantly being challenged on all levels.

This ability to go beyond one’s border is best illustrated by migrants. “Today, there are two hundred million migrants worldwide, forced to live between two worlds,” explained Dr. Phan. “They are both this and that, but neither this or that.” Citing himself as an example, he noted that he is Vietnamese, with Buddhism in his DNA, but also a Catholic and an American. He points out, “This has led to an existential in-betweenness, but also to a third element, of going beyond this and that. A new society is emerging, and it presents a great opportunity for those growing up in the era of migration and globalization.”

Dr. Phan reiterated that the borders of religions are among the most difficult to go beyond, given long histories characterized by exclusiveness and few attempts at understanding the “other.” However, he explained that for Catholics this border was first breached by the Second Vatican Council, which rejected the characterization of the “other” as a threat or something inferior to oneself. Instead, the message of Vatican II was to encourage Catholics to rise to an understanding of other religions – seeing the seeds of truth and God’s grace in the other religions.

In conclusion, Dr. Phan reflected that the spirit of Vatican II is infused in today’s Church. Under the leadership of Pope Francis, Catholics have been further inspired and challenged to see God and themselves in the faces of others, to approach the other with humility and openness, and to actively seek friendship with those of other faiths. Dr. Phan concluded, “This is being religious interreligiously. This is what allows me to share all that is most precious in my life – my faith and who I am.”  
PHOTO 1 - Dr. Peter Phan talks with Jabriel Hasan '15, a Communication major.
PHOTO 2 - Marymount President Matthew D. Shank presents Dr. Phan with the Marymount University Ethics Award.
PHOTO 3 - Dr. William Costanza (left foreground), assistant professor of psychology, and graduate forensic psychology students give a reading of the play Exonerated. Alyssa Walsh is on the right of Dr. Costanza.
PHOTO 4 - Students consider a medical ethics scenario.
PHOTO 5 - (left to right) Sarah Chang '16, a business administration major; Maha Zedan '14, a Communication major; and Deana Wilson '14, a criminal justice major, discuss a town-gown issue during the Ethics Case Study Competition.