Course: Sexual Ethics


Sexuality is sacred. 

Sexual Ethics, with Megan Dowdell, is an intensive course that examines the role of sexual health for faith communities and their leaders.

It is offered through Starr King School for the Ministry, a member school of the Graduate Theological Union.

sexual-ethicsStudents engage key theological, ethical, and public health perspectives on themes in sexual ethics, including:

  • sexual freedom and responsibility
  • pleasure and desire
  • relationships
  • meaningful consent
  • power
  • prophetic witness for sexual justice

The course serves two purposes for graduate students: it provides a rigorous and supportive academic environment to explore these themes and relevant questions through deep reflection and the co-creation of knowledge. Also, for those students pursuing professional forms of ministry and religious leadership, it is an opportunity to develop and demonstrate their competency in professional clergy sexual ethics and promoting sexually healthy congregations.

Particular emphasis is paid to multi-religious, queer, and womanist/feminist voices on sexuality and faith. This dedication is integrated throughout the course instruction and reflected in the selected readings, forms of dialogue, and pathways to learning provided. Students will not be required to have prior experience in ethics, theology, or philosophy, but those entering without formal preparation in ethics or sociology will need to complete brief introductory reading in addition to the readings and written assignments required for the first day of the seminar. A final project will be announced and turned into the instructor at an assigned date/time.

The general structure is a week-long seminar that meets Monday through Friday from 9:00am to 5:00pm, with ample time provided for nourishing food, spiritual practices, breaks, and solo study time. Students who expect to successfully complete the course should not plan to miss any sessions during the week. Also, they can expect to spend up to three hours on (at least two) weekday evenings, completing additional reading or assignments, possibly in a small group.

Educating Religious Leaders

Megan is the visiting assistant professor of ethics and society at Starr King School for the Ministry, a member school of the Graduate Theological Union, where she has taught since 2009.

She offers a warm introduction to academically rigorous material and real-world applications of new knowledge and skills.

Megan’s pedagogical style is responsive to feminist, queer, and liberatory methods. She embraces student input and self-reflection, wishing to help religious leaders to develop embodied, critical perspectives on issues that span multiple viewpoints, contexts, and concerns. She uses dialogue, multimedia, and case study analysis to cultivate shared meaning that “sticks” with you — take what you learn in the classroom into your professional life and communities.

Courses Taught, 2009-2016

Introduction to Thea/ological Ethics

Community Intern Integrative Seminar

Health Ethics

Sexual Ethics

Dynamic Youth Ministry

Resilience & Resistance

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Course: Health Ethics

January 2016. Health and medicine lie at the intersection of thea/ologies, morals, and our bodies. This course draws from theological, philosophical, and sociological perspectives to examine the foundations of bioethics and the complexities of health, illness and health care. Through analyzing ethical principles, moral questions and clinical cases, the course will address key issues in bioethics, such as death and dying, access to health care, medical research, reproductive justice, and social movements for health. Special attention will be paid to cutting edge discussions of social determinants of health and the perspectives of historically marginalized communities. Through this interactive course that maximizes the use of exciting web and multimedia resources, religious leaders and scholars will equip themselves with the biopolitical knowledge and skills to reflect on the sacred–and the controversial–with their faith communities.

A live, in-person or web-based, seminar, in which we:

  • center the perspectives of historically marginalized people;
  • disrupt the boundaries of ethics and ministry;
  • redefine and define again the multiple terms of “life or death” issues;
  • build supportive community of religious leaders concerned about health, illness, and bodies
  • connect bioethics to public ministry, social movements for health, and what we value

This course is offered through Starr King School for the Ministry, a member school of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California.

Course: Counter-Oppressive Sociologies

Fall 2015. Rich sociological traditions offer tools and knowledge for dismantling systems of oppression, creating social change, and building just faith communities. This online course offers an introduction to the critical analysis of social behavior, organization, and institutions for faith leaders and religion scholars. Students engage foundational texts and empirical research relevant to human experience as well as religious tradition, in order to develop theoretical and substantive bodies of knowledge as well as interpretive skills. Focus areas include feminist theory, affect, postcolonial thought, biopower, social movements, and critical race theories, among others. In each weekly unit, central questions address the nature of human action; the role of State power and ideology; notions of self, “other,” and agency; and systemic oppression and social change. The course requires weekly on-line discussion and frequent live video sessions. Students complete a final project by producing a photo essay as part of an online exhibit.

My Teaching Philosophy

I am a feminist doing interdisciplinary work in ethics and sociology in undergraduate and graduate education, as well as community and congregational settings.

My objective is to provide public, pastoral and collaborative teaching that ultimately promotes the health and wholeness of communities and vulnerable populations.

I guide students in responding to womanist/Black feminist challenges to traditional or well-represented scholarship and using intersectional methods to address real-world ethical and social problems. #blacklivesmatter

I am inspired by my personal experiences, relationships and observations, which keep me grounded and hold me accountable to anti-racist, feminist methodologies, pedagogies, and community organizing.

I bring an enthusiasm about the relationships between congregational life, ministry-activism and academic scholarship to my teaching ministry.

Pedogogical Framework

I value structure and freedom equally in my approach to course design and classroom management: providing safe containers for critical engagement with scholarship, and the opportunity to cultivate knowledge that spills out onto the streets.

I value rigorous academic work and inviting joy in the research and writing process.

I believe the classroom (on-line or residential) is an opportunity for mutual appreciation, serious inquiry, and application of theoretical and substantive material to professional and ministerial contexts.

I encourage further academic study to reward one’s passions and develop engaged scholarship that contributes to emerging and ongoing dialogues about important moral and societal issues.

My courses invite:

  • Praxis – rigorous reflection and action that takes place within the classroom as well as in coalition building among students and groups/individuals outside of the academy walls;
  • Co-learning and Peer support – built-in opportunities for collaborative work among students and an environment of collegial support for writing, research and leadership;
  • Marginalized voices – including voices other than those of the instructors, seeking out sources that are excluded from and challenge traditional/overly represented scholarship;
  • Historical consciousness – teaching and learning takes place in a socio-historical context, in which courses are building blocks toward lifelong learning goals, resting on shoulders of other teachers, ancestors and traditions;
  • Rigorous, counter-oppressive research – intellectual work that is accessible, anti-racist, anti-oppressive and liberatory is necessary to create/sustain just communities.

Beyond Interdisciplinary – Interstitial

I often teach through an interstitial lens, exploring the “negative” and “unexplored” space among disciplines and areas of academic and professional interests.  I recognize the need for education to violate traditional norms in order to find the place where students might come together to produce knowledge that adequately responds to issues of justice and care.

Course: Resilience & Resistance

Learn ethics to counter oppression and design strategies to sustain your ministry/activism. This course was offered at Starr King School for the Ministry, a member school of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California.

This intensive seminar roots itself in the dialectic between resistance and resilience of communities and congregations in a world where survival requires than bouncing back from crises and adversity. Geared particularly toward MDiv and MASC students, this course places life stressors, safety and health in the context of oppression, white supremacy and social movements. Through rigorous study, dialogue and spiritual reflection, students will understand the historical and cultural dynamics of stress and resilience, identify contextual factors and healthy strategies, and promote cultures of resistance in their ministries and activism.