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Tutor profile: Derek W.

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Derek W.
Student and Researcher at Princeton Theological Seminary
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Questions

Subject: Religious Studies

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Question:

What is "The Great Separation" between religion and politics?

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Derek W.
Answer:

The Great Separation is a story about how societies have dealt with the supposed problem between a group or an individual’s religious belief and their political participation. The story unfolds in three stages. In the first stage of the story, societies kept religion and politics together. Many ancient societies worshipped their political leaders as divine beings. Ancient Egyptians, for instance, worshipped their pharaoh in a religious manner. Then came the Enlightenment—the second stage. In the Enlightenment, the intermixing of religion and politics was found to be problematic for society. Superstition and religious tradition limited individual autonomy and expression and stunted social progression. So, religion and politics were separated. Rationality triumphed over superstition, and freedom (or “liberalism” ) triumphed over religious and social traditions. Now we are in the third stage, and The Great Separation has become the dominant framework in Western societies. However, the widely accepted norm of separating religion and politics is still contested in various ways. For instance, here in the United States, there are religiously motivated nationalists. The religious belief that America is essentially a Judeo-Christian nation, uniquely “God’s nation” among other less important nations, has undergirded American exceptionalism during the Cold War and the existence of such a thing as an “evangelical voting bloc” that brought Donald Trump to speak to his evangelical constituency at Liberty University.

Subject: Philosophy

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Question:

What are "deontological" ethics?

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Derek W.
Answer:

The deontological ethicist, or “duty” ethicist, thinks that we have moral duties. The term “duty” generally refers to actions we are required to do. Moral duties, then, are actions required of us in every circumstance, regardless of any resulting consequences. These duties get their rightness from a “universality” principle: if it is logically possible for everyone to act according to the duty in every applicable circumstance, then the duty is right. An example of a duty is the Christian commandment “thou shalt not lie.” I can easily comprehend of a world where nobody ever lies. It may lead to some unfortunate situations, but the duty ethicist isn’t concerned with such consequences. Allow me to illustrate this with a hypothetical. Imagine that you are a witness in a murder trial. You have an incriminating testimony against the defendant. The defendant, however, is a billionaire philanthropist. He has an active fund for those living in poverty. If he were found guilty, his funds would be dissolved. His life-saving scholarships would be revoked. Do you give an honest testimony? It feels appropriate to lie for the sake of millions. However, the duty ethicist will question the “universality” of lying in this circumstance. If everyone always falsified their testimony in court to save lives, testimonies wouldn’t exist in court. If a convict was on death row, every testimony would be falsified to save his life. No court would use testimonies in their judicial process due to their untrustworthiness. You wouldn’t have been able to give your testimony in the first place. Therefore, the “right” action is to give an honest testimony.

Subject: Ethnic Studies

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Question:

What is the Black/white binary?

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Derek W.
Answer:

The Black/white binary assumes that racism in the U.S. primarily concerns two racial groups, Black and white. The treatment of other groups—such as Latina/os, Asian Americans, and Indigenous peoples—are best understood in relation to the categories of Black or white. For instance, some scholars argue that Asian Americans have "become white," assuming that race operates on a sliding scale from Black to white. The binary can be both descriptive and/or prescriptive, describing how race functions and/or prescribing how racial language should function in the U.S.

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