Date of Graduation

Fall 2023


Master of Arts in Religious Studies


Religious Studies

Committee Chair

Mark Given


“Why are we the way that we are?” is one of the hardest questions to answer because it requires grasping the origin of human beings. This has left philosophers and theologians in century-long debates on forming a “cosmogony of ontology” (i.e., how the origin of the universe informs the human condition). The concept, “original sin” was developed by a North African theologian named Augustine (354 – 430 CE). Augustine’s reading of Genesis 3, and inaccurate translation of Romans 5:12, taught that a person is born morally culpable for a fault antecedent to their existence. This way of thinking about the world, my thesis argues, has major ethical considerations and ramifications for not just Christianity, but all influenced by it: If innate moral corruption was not our choice, then how can we be guilty of unjust acts that arise necessarily from it? The first and larger portion of the thesis analyzes the historical and philosophical development of the doctrine up until the Reformation. The smaller, latter part of my thesis concludes with an ethnographic report on the attitudes and stances of religious people towards original sin today. My findings from contemporary sermons, children’s books, interviews, and popular media reveal that the belief in original sin has declined among Christians today, but is accepted by Catholics, Protestant Fundamentalists, and even secular determinists (e.g., “Atheists for Niebuhr”). My thesis is that Augustine’s doctrine of original sin is exegetically unsound and in conflict with Paul’s concept of sin, and that if the doctrine is not substantially revised or abolished, the possibility for moral freedom in orthodox Christianity is essentially absent.


free will, original sin, philosophy of ethics, Romans 5, Traducianism, compatibilism, sociology of religion, determinism

Subject Categories

Behavior and Ethology | Biblical Studies | Biological Psychology | Catholic Studies | Christianity | Developmental Psychology | Ethics and Political Philosophy | Ethics in Religion | Evolution | History of Christianity | Metaphysics | Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion


© Matthew James Wynn

Open Access