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Languages of Virtue and Vice

How do humans express normative concepts using words, images, and gestures? What analogies and signs express that a behavior is beneficial, and what strategies do humans use to express that a behavior is harmful?

"[M]oralistic narratives need not, and usually will not explicitly refer to 'morality' or 'ethics' in terms we would readily recognize as such."

Phil Hopkins, Mass Moralizing: Marketing and Moral Storytelling (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2015), 15.



The Gatekeepers of the Moral Order

How are emotions used to communicate value judgments? How do humans use emotions (like shock, pride, shame, anger, and disgust) to produce, enforce, and contest social norms?

"The 'moral emotions' are often considered to be shame, guilt, sympathy, and empathy... [and] contempt, anger, and disgust... [but] this view is far too narrow..." 

Jonathan H. Turner and Jan E. Stet, "Moral Emotions," in Handbook of the Sociology of Emotions (New York: Springer, 2007), 544.

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Stories about the Social Order

How do humans use stories to communicate prescriptive and proscriptive ideas about society? What kinds of morality tales exist? How does one go about reading and interpreting morality tales?

"These simple tales embody truths so powerful, the titles of the individual fables—the fox and the grapes, the dog in the manger, the wolf in sheep's clothing, and many others—have entered the languages and idioms of most European tongues..."

Back Cover, Aesop's Fables, trans. V.S. Vernon Jones  (Hertfordshire: Wordsworth, 1994).

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How do human societies understand roles and divisions of labor? How is space divided (into public/private, male/female, sacred/profane)? Which spaces are contested as immoral, deviant, or otherwise problematic?

Social Divisions of Space and Labor


Confucian society is organized "via gender and inter-generational divisions of labor... Students are positioned with respect to teachers... employees with respect to employers... a wife is subordinate to her husband...."

C. Cindy Fan, "Migration, Gender, and Space in China," in The Routledge Companion to Modernity, Space and Gender, ed. Alexandra Staub  (New York: Routledge, 2018).

Bibliography: Morality 

Bandura, Albert et al. “Mechanisms of Moral Disengagement in the Exercise of Moral Agency.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 71, no. 2 (1996): 364-374.
Bandura, Albert. Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A Social Cognitive Theory. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1986.
Bandura, Albert. “Moral Disengagement in the Perpetration of Inhumanities.” Personality and Social Psychology Review 3, no. 3 (1999): 193-209.
Christensen, J.F. and A. Gomila. “Moral Dilemmas in Cognitive Neuroscience of Moral Decision-Making: A Principled Review.” Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 36 (2012): 1249-1264.
Haidt, Jonathan. “The Moral Emotions.” In Handbook of Affective Sciences. Eds. R. J. Davidson et al. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.
Hitlin, Steven and Stephen Vaisey, eds. Handbook of the Sociology of Morality. New York: Springer, 2010.
Hopkins, Phil. Mass Moralizing: Marketing and Moral Storytelling. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2015.
Iannaccone, Laurence R. “Religious Practice: A Human Capital Approach.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 29, no. 3 (September 1990): 297-314.
Iannaccone, Laurence R. “Why Strict Churches Are Strong.” American Journal of Sociology 99, no. 5 (March 1994): 1180-1211.
Kurtines, William M. and Jacob L. Gewirtz, eds. Handbook of Moral Behavior and Development, Vol. 1: Theory. Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1991.
Lammers, Joris et al. “Power Increases Hypocrisy: Moralizing in Reasoning, Immorality in Behavior.” Psychological Science 21, no. 5 (2010): 737 –744.
Lord, Robert G. and Mary C. Kernan. “Scripts as Determinants of Purposeful Behavior in Organizations.” The Academy of Management Review 12, no. 2 (1987): 265-277.
Moll, J., Oliveira-Souza, R., Zahn, R., Grafman, J. The Cognitive Neuroscience of Moral Emotions. In Moral Psychology, Vol. 3. Ed. Sinnott-Armstrong. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008.
Moral Cognition Lab, Dr. Joshua Greene, Harvard University (
Moral Psychology Research Group (
Moral Psychology Research Lab at Harvard University (
Religion, Cognition, and Behavior Lab at the University of Amsterdam (
Sosis, Richard and Candace Alcorta. “Signaling, Solidarity, and the Sacred: The Evolution of Religious Behavior.” Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues, News, and Reviews 12, no. 6 (November 2003): 264-274.
Stent, Gunther S. ed. Morality as a Biological Phenomenon: The Presuppositions of Sociobiological Research. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980.
Tangney, June Price et al. “Moral Emotions and Moral Behavior.” Annual Review of Psychology 58 (January 2007).