Scholarship and Religious Beliefs - Summary of Discussion
"God is at work in the mundane world" suggested AA. This means that the sacred-secular divide, by which religious beliefs have been largely absent from scholarship, should be overcome. The contribution of religious beliefs is potentially enormous, for good not just evil.
This page collects together statements made during presentations and discussions at the SaRB Workshop, to provide a rich picture of how religious beliefs (broadly defined) impact scholarship (teaching and research). Not all statements were agreed by all (in fact there was some considerable discussion) but they have been placed here as they appeared.
The workshop recognised six main kinds of impact, as per headings below (expanding DSR's triple of 'What to do, What not to do, How to do or not do it' and DH's four (manner, motive, content, choice).
Since most of the participants were Christians, most of the statements relate to Christian worldview, doctrines, etc. But most of these below can be widened to other beliefs. (MS, AB)
Note: Most of the contributions are here; a few have yet to be added, including those of NM, DB.
The participants are known by initials, and XXcYY refers to XX making a comment in relation to YY's presentation.
Worldviews within which Scholarship takes place
Religious beliefs, as shared background values and assumptions (lifeworld) in society, influence how scholarship is viewed, what its purpose it, and the attitudes we should take within it. Examples: Consumerism, Scholasticism, Pentecostal Christianity, Brahmin Hinduism. JC's paper says a lot about worldviews. PS's paper showed two examples of the operation of religious beliefs in history. See below.
- The Handong Institute teaches worldviews explicitly. (JC) [It may be seen as an organisational attempt to work out some of the issues here. AB] (See JC's paper.)
- We raise questions to stimulate widening of views, e.g. what is science, relationship between science and reality, what is faith? science is not neutral, history of science. (JC)
- Compare worldviews explicitly. (JC)
- Many students come with dualisms; we try to challenge them and let them see a wider picture, how to integrate their faith with their scholarship. (JC)
- Chinese scholars at university of Portsmouth were interested in Christianity because of the rapid changes taking place in China - consumerism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Postmodernism, etc.
- PS showed how the religious beliefs of Puritans (as doctrines to which they adhered) led them to have theoretical and practical concern for animals, and how the religious prejudices and sneers of Enlightenment commentators like Lord Macaulay served to sideline for a century the excellent scholarship of that cohort of thinkers. (See PS's paper.)
- This view of animals was held by evangelicals up to the 1920s, but evangelicals in USA today ignore animal cruelty. Why? (PS) Some quotes were given, but they did not answer 'why'. [Maybe it was when the evangelicals were humiliated after the Stokes Monkey trials, when they moved from being left-wing to being right-wing? AB]
- There followed a discussion on vegetarianism etc. See Content below.
- Eye-opener. Had been told by Catholic priest, "Compared with you Hindus, I can eat whatever I like", and by missionary "God has given us dominion over animals". The doctrinal beliefs led to a worldview attitude towards animals that some Hindus find abhorrent. (SKH)
- Our view of animals today owes a lot to Aristotle's monarchianism, in which those higher in the hierarchy can do what they like with those lower. (RRcPS) A secular dialectical reaction against this is Animal Rights movement (PS). Some tend to blame Christianity, and misinterpret the view of the Puritans. e.g. Lord Macaulay, e.g. Peter Singer (though he watered down his hostility after discussion with a CHristian) (PS).
- PS gave that presentation as just one example among many of the effect of religious beliefs on worldviews. He also referred to the banking collapse, and has written on it.
- 'Call to arms' because atheism seems to have gained an upper hand in society, and also in scholarship, and Christians are now counter-cultural. (NM)
- How the model of university works in other cultures than Christian? (AA)
- Does use of Frequentist statistics, with its presupposition of being objective, lead to Dawkins? (RG)
- Most of your examples have sexual connotations; there are other 'immoral' issues, such as arms-selling. (RcDH)
Paradigms of Scholarship
Religious beliefs, as deep presuppositions about what is meaningful to the community of scholars, and how scholars view their field and topics, influences what they see and what they overlook or even suppress.
- "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else." C.S. Lewis.
- "How we think of God shapes how we see all else." (A.W. Tozer)
- Those who acknowledge belief find Bayesian statistics congenial; those who do not find Frequentist statistics congenial. (MSPS?cRG) A clear example of how our religious presuppositions affect which paradigm we work within. RG showed how acknowledging belief made statistics richer and more robust.
