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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 (Ph.D., Yale University, 1974) is Distinguished Professor of Human Rights, Ethics, and Religion, involving a joint appointment between the Department of Religion and the Center for the Advancement of Human Rights at Florida State University. Prior to joining the FSU faculty in 2001, he was Professor of Religious Studies at Brown University, where is now Professor Emeritus.

He is currently Co-Editor of the Journal of Religious Ethics (Blackwell Publishing) and Senior Editor of a new book series Advancing Human Rights (Georgetown University Press). He is the co-author or co-editor of six books: Comparative Religious Ethics: A New Method (Harper & Row, 1978); Genetic Counseling Facts, Values and Norms (Alan R. Liss, 1979); Experience of the Sacred: Readings in the Phenomenology of Religion (Brown University/University Press of New England, 1992); Religion and Human Rights (Project on Religion and Human Rights, 1994); Religious Diversity and American Religious History: Studies in Traditions and Cultures (University of Georgia Press, 1997); and Explorations in Global Ethics: Comparative Religious Ethics and Interreligious Dialogue (Westview Press/Perseus Books, 2000).

He has published over forty articles in major journals and anthologies on comparative ethics, philosophy of religion, biomedical ethics, and human rights in moral, philosophical, and religious traditions. He is currently completing two co-edited book projects—Interpreting Atrocity: Humanities in Human Rights Education and Politics and Religion in France and the United States—as well as a co-authored volume Globalization, Religion, and the Pursuit of Global Ethics. His most recent articles have included “History, Human Rights, and Globalization” (2004); “Comparison in Religious Ethics” (2005); "Humanities and Atrocities: Some Reflections” (2005); “Comparative Ethics, a Common Morality, and Human Rights” (2005); “On Cross-Cultural Conflict and Pediatric Intervention” (2006); “Theology, Tolerance and Two Declarations of Human Rights: An Interrogrative Comparison” (in press); Confucian Ethics, Concept-Clusters, and Human Rights”(in press); “Torture, Justification, and Human Rights: Toward an Absolute Proscription” (in press); and “Can a Perpetrator Write a Testimonio? Moral Lessons from the Dark Side” (in press). He is also working on a volume of his own collected essays on comparative ethics and human rights.

In 2001-2003, he co-directed a faculty seminar on Reading Crimes against Humanity in the Humanities, and his recent courses have included, Human Rights and Globalization (undergraduate); Crimes against Humanity: Analytical Perspectives (graduate; cross-listed with the School of Criminology and the School of Social Sciences); Crimes against Humanity: Fiction, History, and Autobiography (undergraduate); Foundations of Human Rights (graduate); Comparative Religious Ethics: Theory and Method (graduate); International Health, Human Rights, and Bioethics (graduate); Comparative Ethics and Human Rights (graduate); Human Rights and Crimes against Humanity: A Multi-Disciplinary Approach (undergraduate honors); and War Crimes Tribunals (cross-listed with the Law School).

Over the course of his career, he has received a number of awards including (e.g.) Post-Doctoral Fellow of the Society for Values in Higher Education; Fellow of the Institute of Society, Ethics, and the Life-Sciences; National Endowment for the Humanities Award to co-direct a Summer Seminar for College Teachers; and a Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation Award for International Scholarly Exchange.

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.