Leader Guide | Justice Module 1 | Why Justice?

Session Objectives

  1. To identify justice issues in the world and the academy
  2. To reflect on the salience of justice in our scholarship


Wolterstorff: Theology Brief Preview on Justice and Rights [10 minutes to read]


Implicitly and explicitly, justice and rights are on the agendas of party politics and policy-making around the globe. Injustice and rights abuses animate the traditional and social media and bring crowds into the streets on every continent. Many notable international organizations, including the United Nations, orient their programs towards foundational civil and legal rights and economic and social justice, among others. University students frequently are at the forefront of calls for justice and rights in both the wider world and in academic institutions. Yet many churches and many Christians too often are mute or underplay the centrality of justice and rights to the Christian faith.

By contrast, philosopher-theologian Nicholas Wolterstorff writes that justice is fundamental in Christian scripture: God’s love of justice recurs repeatedly in the Old Testament, and it is integral to the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles. Justice should be seen, he says, as an essential part of the good and moral life of individuals and communities. Further, there are questions every scholar might ask about the salience of justice and rights for her or his own research and scholarship and for the character of the academic institutions in which we serve.


Q1: In the present or past, are there issues of justice and injustice, rights and abuses, that you find particularly moving/salient? Drawing on your area of expertise, what are likely to be the dominant issues in the future?

Leader prompts:

  • Past – child poverty, dispossession, colonialism, environmental degradation, subjugation of women, slavery and racial discrimination, deprivation, genocide, lack of food and shelter, child labor.
  • Present – corruption, crimes against humanity, deforestation, disasters, displaced persons, market failure, racial injustice, pandemics, pollution, poverty, sexual and gender degradation, gender inequality in the workplace (gender-pay gap).

Q2: Nicholas Wolterstorff is the Noah Porter Professor Emeritus of Philosophical Theology at Yale University, a world-renowned Christian philosopher whose wide-ranging work has had a major impact on both the academy and the church. His autobiography, In This World of Wonders, reveals that he came relatively late to the issue of justice. He describes his encounter in South Africa with the injustice of apartheid and later his growing involvement with the plight of Palestinians under Israel’s occupation. Have you personally experienced a growing or sudden awareness of rights or justice issues in your life? Do you know of other Christian scholars who have awakened to the importance of justice and rights issues?

Leader prompts:

  • For growing and sudden awareness of rights and justice issues: armed conflicts like the Ukraine War and the Sudan conflict in 2022-23, which have displaced many civilians who bear heavy costs from conflict.
  • For the work of Christian scholars on justice and rights: Day on the distribution of Covid-19 vaccination and the obligation to provide development aid (vaccination nationalism, Day), Hastings on space communications and internet accessibility (internet accessibility, Hastings), Hays on displacement of people in Colombia’s civil conflict (internal displacement, Hays).

Q3: Wolterstorff writes that because justice is fundamental in Christian scripture, there are questions every scholar must ask about the salience of justice and rights for our own research and scholarship and for the character of the academic institutions in which we serve. More than 50 GFI academics, in fields as diverse as urban planning, engineering, the humanities and fine arts, medicine and law, and social, biological and natural sciences, among others, agree with Wolterstorff. They find connections between this powerful biblical theme, and millennia of reflections on it in church history, in their fields of scholarship and indeed in their current scholarly work. Is justice an implicit or explicit issue salient to your scholarly field?

Leader prompts:

history (Atlantic slave trade, Coffey); international relations (atrocity accountability, Jacob); medicine (psychiatric therapy, Peteet); public policy (internal displacement, Hays); architecture (disaster zones, Davis); biology (bioethics, Hardin); sociolinguistics (language discrimination, Bell); sociology (international law, Halliday); law (rape and sexual injustice, High); pure science (the worth and dignity of God’s creation, Hutchinson); public health (the right to be as healthy as possible, VanderWeele); economics and climate change (climate justice, Hay and Menzies).

Q4: Do you see issues of justice and rights in your university setting and/or the collegial institutions, such as academic societies, scholarly publishing and grant-making?

Leader prompts:

Q5: Can you identify justice and rights issues that arise in the impact of your scholarship, or that of others, in the wider world?

Leader prompts:

In Depth

Direct links to the rich collection of extracts by GFI scholars

Three reasons Christians should widen their justice horizons [Day | Law | Australian National U]

Why questions of justice and rights should motivate Christian scholars [ Temple | Philosophy | Bakke Graduate U]

Justice in work, public finance, economic security [Sloman | Politics | U of Cambridge]

Challenges to academic publishing in the Global South [Samararatne | Law | U of Melbourne and U of Colombo]

Recognizing traditional knowledge [Gomez | Human Sciences | U of Rosario ]

Post-colonial residues of unjust linguistic ideologies [Bell | Language | Auckland U of Technology and Laidlaw College]

Black Lives Matter and the history of racial injustice in the US [Coffey | History | U of Leicester]

How wealthy western nations should care for refugees and the displaced [Glanville | International Relations | Australian National U]