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In Memoriam: Dr. Hans Küng

April 8, 2021

Image Source: UNED Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia

Dr. Hans Küng (b. 1928), the principal author of the Parliament’s signature document, “Towards a Global Ethic,” died April 6, but his capacious spirit captured so clearly in that document, lives on as a gift to humanity.

A widely respected Catholic theologian with several acclaimed works to his name, he decided, in the 1980s to reach beyond his own tradition and learn about the world’s other major religions. To educate himself, he carried out rigorous research and engaged in conversation with colleagues and religious leaders from around the world. Brokenhearted over the religion-driven violence and wars that afflict people everywhere, he used his international platform to call for a global ethic or ethos—a global way of life conducive to peace. While human rights are secured by treaties and other agreements between nations, and laws are enforced through the power of the state, a moral code requires awareness and individual decision to respect its directives.

Based on his extensive knowledge, Dr. Küng realized that although many, perhaps even most, people ignore or transgress them, several basic ethical principles exist at the core of the world’s traditions, whether they are religious, spiritual, or secular. The religions clearly do not share key beliefs or worldviews, but they agree on key tenets like the Golden Rule and the value of human life.

In the early 1990s, the Parliament’s then leaders, responding to Dr. Küng’s call for a global ethic, asked him to set down the moral norms that people, religious or not, hold in common. Interested in the perspectives of others, he sought out the opinions of over a hundred of his students, colleagues, and fellow religious leaders. The Parliament’s leaders also consulted over a hundred additional experts and, in the spirit of collaboration for which he was known, Dr. Küng also integrated their input into the document we have today.

Though Dr. Hans Küng is no longer with us, he has left us a peerless expression of the world’s shared commitments to a culture of respect for life, economic justice, truth and compassion, and women’s rights. More recently, in 2017-18, he participated in the Parliament’s work to add another commitment, hinted at on the original publication of Towards a Global Ethic but not fully developed—to a culture of care for the Earth.

In his honor, we invite you to familiarize yourself with his monumental legacy by reading “Towards a Global Ethic,” reflecting on it, and sharing it widely.