- Religious beliefs can challenge existing ways of thinking, and widen and stimulate new paradigms by offering a wider perspective, or suggesting new aspects that have been overlooked. Can enrich and can prevent reductions. Religious belief can give us clarity to see. (NMcJC, MScDH, JC, AAcJC, RR, NMcAA, AA)
- Example: JI's presentation helps avoid reductions in scholarship. (DHcJI) JI claimed that the triple of entities, relations and change could form the basis of paradigms in various fields, and for critique of extant paradigms. For example, in social theory, to avoid the reductions of individualism, communalism and historicism.
- However religious beliefs can also give the discourse in a field dialectical in nature, because each 'pole' of a dualism seeks to exclude, react against or argue against the other. (AA, AB)
- Religious belief has a place in scholarship because the sacred-secular divide is false; religion is only kept out of scholarship because of the sacred-secular divide.
- RG's presentation is an example, in the field of statistics, of how paradigms can be opened up by acknowledging beliefs, or closed down by ignoring them. By 'beliefs' he was referring to the faith aspect of human functioning. See more below.
- Suspect that many extant paradigms are linked to one modal aspect, leading to narrow paradigms and reductions in scope of scholarship informed by them. (JI, AB)
- Most paradigms do not address na´ve ('everyday') experience well; religions beliefs can help address everyday issues. (JI)
- Example: JI's use of Christian concept of Triune God to propose three transcendentals of experience can prevent reductions in theory by critique of extant paradigms; example, in social theory. . (See JI's paper and presentation.) We are still suffering constrains of doing philosophy inherited from the Greeks.
- JI's transcendentalism may be a worldview or paradigm. (MBcJI)
- Should we claim that a Christian (or other) view is the 'only' one that can enrich and prevent reductions? (DHcJI)
- JI's framework could be enriched by interaction with extant thoughts, e.g. Giddens on agency and structure [and Giddens' triple]. (PScJI)
- JI's framework, and its application to social theory, looks like you are trying to step beyond conventional view. (PScJI)
- The framework of entity, relations, change includes animals automatically - no need to bolt them on. (JI)
- The secular understanding of things is limiting. (NMcJC)
- In any area of discourse, we should look under the bonnet of what is going on. (NM)
- For example, in discussing ethical issues in ICT, the PAPA criteria (privacy, accuracy, property, accessibility) are limited because they presuppose humanistic mindsets. (NM)
- 'Call to arms' because it is difficult to publish anything that is not driven by the humanist agenda. (NM) But some key figures, like Alasdair McIntyre and Charles Taylor take a non-humanist line (PScNM).
- Sometimes it is possible to 'fly in under the radar', esp. if senior (PS). Example of doing this in both teaching and research, using Dooyeweerd's philosophy that openly acknowledges the faith aspect of all human functioning, but does not push any particular religious creed or doctrine (AB).
- We have responsibility to students to clear up for them what science is (e.g. mistaken view that science excludes religion). Can do that by challenging them. (NMcJC)
Content of theories taught or researched
Religious beliefs, as doctrines of faiths, are brought to bear to either constrain or stimulate theories being discussed in the scholarly communities. Examples: Creationism and Evolutionism in biology, Proofs of God in Scholastic thought. Often linked to Apologetics.
- RG's presentation is an example, in the field of statistics used in ecology, of how content of both research and teaching can be affected by religious beliefs. The Frequentist paradigm tries to avoid acknowledging the importance of belief but ends up smuggling it in, in disguise. Bayesian statistics acknowledges it right from the start, and becomes richer and more serviceable. (RG)
- This has implications for teaching too: It might be beneficial to teach statistics with Bayesian paradigm first, as the 'standard' view, with Frequentist paradigm as a special case. Because we need to acknowledge the faith aspect of human functioning, including in statistically analysing data. (RG)
- But religious prejudices (esp. of secularists) makes them seek certainty by means of statistics; acknowledging religious belief opens up uncertainty (NMcRG) and layers of interpretation (CBcRG).
- Religious beliefs can help to generate new questions in science. (NMcAA)
- PS showed how the religious beliefs of Puritans (as doctrines to which they adhered) led them to have theoretical and practical concern for animals. (See PS's paper.)
- There followed a discussion on the position of animals in Christianity and Hinduism (SKHcPS, DSRcPS). e.g. vegetarianism etc. e.g. that the Puritans ate animals, but were concerned how they were treated while alive, and condemned the rich for over-eating meat (PS). e.g. the first animal sacrifice was by God (CBcPS; MS: showed how serious human sin is). In Africa animals are eaten for celebration (OAcPS). Noah's ark is huge: God loves and values all animals, e.g. in Nineveh. (JCcPS, PS) Visions of peace among animals (PS). What does 'dominion' mean?
