HDS 2806

Eye Contact, Ethics and Interbeing

Kaia Stern


What does it mean to look directly into someone's eyes? Why, despite cultural variables in meaning, is it that eye contact between humans is so powerful that two people rarely gaze into each other's eyes without speech for more than ten seconds unless they are lovers or preparing for violence? Do we experience communion when we make eye contact? Alienation? The face of God? Why do we so often turn away from suffering? Eye Contact, Ethics and Interbeing engages applied ethics, constructive and practical theology, developmental psychology, moral philosophy, neuroscience and Buddhist precepts of "interbeing" to ask fundamental questions about what it means to be in relationship with other and self. Specifically, our attention to eye contact will raise such questions as what we mean by "human," how we determine who we see as "other," how we define "God," and how human rights violations from torture to poverty follow from our definitions. We will study the violence of wrong seeing (assimilating, domesticating others) and the legacy of not seeing (dehumanizing others). We will also consider how the act of making eye contact complicates the simple dichotomy of self/other, whether it can be experienced as the praxis of God, and whether it is a covenant of sorts that reflects imago dei. The course draws from scriptural, academic, media, and narrative sources to give particular attention to an ethical theory of "the gaze". Readings include, among others: Martin Buber, Judith Butler, Thich Nhat Hanh, Emmanuel Levinas, and Simone Weil.

Enrollment Limited: Limited to 11 students. Instructor's permission required.
Open to BTI Students: Yes


0.50 credits
Spring 2013
Fri 10am-12pm
Rockefeller Hall Room 116

Relationship to Program Requirements

Program Requirement Area / Category / Art / Designation
MTS Area(s) of Focus
  • Buddhist Studies
  • Comparative Studies
  • Religion, Ethics, and Politics
  • Religion and the Social Sciences
MDiv Distribution Category/ies
  • Non-Tradition Specific
MDiv Art(s) of Ministry
  • Pastoral Care and Counseling
  • Public Leadership, Community Organizing, and Planning
  • Religious Education and Spiritual Development
Language Course Designation(s) None