Sheffield Cathedral in partnership with the University of SheffieldPhoto of Sheffield Cathedral

God and the Good: Thinking Religion and Ethics

This is a series of interdisciplinary talks, intended for a general audience. The series will consider the relation between religious thinking and traditions on the one hand, and ethics on the other. While most ethical traditions have a religious background, the increasing secularization of modern society has put this connection in question. These talks will consider how far ethical issues can be illuminated by coming at them through a religious context, and vice versa, as well as the history of the interconnection. All are welcome, and there is no need to register attendance.

The Cathedral Coffee Shop opens from 6.30pm, serving tea, coffee, wine and light refreshments.

Talks and discussion 7.30pm–9pm. Venue: Sheffield Cathedral, Church Street, S1 1HA

Upcoming events

Are Things Better With God?

6th March 2018 - Eric Olson (Department of Philosophy, University of Sheffield)

*Please note this event is subject to change due to proposed UCU industrial action*

One obvious question we can ask is whether God exists. But we can also ask the question, ‘is it a good thing that he exists’? Believers are almost always happy that God exists. Most nonbelievers have no view on the matter. A few are happy in thinking that God does not exist; almost none are unhappy about it. But should they be unhappy if he doesn’t exist? Would it be better if God existed, or worse? Or is it simply a matter of subjective preference?

Ethics With Confucius

8th May 2018 - Jimmy Lenman (Department of Philosophy, University of Sheffield)

In this talk Jimmy will discuss the ethical thinking of Confucius (Kongfuzi, 551-479 B.C.). How are we to make sense of a thinker frequently described as a humanist, yet so centrally preoccupied with the importance of ritual? And does Confucius’ thought have anything to teach us today, in the contemporary West?

On Conversion

5th June 2018 - Paul Faulkner (Department of Philosophy, University of Sheffield)

Faith is something that one can gain and lose. In this talk Paul will try to characterise what happens when one is converted, where 'conversion' here applies broadly to the loss as well as the acquisition of faith. Given this characterisation, he will then ask what reasons one has to convert. This is a hard question because insofar as conversion results in one's seeing the world anew, the reasons that become visible to one after conversion cannot move one prior to one's conversion.

St Paul's Letters from the Prison - An Ethical Review

3rd July 2018 - Minna Shkul (Department of Philosophy and SIIBS, University of Sheffield)

The lecture will focus on St Paul's prison letters, examining these as a farewell speech that provide Christ-followers with guidance on tradition, godly life and ethics. Having first discussed these instructions in their historical context in the Roman world, the paper will examine if these disputed letters are 'ethical' for 21st century readers, focusing on religiosity, ethnicity and gender, in particular.


  • 10th October 2017 - Angie Hobbs (Department of Philosophy, University of Sheffield) and Julian Baggini: Religion and Atheism: Beyond the Divide
  • 7th November 2017 - Yonatan Shemmer (Department of Philosophy, University of Sheffield): Idolatry and Objectivity in Ethics
  • 6th February 2018 - Linda Kirk (Department of History, University of Sheffield): The French Revolution and Its Attack on Religion
  • 6th March 2018 - Eric Olson (Department of Philosophy, University of Sheffield): Are Things Better With God?
  • 8th May 2018 - Jimmy Lenman (Department of Philosophy, University of Sheffield): Ethics With Confucius
  • 5th June 2018 - Paul Faulkner (Department of Philosophy, University of Sheffield): On Conversion
  • 3rd July 2018 - Minna Shkul (Department of Philosophy and SIIBS, University of Sheffield): St Paul's Letters from the Prison - An Ethical Review
Previous events and videos

The French Revolution and Its Attack on Religion

6th February 2018 - Linda Kirk (Department of History, University of Sheffield)

By the late eighteenth century, the French had taken some tentative steps towards religious toleration. As the Revolution broke out, and reformers proposed changes to anything and everything, including the Church, it was presumed that belief and fidelity would remain plaited into the fabric of French life. But things went further and faster than any reformers expected: before 1792 was over, those ruling France had turned to a full-scale attack on most of its Roman Catholic Church's institutions, hunting down many priests as enemies of the people. This lecture will ask what happened to belief; what understanding of the Enlightenment, and of legitimacy grounded on popular assent, led to puzzled but violent peasants on both sides slaughtering former neighbours and authority figures? And how did they stop?

Idolatry and Objectivity in Ethics

7th November 2017 - Yonatan Shemmer (Department of Philosophy, University of Sheffield)

At the start of this talk Yonatan will trace the development of the concept of idolatry from the old testament through to the 20th century. He will argue that in one important sense an idol is a creation that reflects our fears and hopes, but has no basis outside of these. In the second part he will argue that belief in ethical objectivity should be seen as a form of idolatry in this sense. The belief in ethical objectivity is the belief that ethical requirements are universal: that they apply to all people independently of their systems of beliefs, their goals or their desires. This way of thinking about ethics is one of the most common presupposition of ethicists, but Yonatan will suggest that it is an idol that should be overturned.

