The world at war; what drives people to choose evil

September 29, 2014

One of the leading scholars of the Old Testament in the world will discuss the biblical and early Jewish perspectives on moral agency, the individual’s ability to make moral judgments, and draw some modern day parallels at a series of lectures hosted by Murdoch University.

Charles Howard Candler Professor of Old Testament at the Candler School of Theology in the USA, Professor Carol Newsom has been invited as this year’s International Theologian at the Murdoch University Theology Program.

Professor Newsom says that recent research into cross-cultural moral values has shown that even though there appears to be significantly different moral values across cultures, there are only a limited number of moral foundations upon which these values are built.

“The differences arise when some of these moral values are seen as more important than others,” said Professor Newsom.

Emphasising different moral foundations not only happens between cultures but within cultures. Conservatives and liberals have different emphases for example.”

Professor Newman says that in developed Western nations we tend to value ‘care not harm’ and ‘fairness’ as basic moral principles and not emphasise ‘sacredness,’ otherwise referred to as faith or spirituality.

“But sometimes something happens, like the beheadings by ISIS/ISIL, that causes us to realise that we do have a moral sense of the sacred,” Professor Newsom said.

“Almost all human societies treat the human body as sacred. This is why we care for corpses. They can no longer be harmed. How we care for them isn’t a matter of fairness or unfairness. But we treat bodies as having an innate sacredness to them, and it is simply wrong to treat them with disrespect.

“This is why, I think, there has been such outrage at the beheadings.

“Killing these individuals was wrong—they should not have been harmed; it was unfair to kill journalists who were not spies. But the outrage that they were beheaded, not just shot, points to something more.

“Their bodies were sacred and should not have been desecrated through the act of beheading.”

Professor Newsom says being more aware of how the different cultural moral foundations operate,  helps us have a better sense of what our moral worlds consist of and how we want to develop as individuals to embody those values.

Murdoch University International Theologian Program Lecture Series:

Doing Good, Doing Evil: Biblical and Early Jewish Perspectives on Moral Agency

Choose you this day: but if free choice, why so many bad choices?

Wednesday October 8, 6.30pm – 8pm

The devil made me do it! Moral agency in the light of demonic power

Monday October 13, 6.30pm – 8pm

Hearts of stone and evil inclinations: The moral agency against itself.

Wednesday October 15, 6.30pm – 8pm

Lectures will be held in Kim E Beazley Lecture Theatre, Murdoch University, 90 South Street Murdoch. Free parking is available in carpark 3.  RSVP essential by Thursday October 2 to or 9360 6176.


Dr Carol Newsom is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Old Testament and Director of the Graduate Division of Religion at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, USA.

She has a Masters in Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School and a PhD from Harvard University.  She has three honorary doctorates from Birmington-Southern College, Virginia Theological Seminary and the University of Copenhagan.  Additionally, Dr Newsom was a President of the Society of Biblical Literature.

Dr Newsom has been a member of the international team of translators of the Dead Sea Scrolls since the mid 1980s and is working on a new book; Constructing the Moral Self: Moral Agency in Biblical and Early Jewish Thought.

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