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Karen Chaney, Ph.D.

Dean of Faculty; Chair, Liberal Arts Core Curriculum; Assistant Professor of Religious Studies and Ethics

Professor Karen Chaney teaches in the areas of religious studies, ethics and philosophy, as well as serving as dean of faculty and director of the liberal arts core program. She has a long-standing commitment to liberal arts education as a means for deepening our awareness of the human experience and for enriching our lives.

Chaney attended Michigan State University, studying political philosophy at James Madison College and the Honors College. Since her years at MSU, she has maintained an interest in the evolution of classical liberal thought from its eighteenth century European origins to today’s concepts of global human rights: What constitutes a “human right” and why? Do human rights vary from culture to culture? Can rights exist outside of a framework of common understanding and, most importantly, without a means of enforcement? Do the different life experiences of men and women result in different understandings of human rights and their scope? Her doctoral work in social ethics at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, examined concepts of global justice in debates regarding agricultural protectionism at the World Trade Organization. She served as a fellow at the Center for Ethics and Social Policy, and has had an active interest in global politics and economics, particularly in the region of Latin America. She has traveled in Argentina, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Spain.

Along with interests in political theory and ethics, Chaney has had a lifelong engagement with religious studies and religious leadership.  She completed a Master of Divinity degree at Harvard University, with a focus on women’s studies in religion and professional training in the ministry. She was instrumental in developing Olivet College’s current religious studies, ethics and philosophy curriculum, through which students are able to earn a minor in religious studies and ethics. She is directing efforts on campus to develop a center for vocational and spiritual exploration, providing a space to encourage the spiritual development of students and providing opportunities for vocational reflection and growth.  She particularly enjoys teaching world religions, providing students with a greater awareness of the ways in which spirituality is expressed in different religious traditions and cultures.

Chaney teaches courses in biomedical ethics; philosophy; world religions; gender, sexuality and religion; and Christian history. Her research interests include the relationship between social mobility and shifting frameworks of ethical obligation. She has mentored students in presentations for the Michigan Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters annual conference, and has worked with students on independent projects in environmental ethics, social and political reconciliation, and the comparative study of religion. She encourages interested students to continue their studies in graduate or professional school, as well as to study abroad if possible in order to experience the complexities of other cultures. 

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