Religion and Atheism: Beyond the Divide

10th October 2017 - Angie Hobbs (Department of Philosophy, University of Sheffield), Julian Baggini, Richard Norman (Philosophy, University of Kent) and Anthony Carroll (Philosophy, Heythrop College)

Part of Off the Shelf Festival of Words

A panel discussion on Religion and Atheism: Beyond the Divide (Routledge, 2017), edited by Anthony Carroll and Richard Norman. The speakers will be the editors, and two of the contributors to the volume – Angie Hobbs and Julian Baggini. The discussion will be of interest to anyone who is concerned about the clash between the religious and the secular, and how to move beyond it towards a dialogue that is more fruitful.

Watch again: Is Hope Hopeless?

11 July 2017 - Professor Robert Stern (Department of Philosophy, University of Sheffield)

Hope is traditionally identified as one of the key ‘theological virtues’, alongside faith and love or charity, which are distinguished from the ‘cardinal virtues’. Many philosophers have also made hope central to their work, including Kant and the American pragmatists Charles S. Peirce and William James.

But hope can also appear problematic, as a kind of wishful thinking or irrational optimism. So the question arises of when it is rational to hope, and what are the criteria for legitimate hoping? And if the object of hope is not God, as the secularist holds, does it nonetheless still make sense to distinguish it from the cardinal virtues?

Watch again: Religion and Higher Education

13 June 2017 - Professor Sir Keith Burnett (President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Sheffield)

What is the role of religion in Higher Education? Does it have any role at all? In this talk Sir Keith discussed a personal view of how our religious traditions still matter to our scholarship in teaching and research.

Watch again: Religious Conscience and Political Reform in the English Revolution (1640-1660)

9 May 2017 - Michael Braddick (Department of History, University of Sheffield)

This lecture focused in particular on the political life of John Lilburne (1615-1657), concentrating on how his religious conscience led him to propose radical secular reform, including that the House of Commons should be the sovereign power and made fully representative of the will of the people through universal manhood suffrage and the equal distribution of parliamentary representation.

These were remarkable ideas for seventeenth-century Europe and, for example, anticipated by two hundred years some of the central demands of the Chartists. Lilburne was far from unusual in feeling an intense and religiously-inspired desire for political change, but was very unusual in deriving wholly secular political demands from his religious conscience. His example offers a way to understand how seventeenth-century Christians viewed the relationship between religious conscience and their civic obligations, but also on how understandings of that relationship have changed over time.

Watch again: Putting Others Above Yourself: Does it Make Sense?

14th March 2017 - Ryan Byerly (Department of Philosophy, University of Sheffield)

The Christian tradition is often thought to encourage a certain kind of centeredness on others as opposed to centeredness on oneself. For example, St. Paul tells the Philippians that each of them should regard each other as more important than himself. But, does this kind of others-centeredness make sense? In this talk, Ryan offered a way of understanding it according to which it is not only coherent, but has a special value. On the proposal he develops, to be others-centered is to have a tendency to promote the goods of others, rather than one’s own goods, when these goods are either equal in value or cannot be compared to one another. Those who possess others-centeredness of this kind are more likely than those who do not to promote the greatest overall value, because in addition to promoting the goods of others, they distinctively promote goods or relationship.

Watch again: The Debt of Life

7 February 2017 - Hugh Pyper (Department of Philosophy, University of Sheffield)

The increasing longevity of populations, especially in developed countries, raises the question of what obligations the old and the young have to each other. The fear of ‘becoming a burden’ is set beside social policies whereby financial support for the young is cut in favour of preserving the pension benefits to the elderly. Are all lives of equal value or are the cases where either the young or the old are accorded different value? In this talk, this pressing current issues is explored from the point of view of what the biblical tradition has to say about the relationship between the old and the young and the what it means to owe someone a life.

Watch again: Becoming Like God: Plato on Ethical Ascent

11 October 2016 - Angie Hobbs (Department of Philosophy, University of Sheffield)

This talk explored the tradition in Plato and the Stoics that a) God is rational; b) the cosmos is rationally ordered according to the laws of mathematics and physics and c) that each human contains a microcosmic spark of divine reason and that it is our divine duty to try to develop this reason as far as possible through the philosophic good life and thereby assimilate ourselves to God as far as a human can.

Angie contrasted this particular tradition in Greek thinking with alternative Greek traditions, which either view the gods as capricious and whimsical (Homer) or believe that, whether rational or irrational, the divine should be worshipped from afar and that it is hubristic of humans to try to assimilate themselves to it. She touched on some of the histories of these traditions and looked at their implications for current debates in science and elsewhere.

The Logic of the Golden Rule

8 November 2016 - Peter Bradley (Dean of Sheffield Cathedral)

The so-called Golden Rule is a central principle of ethics: ‘do as you would be done by’. This talk will ask the question whether the principle offers a way for Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Sikhs and others a place to develop a shared understanding of morality.