Get to know Heidi Hadsell, former President of Hartford Seminary and Professor of Ethics. Heidi was at the founding workshop of Globethics.net in August 2004, and now acts as course contributor and instructor for the Interreligious Cooperation for Peace Course. She is also an active member of the Global Pool of Ethics Experts and the Globethics USA Foundation. Below, Nefti Bempong-Ahun, Assistant Editor/ Communications Assistant at Globethics.net in conversation with Heidi on the role of ethics in the international context and why ethics in higher education matters.
NBA: I’d love to find out a little about you first. Could you tell me about your background and how it led you to Globethics.net?
HH: My education has been in ethics and political science, but I got a PhD in Ethics and specialised in social ethics. As social ethics Professor, I’ve always looked for new resources, new conversation partners, and new ways to keep me learning and contributing to a wider conversation. I’m international and have lived and worked in many countries for many years, so one of the things that really drew me to Globethics.net was its international focus, which is a very special aspect of the organisation. Globethics.net also has the ability to construct conversations, investigations and courses about ethics spanning across nations, national, ethnic and religious identities.
NBA: Thank you, it is indeed a special organisation. Following up from international focus, you’re both course contributor and course instructor for the new course on Interreligious Cooperation for Peace, focusing on communicating cross-culturally in an international setting. I wanted to know what the process of developing this course was like, as well as your interaction and experiences with the students?
HH: Globethics.net put the course together, and the group of experts contributing to course development were selected according to the breath of expertise, but also for ethnic and religious diversity within the group. Already when teaching the course, I myself, a North American Christian taught alongside a Indian Hindu woman, which was a lot of fun. Many people who work in the international arena, and especially in aid and development related roles often stay away from religion because they think religion is divisive. Religion is often placed at the margin of the discussions and work that they are doing. However, by removing religion, they also miss the point that religious ideals, ideas and leaders are often what actually motivate the people they are working with. There’s a real challenge of matching secular orientation with religious orientation. This course, with its strong focus on interreligious cooperation was able to lift up the ways in which religious communities, as different as they may be, can work together and learn from each other and achieve common goals. I think the course is really good at highlighting the importance of religion in development work but also in other contexts.
NBA: I definitely agree that people tend do shy away from religion in their work and practice. So taking the learning’s from this course, what would you say would be the first step to build bridges and starting a dialogue?
HH: The first step is to recognise that religion is a motivator and that it does exist in social groups, and also to acknowledge that it’ll be harder to connect with others without an understanding of their religion. You have to recognise that religion is there and it’s best to learn about the religion, traditions and ideas, rather than pretend they are not there or to ignore them.
NBA: Thank you for sharing. In terms of connecting people, the course is being taught online with people from different geographic areas and religions connecting. How have you been able to translate this message online to students, whose experiences are informed and shaped by such different contexts?
HH: Every student has a different story to tell, different groups of people they are working with and of course, different experiences. Sometimes the divisiveness the students were expressing the most was actually between their own vision of what their own tradition is, and people around them who disagreed with them. It really was about the diversity within a religion or tradition, and other times more about religious traditions encountering and engaging with each other. Students are looking for tools and knowledge to participate in facilitating such dialogue. I think across the board, students were very appreciative to have religion and religious dynamic put on the table as part of the social world.
NBA: Thank you for sharing your experience with the Globethics.net Academy courses. Moving on, I wanted to ask about your wider collaboration with Globethics.net? What inspired you to become a member of the global pool of ethics experts?
HH: I think it goes back to that initial appreciation that I have for the organisation, as it was such a help to me as an ethics professor who wanted to work across ethical and religious traditions. Globethics.net was a breath of fresh of air, and really helped me to be able to work in ways that were larger, more creative and international. This experience continues, and I continue to value Globethics.net for those reasons. The Globethics.net network is incredible, and the thinking that can be done across divides inside this network is incredible. It helps each of us as individuals in our individual contexts engage in our context with educational and bibliographical resources, with online courses and experiences that enrich our teaching and writing in very important ways. It helps us engage the world in the way that it is today – global, interactive, intercommunicative and diverse. Globethics.net is up to the task of engaging not only the ethics professors but also students and practitioners as well. Another thing I haven’t emphasised enough is the commitment of Globethics.net to practitioners and to the usefulness of knowledge. There’s a common commitment to getting those ideas to practitioners who are implementing in the world.
NBA: That’s great and encouraging to hear, so thank you for those kind words. As you’ve been with Globethics.net for a while, what’s has been your most memorable activity or achievement with Globethics.net?
HH: There is too much to choose from, but one thing I really appreciate about Globethics.net is that it’s constantly evaluating its own work. There’s a feedback loop to evaluate and improve, always growing and learning. But I throw that question back to Globethics.net: what have I done to add value to Globethics.net, and therefore to the people that Globethics.net serves.
NBA: We’re definitely a learning organisation, always looking to continue growing and improving. However, from my short time here I’m well aware of the impact you’ve had on the organisation, and would like to take this opportunity to thank you for all your contributions and collaboration. Coming to my last question, as Globethics.net mandate is about integrating ethics in higher education: could you please tell us why ethics in higher education matters and also why it matters to you personally?
HH: I have served in educational institutions over many years in different capacities, as a Professor, as a Dean and as a President. In each capacity, the focus would be somewhat different as to why ethics is important. As a professor, you work with other professors and you need to know that those professors are honourable human beings who know the ethical guidelines for working in a university. This may pertain to the relationships between staff and students, reporting on grades or working together with colleagues.
There is also a guarantee to students, their parents, as well as the communities they will serve – that the institution abides by the professional rules of academia, and therefore one can know what to expect. The educational institution depends on the ethical sense of the importance of knowledge, common knowledge and the importance of truthfulness. Admin officials cannot to do their job unless this ethical sense is a widespread and internalised value, as well as public value, which everyone who works in that institution shares and perpetuates.
The reason I went into ethics in the first place is because it’s central aspect of the human being. There is always an ethical sense – can I trust what this person says, can I trust this person to do what they said they will do, do we share common values that enable us to do research together or plan together and so on. I’ve always been interested in the central role ethics play in human life, and the disasters that happen when people are not interested in being ethical human beings.
NBA: Thank you so much for answering our questions, for sharing your experiences and thoughts with us, as well as the ongoing collaboration with Globethics.net.