Moral Compass Conference: The search for moral common ground
Can we still have meaningful conversations about matters of morality? Is there a shared moral language between representatives of opposing positions? And what are the prospects of finding shared values? Join our conference.
Conference in brief
March 2022
buy your tickets now
keynote speakers
of international renoun
inspiring locations
in the heart of the Netherlands

Join us

Is there a shared ‘moral compass’ that could guide conversations about morality? Does moral common ground exist in a world with so many different religions and ideologies? If we do find each other in shared ideas about matters of morality, is this only on an abstract level, such as an abstract idea of human rights? Is it mostly on a practical level, such as the consensus about the need for accessible health care or freedom of speech? Or on all of these levels? How do we balance our search for a shared moral framework while taking into consideration the particularity of people’s moral frameworks? What are the role, the importance and the limitations of religion and theological reflection in these matters?


The Moral Compass Project of the Protestant Theological University invites academics in the fields of theology, religious studies, and philosophy, as well as sociology and anthropology, to join us in exploring such (meta-)ethical questions in the conference The search for moral common ground. In particular, we are interested in contributions on the following three subthemes.

  • Subtheme 1: Empirical research with regard to the topic of moral common ground

    Keynote speakers and paper presenters will explore what empirical research may contribute to addressing moral diversity and exploring moral common ground. This will shed light on the relevance of the results of such research for further issues pertaining to the topic of moral common ground - viz. the attainability and desirability of moral common ground, how to increase convergence on pertinent moral issues, how to further such convergence while remaining sensitive to deep (cultural) differences, and so forth. Among the questions that will be explored, are:

    • Which moral values are shared by people living in different (specific) cultures?
    • How deep is moral diversity, both intraculturally and interculturally?
    • What are important causes of polarization with regard to morality?
    • Moreover, what is the de facto role of religion both in fostering as well as in bridging moral diversity?
    • How relativistic are we with regard to morality? Is moral relativism declining or on the rise, both in our own culture, and worldwide?   
  • Subtheme 2: A shared moral compass?

    We will discuss the concept of a moral compass and the question of to what extent it can be thought of as shared. Questions to be explored are:

    • What capacities are involved in coming to know good and evil, right and wrong? Can such capacities be conceived in terms of a moral compass?
    • How do notions such as conscience, natural law, intuition, virtue, and so on, relate to the idea of a moral compass?
    • Are such capacities in some sense ‘natural’? Should they be thought of as evolved and/or cultivated? Or do we have to conceive them as divinely infused?
    • Which conditions impair the proper functioning of such capacities? To what degree does sin, or the human fault, bear upon them?
    • Should we be sceptical about the idea of a (shared) moral compass, and if so, why?
  • Subtheme 3: Fundamental reflections on moral common ground

    We will discuss fundamental philosophical and/or theological reflections on  the idea of moral common ground. Questions to be explored could be, but are not limited to, the following:

    • How should we understand the very idea of ‘moral common ground’?
    • Should we conceive of moral common ground in terms of an ‘overlapping consensus’?
    • Does the search for moral common ground require giving up (or bracketing) the particularity of one’s worldview or culture?
    • What kinds of theological narratives enable Christians to search for moral common ground?
    • How is (belief in) the existence of God related to moral common ground?
    • What is the relation between moral common ground and human rights?
    • How important is it to reach moral common ground? Is it something human beings should aspire to?
    • Does the search for moral common ground exclude moral relativism?

Keynote speakers

  • Gabriël van den Brink, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

    Gabriël van den Brink is Professor of Philosophy at Centrum Ethos at Vrije Universiteit. He has published more than 45 books related to different aspects of Dutch social life. In 2006 he was appointed as a full professor in Social Administration at the University of Tilburg. In 2009 he started as the president of the Tilburg School for Politics and Public Administration. After his retirement in Tilburg he switched to Centrum Ethos in order to teach philosophy. 