- Calvin asked what animals are for. He argued that their primary meaning cannot be to provide God with sacrifices, because that would imply God has 'needs'. (PS)
- It may be worth noting that all those discussions involve deductions and interpretations from Scripture more than the direct words or Scripture. The Bible seems to be a book that reports on everyday experience rather than a textbook full of theoretical beliefs or rules. (AB)
- JI used Christian concept of Triune God to give grounding to his proposal for a framework for understanding that comprises three transcendentals of experience (entiies, relations, change). (See JI's paper and presentation.)
- JI then demonstrated how it could be useful in social theory, to avoid the reductions of individualism, communalism and historicism, by acknowledge all three of the individual, communities in relation, and change.
- JI should ground his ideas more in Scripture. (DHcJI) i.e. if we argue from religious beliefs, we should at some point show where our interpretations of those beliefs come from in our religion. [However, only do this to the appropriate audience; not for mainstream audience comprised of many religions? AB]
- As an alternative to PAPA ICT ethics, driven by humanism, NM produced a richer view, ACTIVE. (Example of religious beliefs opening up?)
- DB's biosocial theory is non-reductionist in acknowledging several causalities; it is reductionist in unfolding of the relations; you lose the person. (JIcDB)
- Are there not many more causalities than DB's three? e.g. legal causality. (RRcDB)
Choice of topic to teach, research
Religious beliefs can steer us towards certain topics, away from others. For reasons of normative thrust and of tactics. Examples: avoid 'unmentionables', seek topics that support my faith, etc. There was considerable discussion about whether such guidelines were good or not. DH spent much of his presentation on Choice.
- In teaching, choose: papers where one's faith might matter, papers where one's faith might be threatened (DH: see ppt)
- In research, choose: write on areas that might benefit the Church (but see MS's comment). (DH: see ppt)
- In research, avoid: stuff based on false presuppositions, 'unmentionables', areas we are told not to speculate about, intrinsically immoral areas (e.g. spying, deceit)intrinsically tempting or unhelpful areas or where faith might be threatened (know your own limitations here), trivial areas, stuff not deserving the oxygen of publicity. However, there is a place for researching some of these, but know your own limitations etc. (DH: see ppt)
- In administration, choose tasks where our faith might matter. (e.g. choose which committees. MScDH, MScNM: should we seek to serve on Equality & Diversity committees? What are the challenges?)
- A number of participants disagreed with these constraints - so DH's suggestions can be seen as opening up debate in an area where too little has been discussed so far. e.g. Elaine Storkey has helpfully published on gender in politics (MScDH).
Motives for doing scholarship
Religious beliefs, as genuine adherence to a faith, provides motives for what we do. This, in turn, affects the manner in which we do it. Examples of motives for scholarship: personal curiosity, to make a name for myself, to defend the faith (esp. Apologetics), to serve others, to win people in the Academy for my religion. AA's presentation contained much about motives.
- "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men ... It is the Lord Christ you are serving." The Bible, Paul's Letter to Colossians 2:23-4.
- AA discussed how he had come to be motivated to devote his career to bringing Christ into academia. "Who is the God I worship?" should shape his scholarship. Overturn the religious-secular divide. Examined what 'religious' and 'secular' meant in Indian languages.
- Religious belief has a place in scholarship because the sacred-secular divide is false; religion is only kept out of scholarship because of the sacred-secular divide. (A) Sacred-secular divide is false; the Enlightenment was false (NMcAA)
- Using Scriptures to justify attention to scholarship, e.g. naming the animals, cultural mandate, Col 3:10. (JC)
- Use etymology to discover nuances of wording, to motivate integrating faith with scholarship. e.g. German Wort, Antwort, Verantwortlichkeit. (JC)
- Scholars are to serve. (NMcJC)
- Ask, "How does scholarship help to build God's kingdon?" (MScDH)
- DB's bio-social theories inspired by Biblical urge to study God's world. (DB)
- Its OK for Christians to use their topic for apologetics [e.g. as William Lane Craig does] but that should not be the main reason for engaging with the field as a Christian.
Manner and Method by which we do our scholarship
Religious beliefs provide norms and methods for living life, including the life of research, teaching and administration. Examples:
- "God loves a cheerful giver." The Bible, II Corinthians 9:7.
