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Sumner B. Twiss

Distinguished Professor of Human Rights, Ethics, and Religion


Departmental Area: Religion, Ethics, and Philosophy
Research Area: Comparative Religious Ethics; Comparative Moral and Religious Thought; Human Rights in Cross-Cultural Perspective; Philosophy and Theory of Religion

Address: Department of Religion
641 University Way / P.O. Box 3061520
The Florida State University
Tallahassee, FL 32306-1520
Religion Department Office: M04 Dodd Hall
Human Rights Center Office: 126 W. Jefferson St.

Email: stwiss@admin.fsu.edu
Office Hours: TBA

Curriculum Vitae


Sumner B. Twiss is the Distinguished Professor of Human Rights, Ethics, and Religion at Florida State University, where he holds a joint appointment between the Department of Religion and the Center for the Advancement of Human Rights, and he is also Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at Brown University, where he served on the faculty for thirty years and as department chair for twelve years.  He is the co-author or co-editor of seven books (as well as a contributor to them), and the author of over seventy published articles in the areas of comparative religious ethics, biomedical ethics, philosophy of religion, global ethics, intercultural human rights, and the comparative study of just war.  He is former co-editor of the Journal of Religious Ethics (2001-2011) and the Annual of the Society of Christian Ethics (1995-2001), as well as former senior editor of the book series Advancing Human Rights (2003-2008).  He is currently completing three additional book projects:  Religion and Public Policy: Human Rights, Conflict, and Ethics (co-editor, with R. Petersen and M. Simion, and contributor; forthcoming from Cambridge University Press);  Chinese Just War Ethics: Origin, Development, and Dissent (co-editor, with P.C. Lo, and co-author of three chapters; forthcoming from Routledge); and The Practices of Global Ethics: Historical Developments, Current Issues, and Contemporary Prospects (co-author with F. Bird et al).  His recent teaching has focused on such topics as: Confucian moral and political thought; crimes against humanity and international criminal justice; the law and ethics of torture; religion, politics, and genocide; and the history and ethics of humanitarian intervention.

Research Interests

  • Comparative Religious Ethics
  • Comparative Moral and Religious Thought
  • Human Rights in Cross-Cultural Perspective
  • Philosophy and Theory of Religion

Selected Publications



Teaching Specializations

  • Comparative Religious Ethics
  • Comparative Moral and Religious Thought
  • Human Rights in Cross-Cultural Perspective
  • Philosophy and Theory of Religion

Recent Courses

Fall 2014

REL4491/RLG5497       Sem Religious Thought: Torture & Human Rights 
What are the purported goals, justifications, and limits—legal, moral, and political—of torture practices, both historical and contemporary?  How have the recent and on-going debates about the legitimacy of torture in America been shaped by moral and religious perspectives?  In this course, students will learn to think critically about a range of topics that include: history of torture; torture, pain, and “unmaking” the world; social psychological accounts of conditions making torture possible; genealogy of modern torture; democracy and recent proposals to legalize torture; comparative moral and religious perspectives on torture and its critique; and prospects for the abolition of torture.  Course materials are interdisciplinary, drawing from history, social psychology, law (especially international human rights law), philosophy and religion, and the arts. 

RLG5937                 REP Colloquium   

Summer 2014

REL4190/RLG6176         Sem: Law and Ethics of Torture  
Research seminar into the law and ethics of torture, with main topics including:  torture and the law of proof in the ancien regime; contemporary human rights law and the convention against torture; the dynamics and genealogy of torture practices; the ethical, legal, and religious dimensions of the torture debate in America.

Spring 2014

REL4190-02      UG Religion & Culture Seminar – Holocaust in Comparative
Examination of the origins, dynamics, and sequelae of the Holocaust, involving comparison with selected precursors (e.g., colonial imperialism; the Armenian genocide) as well as later 20th century ethnic cleansing and genocide (e.g., the Balkans).  Special attention throughout to the roles of religious ideologies, ideas, institutions, and figures.  Course materials from various disciplines: history, religious studies, philosophy, social psychology, political theory, and the arts.  Seminar format.