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 is open all day, serving tea, coffee, wine and light refreshments.

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

Upcoming events

Sacred Nature 

Wednesday, 23 March 2022 – Karen Armstrong

We are now all aware of the gravity of climate change and know that we have to change our behaviour. But we also have to change our attitude to nature. That, however, is difficult, as we no longer regard the natural world as sacred. Our discussion of nature has become scientific and abstract. We hear about emissions and the damage to the ozone layer, but this increasingly alarming discourse does not move us to creative action. In her talk, Karen Armstrong will examine a number of ways in which we can relate to the natural world at a deeper level by adopting attitudes that were assiduously cultivated in the religious traditions of China, India, Greece, and, interestingly, Islam, which has a much stronger emphasis on the sacrality of nature than the other two monotheisms. It is not a question of changing beliefs, but of adopting practices that will change our minds and hearts. 

About our speaker

 Karen Armstrong is one of the world’s leading commentators on religious affairs. She spent seven years as a Roman Catholic nun, but left her teaching order in 1969 to read English at St Anne’s College, Oxford. In 1982, she became a full-time writer and broadcaster. She is the author of over 16 books, including A History of God, which became an international bestseller. Her new book  – Sacred Nature: How Can We Recover Our Bond with the Natural World – will be published by Bodley Head in June. A passionate campaigner for religious liberty, Armstrong has addressed members of the United States Congress and participated in the World Economic Forum. In 2013, she received the British Academy’s inaugural Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for improving transcultural understanding. In 2017, she was awarded the Princess of Asturias Award for Social Sciences and an OBE.

Previous events

2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016


Christianity and morality: the story of an uneasy relationship

Tuesday, 4 February 2020 - Giles Fraser

This talk will focus on those theological voices that do not think religion has much to do with ethics, holding instead that it is more about salvation, for example. Thus, The Pilgrim’s Progress has “Morality” as one of the temptations that can distract the protagonist, Christian, from his path, and forgiveness also has a complex relationship with morality, often seeming amoral or even anti-moral. Kierkegaard is another figure who contrasts the theological with the ethical, juxtaposing Abraham’s faith with conventional moral thinking. It is this uneasy relationship between the two that the talk will explore.

About our speaker

Giles Fraser is an English Anglican priest, journalist, and broadcaster. His PhD was on Nietzsche and he was a Lecturer in Philosophy at Wadham College, Oxford. He is currently the priest-in-charge at St Mary’s, Newington, near the Elephant and Castle, south London. He used to write a column for The Guardian, as well as appearing frequently on BBC Radio 4. He is a regular contributor on Thought for the Day and a panellist on The Moral Maze as well as an Assistant Editor of UnHerd. Giles Fraser was formerly a visiting professor at the London School of Economics, Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, and director of the St Paul’s Institute. As Canon Chancellor, Fraser was a residentiary canon with special responsibility for contemporary ethics and engagement with the City of London as a financial centre.


Albert Einstein on Science, Ethics and Religion - 15 October - Alister Magrath (Oxford)

This lecture marks the centenary of the confirmation of Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity in 1919 by exploring his far-reaching ideas about the relation of science, religion, and ethics.

Seeking the Welfare of the City: What Can the Church Contribute to the Common Good? - 26 June - Bishop Pete Wilcox

This talk explored how, in pursuit of the common good, the church has something to offer in policy-making as well as in project-delivery, in what might be called a prophetic role and not merely a pastoral one. Watch a recording of the talk.

Religion, atheism and the varieties of the good life - 19 February 2019 - John Gray

Examining the history of atheism over the past several centuries, Gray argues that it has not been a single intellectual movement but a diversity of contending sects adhering to divergent and often conflicting values and advancing very different ways of life. Watch a recording of the talk.


Diatribe, dialogue and difference: Reflections on Christian-Muslim relations - 2 October - Mona Siddiqui

The lecture explored how doctrinal differences on a range of issues such as the nature of God, law and salvation led to serious intellectual engagement between Christian and Muslim scholars but also a gradual cultural and civilizational distance. Watch a recording of the talk.

St Paul's Letters from the Prison - An Ethical Review - 3 July - Minna Shkul (University of Sheffield)

The lecture focussed on St Paul's prison letters, examining these as a farewell speech that provides Christ-followers with guidance on tradition, godly life and ethics.

On Conversion - 5th June 2018 - Paul Faulkner (university of Sheffield)

Faith is something that one can gain and lose. In this talk Paul characterised what happens when one is converted, where 'conversion' here applies broadly to the loss as well as the acquisition of faith.

Ethics With Confucius - 8th May 2018 - Jimmy Lenman

In this talk Jimmy will discuss the ethical thinking of Confucius (Kongfuzi, 551-479 B.C.). 

Are Things Better With God? - 6th March 2018 - Eric Olson 

This talk is cancelled due to proposed UCU industrial action.

The French Revolution and Its Attack on Religion - 6 February - Linda Kirk

This lecture will asked 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 - 7 November - Yonatan Shemmer

Yotana traced the the development of the concept of idolatry, before aruing that in one important sense an idol is a creation that reflects our fears and hopes, but has no basis outside of these, before going on to argue that belief in ethical objectivity should be seen as a form of idolatry in this sense. 

Religion and Atheism: Beyond the Divide - 10 October - Angie HobbsJulian BagginiRichard Norman and Anthony Carroll

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.

Is Hope Hopeless? - 11 July - Professor Robert Stern

This talk tackles the question of when it is rational to hope, and what are the criteria for legitimate hoping? Watch a recording of the talk.

Religion and Higher Education - 13 June - Professor Sir Keith Burnett

In this talk President and Vice-Chancellor Sir Keith discussed a personal view of how our religious traditions still matter to our scholarship in teaching and research.Watch a recording of the talk.

Religious Conscience and Political Reform in the English Revolution (1640-1660) - 9 May - Michael Braddick

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. Watch a recording of the talk.

Putting Others Above Yourself: Does it Make Sense? - 14 March - Ryan Byerly

Byerly's proposal in this talk argues that  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. Watch a recording of the talk.

The Debt of Life - 7 February - Hugh Pyper 

In this talk, this pressing question over what obligations the old and the young have to each other 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 a recording of the talk.


Becoming Like God: Plato on Ethical Ascent - 11 October - Angie Hobbs

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 thereby assimilating ourselves to God as far as a human can. Watch a recording of the talk.

The Logic of the Golden Rule - 8 November - Peter Bradley

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.

Events at the University

Browse upcoming public lectures, exhibitions, family events, concerts, shows and festivals across the University.