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Democracy and Disagreement

If the 2016 U.S. presidential election taught us anything, it is that there may be no limit to the degree of disagreement possible within a democracy. As diversity of perspectives is a hallmark of democracy, such disagreement is both natural and understandable. Yet how we respond to these divisions can have significant implications for the stability of public order, civil society and even our personal relationships. In this course, Elizabeth Barre, Ph.D., will help participants consider their obligations as citizens in the midst of deep disagreement. By exploring various psychological, anthropological and philosophical accounts of disagreement, participants will better understand their own ethical commitments, the commitments of those who disagree with them, and what these disagreements mean for how we should organize our collective lives together. The course will include lectures and discussion. It will also offer insights on conducting effective, respectful disagreement but will not focus on in-class practice of these skills.

Co-Sponsors: Rice University Department of Philosophy; Rice University Department of Religion

Topics will include the following:

  • Natural theories of disagreement (philosophical, biological and psychological)
  • Cultural theories of disagreement (anthropological and sociological)
  • Disagreement, truth and ethical relativism
  • Disagreement and democracy (political theories to resolve and respond to ethical disagreements in public life)
  • Disagreement and citizenship: How to incorporate respect and civility — two key virtues of democratic deliberation — into our collective conversations about the good


Elizabeth Barre, Ph.D., is the assistant director of the Center for Teaching Excellence and an affiliate professor in the Department of Religion at Rice University. Trained as a comparative ethicist, her research uses contemporary western political philosophy to engage Catholic and Muslim arguments about legal tolerance within morally and religiously diverse societies. She taught an extended version of this course to Rice undergraduates in the fall of 2016.

Course Details

Democracy and Disagreement
  • Elizabeth Barre, Ph.D.
Register Now
Five meetings
March 1-29
Day of the Week
Course Format
0.75 CEUs
Time of Day
7-8:30 p.m.
Tuition Fee
If registering by February 15: $165
After February 15: $175
For Rice alumni: $158
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