THE2023 - Military Ethics in Christian Perspective

2017/8 Module description

StaffDr Esther Reed - Lecturer
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level5
Duration of Module

Module description

The challenge of peace-making is as demanding as ever in today’s world. Global power dynamics are changing. Military technology continues to develop, and defence forces are being reconfigured to tackle new threats. Against this fast-changing backdrop, the module asks how the discipline of Christian ethics might understand the calling to follow Christ, the Prince of Peace, how Christian ethics engage political and public debate about peace-making, armed conflict, the definition and conduct of war, and think with military personnel about the shape and character of military ethics.


Students from disciplines other than Theology and Religion are potentially suitable for this flexible and cross-disciplinary module.

Module aims

This module aims

  1. to consider military ethics as a sub-set of professional ethics, i.e., in service to personnel striving to conduct the tasks required of their profession in accordance with the duties and professed standards of their role;
  2. to offer an introduction to classical, theological traditions of just war reasoning, modern humanist variants, new applications and challenges to established modes of ethical and moral reasoning. Are ‘just war’ traditions exhausted?;
  3. to investigate some of the most pressing challenges in military ethics today, including definitions of ‘war’, the changing character of warfare, when cyber attacks count as warfare, the ethical challenges for military ethics posed by complex counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism action; the relevance of just war traditions for counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism; military ethics in an age of unmanned weapons, and more;
  4. to test the thesis that the question for contemporary military ethics is not whether it is necessary to engage constructively with just war traditions of reasoning, but how to do so.

Many related topics could be studied, e.g., the morality of aid in warfare, prospects for dialogue about ‘just war’ across major world faith traditions, whether Jesus’ radical message of peace and love is compatible with violent coercion by governments, torture, ethical decision-making ‘in theatre’, military standards of conduct, Christian realism, international obligations to refugees fleeing conflict, and more. The module tutor will endeavour to support student plans to write on topics not covered specifically in class, but this must be negotiated with her specifically.


If possible, please purchase a copy of David Kinsella and Craig L. Carr, The Morality of War: A Reader. Some of our class sessions will simply comprise reading portions of texts together.


ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Give an historically-informed account of ‘just war’ traditions of reasoning
  • 2. Engage theologically and otherwise with questions about when and why war is justified; how, morally speaking, wars should be fought; how technological advances, insurgency and terrorism are presenting new challenges to military ethics';
  • 3. Analyse and evaluate the arguments of a range of significant theorists in the field
  • 4. Test the thesis that the question for contemporary military ethics is not whether it is necessary to engage constructively with just war traditions of reasoning, but how to do so

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 5. Attend to, reproduce accurately, and reflect on the ideas and arguments of a major theologians and other theorists with fairness and integrity, and to express, as appropriate, their own views about military ethics today denigration of the views of others
  • 6. Communicate information, ideas, arguments, principles and theories, in appropriate oral form
  • 7. Communicate effectively in appropriate written form, including the presentation of word-processed work, and in use of email
  • 8. Acquire different kinds of relevant information from a variety of sources including lectures, books, journals, and on-line resources, in order to inform research and enhance presentations
  • 9. Manage, analyse, and critically evaluate large amounts of information, including the ability to compile bibliographies
  • 10. Work creatively in applying knowledge, understanding and skills to new problems
  • 11. Present and sustain a well-structured and reasoned line of argument
  • 12. Show critical self-awareness about one's own beliefs, commitments and prejudices

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 13. Communicate effectively with peers and members of the teaching staff in oral form. Particular opportunity for developing communication skills will be provided in the 'presentation' and 'seminar' sessions
  • 14. Communicate effectively in written form
  • 15. Exercise substantial autonomy in the management of their own learning
  • 16. Exercise judgement based on awareness of key issues in the area
  • 17. Work effectively with others as reflective practitioners in peer relationships

Syllabus plan

This Syllabus Plan is indicative not definitive.


  • ‘Just War’ Tradition(s)

  • Are ‘Just War’ Traditions Exhausted?

  • What is ‘War’?

  • Technology and War

  • Moral Injury in War

  • Non-combatant Immunity given Al Quaeda and Isis Tactics

  • Military Chaplaincy Today

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
11 x 2 hrs seminar22Seminar
1 x 2hrs presentation session2Student presentations to group
Day conference5Details TBH
At least two 1-2-1 tutorial slots1Tutorial

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Presentations will be formative10 minutes1-13, especially 13, 15 and 16Oral feedback from class tutor

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay504000 words1-12,14-16 1-2-1 feedback from tutor on essay plan in tutorial, plus essay feedback sheet
Exam 502 hours1-12,14-16

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Required reading: Oliver O'Donovan, The Just War Revisited (Cambridge University Press, 2003)

James Turner Johnson and Eric D. Patterson, Eds., The Ashgate Research Companion to Military Ethics (Ashgate, 2015) online

Gregory M. Reichberg, Religion, War, and Ethics: A Sourcebook of Textual Traditions (CUP, 2014) online

Heinz-Gerhard Justenhoven, From Just War to Modern Peace Ethics (De Gruyter, 2012)

John Mattox, St Augustine and the Theory of Just War (Continuum, 2008)

Stanley Hauerwas, Against the Nations: War and Survival in a Liberal Society (University of Notre Dame Press, 1992)

Julian Lindley-French and Yves Boyer, Eds, The Oxford Handbook of War (Oxford University Press, 2012)

John XIII, Pacem in Terris (1963); John Paul II, Centesimus Annus (1991) and many annual letters on the World Day of Peace; Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate (2009)

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

The King’s College London Centre for Military Ethics has a very useful website. Please refer to it frequently

See also the World Council of Churches website on Promoting Just Peace and, of course, the many Vatican website pages devoted to this topic.

Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Key words search

Military ethics, just war, peace, cyber attacks, chaplaincy

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