  • Jennifer Herdt, Yale University Divinity School, USA

    Jennifer Herdt is Gilbert L. Stark Professor of Christian Ethics at the Yale University Divinity School. She has published widely on the history of modern moral thought, notably on virtue, natural law, moral agency, and ethical formation. One of her recent publications is Forming Humanity: Redeeming the German Bildung Tradition (Chicago, 2019). She is a senior member of the research team for Collaborative Inquiries in Theological Anthropology, a multi-year project funded by the John Templeton Foundation.

  • Sabine Roeser, Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands

    Sabine Roeser is Antoni van Leeuwenhoek Professor of Ethics at TU Delft. Her research covers theoretical, foundational topics concerning the nature of moral knowledge, intuitions, emotions, art and evaluative aspects of risk, but also urgent and hotly debated public issues on which her theoretical research can shed new light, such as nuclear energy, climate change and public health issues.

  • Rebekka A. Klein, Ruhr-University Bochum, Germany

    Rebekka A. Klein is Professor of Systematic Theology at the Faculty of Protestant Theology at the Ruhr University in Bochum. For her research, she was awarded the Hanns Lilje Science Prize for Freedom and Responsibility in 2019 and the Karl Heim Prize in 2009. In 2011, she was the only Protestant theologian to be awarded one of the Volkswagen Foundation's Dilthey Fellowships. Her main areas of work include political theology and the theory of democracy, theories of God's weak power, love of neighbor and altruism, and vulnerability and bodily subjectivity as paradigms of a new interdisciplinary anthropology. She is co-editor of In Need of A Master. Politics, Theology and Radical Democracy (DeGruyter, 2021) and author of Sociality as the Human Condition: Anthropology in Economic, Philosophical and Theological Perspective (Leiden, 2011).

    Rebekka A. Klein is Professor of Systematic Theology, Christian Dogmatics and Ecumenical Theology at Ruhr-University Bochum. She is also director of the Institute of Ecumenical Theology in Bochum. She is co-editor of In Need of A Master. Politics, Theology and Radical Democracy (DeGruyter, 2021).

  • Nicholas Adams, University of Birmingham, UK

    Nicholas Adams holds the Chair of Philosophical Theology at the University of Birmingham. His two principal areas of research are the impact of German Idealism on Christian theology together with the investigation of philosophical problems in inter-religious engagement.Among his publications is Eclipse of Grace: Divine and Human Action in Hegel (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013).

  • Michael Banner, Trinity College, Cambridge, UK

    Michael Banner is Dean, Fellow and Director of Studies in Theology and Religious Studies at Trinity College. He was previously the Director of ESRC Genomics Forum and Professor of Ethics and Public Policy in Life Sciences in the School of Molecular and Clinical Medicine, University of Edinburgh, and from 1994 to 2004 F.D. Maurice Professor of Moral and Social Theology, King’s College, London. He gave the 2013 Bampton Lectures in Oxford. These lectures were published in 2014 by Oxford University Press as The Ethics of Everyday Life: Moral Theology, Social Anthropology and the Imagination of the Human.


Behind two small picturesque houses at the Mariahoek in Utrecht lies the convent of Saint Gertrudis, hardly visible from the street. Today, this hidden church is called Gertrudis Chapel and can be reached from the Willemsplantsoen with the entrance next to the cathedral 'Gertrudis church'. The hidden church was created around 1640 and offered refuge to Catholics who had been driven out of the Geertekerk by the Protestants after the Reformation.

An extensive restoration was carried out in the 1990s. Since 1992, the Gertrudis chapel has been the historical showpiece of the conference and meeting centre In de Driehoek. In 2016, In de Driehoek was completely rebuilt while retaining all its monumental features. This has created a modern conference and meeting centre with allure in the centre of Utrecht. Easily accessible by car and within walking distance of Utrecht Central Station.


Registration is now open.


Cookies help us improve your experience on our website. Functional cookies contribute to a smoothly running website. Analytical cookies provide us with insight into how users use the website. Marketing cookies allow us to offer you personalised content based on your website visit.