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John Kelsay

Distinguished Research Professor


Departmental Area: Religion, Ethics, and Philosophy
Research Areas : Comparative Religious Ethics; Political Ethics; Religion and War

Address: Department of Religion
641 University Way / P.O. Box 3061520
The Florida State University
Tallahassee, FL 32306-1520
Office: 206D Dodd Hall
Email: jkelsay@fsu.edu
Office Hours: By Appointment

Curriculum Vitae


John Kelsay (Ph.D. '85, University of Virginia, Ethics) focuses on religious ethics, particularly in relation to the Islamic and Christian traditions. His current work deals with religion and politics. Professor Kelsay serves as editor of Soundings:  An Interdisciplinary Journal, as well as Director of FSU’s Center for Humanities and Society.

Research Interests

  • Comparative Religious Ethics
  • Political Ethics
  • Religion and War

Selected Publications



  • “Political Practice:  The Nexus Between Realisms and Just War Thinking,” in Soundings:  An Interdisciplinary Journal, 98/1 (2015):  38-58.
  • “Nigel Biggar’s In Defence of War:  A Review Essay,” in Studies in Christian Ethics 27 (November, 2014):  490-498
  • “Just War Thinking as a Social Practice,” Ethics and International Affairs 27/1 (2013):  1-20
  • “The Present State of the Comparative Study of Religious Ethics:  An Update,” Journal of Religious Ethics 40/4 (2012): 583-602

Current Research Projects

  • Articles and a book on just war, jihad, and U.S. foreign policy
  • Articles and a book outlining an approach to the comparative study of ethics

Teaching Specializations

  • Religious Ethics
  • Christian and Islamic Political Thought

Recent Graduate Students and Placements
  • Rosemary Kellison (Ph.D., 2013), Department of Philosophy, University of West Georgia
  • James Broucek (Ph.D., 2012), Department of Religious Studies, Iowa State University
  • Shannon Dunn (Ph.D., 2012), Department of Religious Studies, Gonzaga University
  • Matt Hagele (Ph.D., 2011), Department of Religion, Kirkwood Community College
  • Nahed Artoul Zehr (Ph.D., 2011), Department of Philosophy and Religion, Western Kentucky University

Recent Courses

Fall 2016

REL3430-1     Christian and Muslim Political Thought  
This course focuses on developments in Christian and Muslim thinking about politics.  Beginning with the foundational narratives presented in the New Testament and in the biographies of Muhammad, we will proceed to discuss the ways in which interactions between the two traditions (as in the Crusades and the Muslim expansion into south and central Europe) affected political thought.  For the Fall 2016 term, we stop at the beginnings of modernity in the seventeenth century.  A subsequent course scheduled for Spring 2017 will deal with modern developments. 

RLG5937-1    Special Topics:  Religion, Science, Conflict                                             Drs. Kelsay & Ruse
The focus of this seminar (co-listed with PHI 5934) will be on religious and biological explanations of conflict.  Our prime case study will be the First World War, in which appeals to Christian tradition served both to legitimate and to criticize the efforts of Allied and Axis powers, as did appeals to understandings of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection.

RLG5937-5    Special Topics:  Christian/Muslim Political Thought

Fall 2014

REL3170               Religious Ethics    
Religious Ethics: In this class, you will get the chance to examine the moral problems raised by issues such as war, capital punishment, lying, the environment, and sex in the context of religious views about love, duty, good, and evil (yes, this is the big stuff).  This introduction to the study of religious ethics meets the writing, liberal studies area IV and the multicultural X requirement.

RLG5035                Introduction to the Study of Religion   
This seminar will review the theoretical and methodological foundations of the academic study of religion. It will focus on authors viewed as the founders and subsequent exponents and critics of the discipline. We will interrogate the arguments and evidence on which they ground the operating assumption that religion exists as an object of study and that, as a result, religious studies exists as an academic discipline. Our approach will be a critical one.  We will examine religion as a heuristic category and religious studies as a form of interdisciplinary research in which authors have made arguments as relevant to ritual and symbolic concerns as to those one could also label economic, political, or sociological. We will read and discuss germinal writings by Feuerbach, Marx, Durkheim, Freud, James, and Weber as well as works by their successors, such as Eliade and his students, major anthropologists of the British and French schools, as well as Bourdieu, Foucault, Asad, McCutcheon, Mahmood, Evans, and Vásquez. The course aims to provide students a context in which to hone their own formative questions about and develop their own theories of religion and religious studies.