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James Calvin Davis

George Adams Ellis Prof of Liberal Arts; Professor of Religion

 work(802) 443-3221
 Winter Term: By appointment
 Munroe Hall 201

Please email me for Office Hours Zoom Link!

Professor Davis began teaching at Middlebury College in 2001. In 2019 he was appointed to the George Adams Ellis Chair of Liberal Arts. Previously, he served the College as Assistant Provost and then Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs, in addition to other administrative and faculty governance roles.

Davis teaches courses in Ethics and Christian Studies, with particular interest in religion, ethics, and politics in the United States. He also writes widely in theology and public ethics, with a priority on linking classical Christian texts, thinkers, and traditions to current political discourse. His latest book, American Liturgy: Finding Theological Meaning in the Holy Days of US Culture, models a liberal Reformed Christian ethics by relating theological tradition to a range of contemporary public issues like racism, patriotism, the health of the labor movement, and the state of American electoral politics. His next project looks at Revolutionary leader John Witherspoon and the Calvinist invocation of virtue as justification for political dissent in the run-up to American independence.

Davis also studies and teaches the history of higher education in the United States, specifically the historic relationship between Christianity, the liberal arts (especially the humanities), and interpretations of civic responsibility. He explores the intersection of theological ethics and higher education in a recent article, “Privilege as Moral Vice: A Christian Ethical Perspective on Socio-Economic Inequality and Higher Education in the US,” Journal for Peace and Justice Studies 29:2 (2020).

Learn more about James Calvin Davis on his website.

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.


  • American Liturgy: Finding Theological Meaning in the Holy Days of US Culture (Cascade Books, 2021);
  • Forbearance: A Theological Ethic for a Disagreeable Church (Eerdmans, 2017);
  • In Defense of Civility: How Religion Can Unite America on Seven Moral Issues that Divide Us (WJK, 2010);
  • On Religious Liberty: Selections from the Works of Roger Williams (Harvard, 2008);
  • The Moral Theology of Roger Williams (WJK, 2004).


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 Music      

The Moral of the Story: Exploring Ethics through Literature and Music
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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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, Fall 2021

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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, Fall 2021

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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. This course is part of the Public Humanities Labs Initiative administered by the Axinn Center for the Humanities.* AMR NOR PHL

Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023

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RELI 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

Winter 2019, Winter 2021

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RELI 0375 - Church and State      

Church and State
In this course we will consider the meaning and implications of the religion clauses of the First Amendment. We will begin with historical foundations in the thought of Roger Williams, William Penn, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. We then will trace the history of interpretation through Supreme Court jurisprudence on issues like school vouchers, the Pledge of Allegiance, displays of the Ten Commandments, and pandemic restrictions on religious gatherings. Finally, we will consider broader questions regarding the appropriateness of religious expression in democratic participation, primarily through the work of philosophers like John Rawls and Michael Sandel. 3 hrs. sem. AMR NOR PHL SOC

Spring 2022, Spring 2023

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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 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 2019, Spring 2021

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RELI 0500 - Independent Research      

Independent Research
(Approval Required)

Winter 2018, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Winter 2019, Spring 2019, Winter 2020, Fall 2020, Winter 2021, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Winter 2022, Spring 2022, Fall 2022, Winter 2023, Spring 2023

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RELI 0700 - Senior Project in Religion      

Senior Project
(Approval Required)

Winter 2018, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Winter 2019, Spring 2019, Winter 2020, Fall 2020, Winter 2021, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Winter 2022, Spring 2022, Fall 2022, Winter 2023, Spring 2023

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RELI 0701 - Senior Thesis in Religion      

Senior Research for Honors Candidates
Approval required

Winter 2018, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Winter 2019, Spring 2019, Winter 2020, Fall 2020, Winter 2021, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Winter 2022, Spring 2022, Fall 2022, Winter 2023, Spring 2023

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Department of Religion

Middlebury College
Middlebury, VT 05753