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James Calvin Davis

George Adams Ellis Prof of Liberal Arts; Professor of Religion

 work(802) 443-3221
 On Academic Leave
 on leave academic year

Professor Davis began teaching at Middlebury College in 2001.  He offers courses in Ethics and Christian Studies, with particular interest in religion, ethics, and public discourse in the United States.  

Currently Professor Davis is writing a book on Calvinist justifications for political dissent in the American Revolutionary period.

Primary Teaching Interests:

  • Christian history, theology, and ethics;
  • Practical ethics, both philosophical and theological, around issues like economic justice, medical ethics, and war & peace;
  • Religion in American public life;
  • American religious history (especially Christianity in the U.S.);
  • "Church-State" issues;
  • The liberal arts and the common good.


  • The Moral Theology of Roger Williams (WJK, 2004);
  • On Religious Liberty: Selections from the Works of Roger Williams (Harvard, 2008);
  • In Defense of Civility: How Religion Can Unite America on Seven Moral Issues that Divide Us (WJK, 2010);
  • Forbearance: A Theological Ethic for a Disagreeable Church (Eerdmans, 2017).



Course List: 

Courses offered in the past four years.
indicates offered in the current term
indicates offered in the upcoming term[s]

FYSE 1322 - Ethics in Literature and Film      

The Moral of the Story: Exploring Ethics through Literature and Film
Ethics is the study of how we ought to live, as individuals and in society. For millennia theologians and philosophers have constructed ethical arguments, but for much longer people have shared songs and stories to convey and contest moral values. In this course we will study selected English-language novels, poems, and music as moral expressions. We will explore the ethical issues they raise, including considerations of what it means to be human, what justice demands, and how we should balance individual freedom and social duty. Works we will examine include Shelley’s Frankenstein, Asimov’s I, Robot, and the African-American spiritual tradition. 3 hrs. sem. CW PHL

Fall 2020

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FYSE 1506 - College and the Common Good      

College and the Common Good
Why attend a liberal arts college? The traditional purpose of a liberal arts education is the cultivation of virtuous citizens. In this seminar we will identify virtues necessary for democratic citizenship and ask how the arts and sciences can help develop them. We will explore ways in which residence on a liberal arts campus provides opportunity to practice civic virtue, shaping how we think about aspects of college life like distribution requirements, the Honor Code, internships, and financial aid. Finally, we will consider how these virtues prepare us for lifelong investment in the common good by examining the relevance of liberal learning to a range of contemporary social issues. CW PHL

Fall 2017

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RELI 0130 - The Global Christian Tradition      

The Global Christian Tradition
In this course we will study the historical development and current presence of Christianity in various regions of the world. Beginning with its origins in the Middle East, we will trace the growth and evolution of this complex tradition in the Mediterranean, Africa, western Europe, the Americas, and East Asia. Along the way, we will encounter important Christian thinkers, discover different schools of belief and practice, and focus on foundational theological themes, like the divinity of Christ, the function and authority of the church, Christian-Jewish relations, and religious perspectives on gender, race, politics, and modernity. 3 hrs. lect./disc. CMP HIS PHL

Fall 2020

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RELI 0190 - Ethics & Abrahamic Religion      

Ethics and Abrahamic Religion ET, WT
Ethics is the study of the values and convictions by which individuals and communities determine what is right, wrong, good, and bad. For many, religion is a lens through which to understand those moral values. In this course we will explore the varied contributions that Christianity, Judaism, and Islam have made to debates over issues like violence, sex, the environment, human rights, and social justice. In the process of understanding these traditions and their impact on global moral discourse, students also will develop skills in ethical reasoning through class discussion and from the perspective of their own worldviews. 3 hrs. lect., 1 hr. disc. PHL

Spring 2016

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RELI 0230 - Christian Ethics      

Christian Ethics
In this course we will encounter a range of moral perspectives that adherents to the Christian tradition may hold on issues such as human rights, social justice, politics, violence, sex, the environment, and the beginning and end of life. Through readings by contemporary Christian thinkers, we will explore the diversity within this religious tradition, as well as consider the impact that theological moral reasoning has on public discourse in the United States. In the process of studying Christian ethics, students also will develop skills in moral reasoning from the perspective of their own worldviews. 3 hrs lect. AMR NOR PHL