- "I don't use religious belief to interpret science, but to give science its purpose." (AA)
- Research: JI should ground his ideas more in Scripture. (DHcJI) i.e. if we argue from religious beliefs, we should at some point show where our interpretations of those beliefs come from in our religion. [However, only do this to the appropriate audience; not for mainstream audience comprised of many religions? AB]
- Be careful. JI's explicit grounding in Calvin might put people off who think negatively about Calvin. (MBcJI) [So, be careful how we write this, and justify it well in terms that the mainstream might understand and appreciate. AB] AA's inclusion of Indian cricket as a god is unfair; cricket is more a social phenomenon. (SKHcAA)
- "Jesus pointed out that the body gets rid of the unusable part of what a person takes in; the real issue is what comes out of the depths of a person. ... One of the first theoretical discoveries in biology was that we use foods as fuel." (DB) Was DB using a Jesus-quote within his argument, or merely making literary allusions to it? We need to be careful to what extent we use Scripture as part of argument.
- In teaching, have concern for students as a whole. (NMcJC)
- We have responsibility to students to clear up for them what science is (e.g. mistaken view that science excludes religion). Can do that by challenging them. (NMcJC)
- Be open when teaching. Try to listen to those of other beliefs. (JC)
- In teaching, I give students a chance to defend their views (e.g. in exam questions). (JC)
- How to hold a particular faith and yet acknowledge other faiths? (JC)
- Consider the way we pass on knowledge. (MScDH) e.g. Not "Don't do X!" but "If you do X harm will result" (NMcJC)
- How we create and teach a curriculum. Bring in Christian ideas [or at least a acknowledge the faith aspect of human functioning] (NMcJC)
- Vinoth Ramachandra, nuclear physicist, argued against Sri Lanka going nuclear, on the grounds that SL was not a sufficiently transparent society. This concern arose from his Christian beliefs. (AA)
Engaging in scholarship as a person of faith is a challenge, and can be done not only badly but counterproductively.
- Should we set up Christian institutes? (NMcJC)
- Audience of our dissemination should not just be fellow Christians, but should be the mainstream, e.g. the journals of our field, or national newspapers. (AA). (Jon Chaplin writes for The Guardian - DH)
- JI's framework applied to social theory: What might social scientists make of it? (MBcJI) Could it be enriched by interaction with extant thoughts, e.g. Giddens on agency and structure [and Giddens' triple]. (PScJI)
- Also we should speak to historical views in our religion, e.g. How does JI's presentation link with Westminster's 'chief end of man'? e.g. Where is the Fall? (PScJI) JI should explain where his paradigm of the triple fits in with other paradigms for research, such as interpretivism and positivism. (MBcJI)
- As Christians (or Hindus) we can express our views, speaking into the situation, because of academic freedom. (NMcJC) Note that religious beliefs can stimulate, open up and widen.
- Difficult to bring explicit faith into UK schools (NM). Not so; I do so, but it depends on manner of doing so (RB).
- Christians are doing their own thing too much; [must engage with mainstream more]. (MScDH)
- Aiming choice to benefit the church or faith is too narrow; we should aim to benefit the world; John 3:16. (MScDH)
- Most of your examples have sexual connotations; there are other 'immoral' issues, such as arms-selling. (RRcDH)
Possible Future Action
In the final group discussion of possible activities for the future, the following ideas emerged. No judgement is made here between them; the are reported as an outocme, for your use. Some of the below require further discussion because there might not be full disagreement about them.
- RG suggested that teaching of statistics should give priority to Bayesian rather than Frequentist approaches, on the grounds that B is richer and acknowledges the reality of belief. Similar suggestions could be made for many topics: their teaching should be redesigned so that the faith aspect is explicitly recognised. This can also be applied to research.
- Prioritise areas to explore.
- Compose replies to various writers, which are intellectually appropriate. NM plans to compose a reply to Grayling's recent work.
- Publish the outcome of this workshop. Done.
- Disseminate the outcomes of this workshop, e.g. via the BBC programme Beyond Belief. ACTION: AB.
- Some Christian faculty may be concerned about the hindrance to their career if they come out explicitly as CHristians (similarly for other religions?) in their teaching, research or admin - in any of the ways identified above. So, it would be good to explore that issue and compile or write materials to help them think these things through.
- Help Christian academics get information to do the above. Liaise with Christian Academic Network, WYSOCS, TTM, LICC, etc.
- Create a bibliography of material that already addresses the links between scholarship and religious belief.
- Create a community around this issue. How?
- Approach to doing the above:
- Link with other groups
- Look 'under the bonnet' of discourse in each field
- Focus on Christ (rather than for example meaning)
- Consider career.
Created: 2 August 2013
Last updated: 5 August 2013