What a society counts as moral or immoral is subject to the particular zeitgeist—the spirit of the times. “At the time of the slave trade, for example, most people who were slave owners thought it was moral. Even a few blacks, once they were freed, had slaves,” explains Sharon Welch, Professor of Religious Studies. As a social ethicist, Welch researches not just the way individuals make moral choices, but how a whole society begins to decide “what counts as moral.” To that effect, all of her projects coalesce around such issues of social morality.
Humanities-related research involves studying the work of other scholars (e.g., philosophy and comparative religious ethics) and then synthesizing those ideas. For example, Welch has taken up the challenge to dominant ethics by Native American and Engaged Buddhist philosophers. Using certain techniques like interactive theatre in the classroom, she is applying qualitative measures to determine the effect of these pedagogical techniques. So far she has learned that these interactive theatre experiences can really change the way many students see the world around them.