Fall 2018

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RELI 0293 - Health Care Ethics      

Ethics in Health Care
This course is an introduction to the principles, virtues, and other moral norms that guide decision-making in health care. We will focus on moral values accepted by Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and humanistic traditions, and embedded in a liberal, pluralistic society. Popular films and numerous case studies will provide students an opportunity to develop skills in moral reasoning, in conversation with these intellectual traditions. The health care issues we will consider include expectations for patient-physician relationships, research on human subjects, euthanasia and assisted suicide, abortion, assisted reproduction, genetic information, and access to health care resources. 3 hrs. lect./disc. AMR NOR PHL

Spring 2017

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RELI 0298 / INTD 0298 - Privilege and Poverty      

Privilege and Poverty: The Ethics of Economic Inequality
In this course we will study the ethical implications of domestic and global economic inequality. Drawing from history, economics, sociology, philosophy, theology, and other disciplines, we will examine the causes and consequences of inequality, critically evaluate our usage of the terms “privilege” and “poverty,” and consider the range of moral responses individuals and society might have to inequality. We will ask whether it is unfair, unfortunate, or necessary that some citizens live with significantly less material wealth than others, and whether those who experience “privilege” have any moral responsibility to those who exist in “poverty.” 3 hrs. lect./1 hr. disc. PHL SOC

Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Winter 2019

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RELI 0376 - Religion and American Politics      

Religion and American Politics
Does religion belong in politics? Should religious reasons be permitted in public political debate? Should candidates for office publicly declare their religious beliefs? Are orthodox Christianity, Judaism, and Islam fundamentally incompatible with democratic principles? This course examines these and similar questions regarding the relationship between religion and American democracy. We will study the role religion does in fact play in American politics, but primarily we will ask what role, if any, religion should play in politics. We will consider this last question by consulting a number of important contemporary political philosophers and theologians. (One of the following courses: RELI 0190, RELI 0275, RELI 0293, PSCI 0101, PSCI 0102, PSCI 0104, PSCI 0107, or any course in Philosophy) 3 hrs. sem. AMR NOR PHL SOC

Spring 2018

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RELI 0396 - War/Peace/Christian America      

War, Peace, and Christian America ET, WT
Many Christians have argued that war is morally justifiable in certain circumstances, while others have maintained that killing of any kind, even in the name of the state, is wrong. In this seminar we will examine the theological roots of pacifist, just-war, and crusader perspectives, and then consider how Christian interpretations of political violence have been used to support or dissent from American armed conflicts, from the Revolutionary War to the War in Iraq. Throughout the course, we will ask how American views on war have been shaped by the persistent interpretation of the U.S. as a “Christian nation.” (RELI 0130 or RELI 0190 or RELI 0230) 3 hrs. sem. HIS PHL

Spring 2016

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RELI 0398 - Christianity & Social Justice      

Christianity and Social Justice in the U.S.
Religious communities and organizations have contributed significantly to moral and social reform movements throughout U.S. history. In this course we will study Christianity’s involvement in these social justice movements, critically examining the theologies that inspired both reform and resistance to social change. From the colonial period to the present, Christianity has helped shape the discourse around issues like economic justice, racial equality, women’s rights, immigration, environmentalism, and LGBTQ rights. Throughout the course, we will consider the impact Christianity may have had—positive and negative—on struggles for social justice in the United States. (RELI 0130 or RELI 0190, RELI 0230 or RELI 0298) 3 hrs. sem. AMR HIS NOR PHL

Spring 2017, Spring 2019

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RELI 0500 - Independent Research      

Independent Research
(Approval Required)

Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Winter 2017, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Winter 2018, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Winter 2019, Spring 2019, Winter 2020, Fall 2020, Spring 2021

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RELI 0700 - Senior Project in Religion      

Senior Project
(Approval Required)

Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Winter 2017, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Winter 2018, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Winter 2019, Spring 2019, Winter 2020, Fall 2020, Spring 2021

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RELI 0701 - Senior Thesis in Religion      

Senior Research for Honors Candidates
Approval required

Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Winter 2017, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Winter 2018, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Winter 2019, Spring 2019, Winter 2020, Fall 2020, Spring 2021

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Department of Religion

Middlebury College
Middlebury, VT 05753