Participants, Presentations, Discussions

The workshop, "How Can or Should Religious Beliefs Impact our Scholarship?", held 26-28 July 2013 at The Gladstone's Library, was not a conference but a workshop. The aim, was not to display or disseminate papers to an audience, with a few short questions, but to stimulate discussion about the links between scholarship and religious beliefs, so that a rich picture could be drawn at the end. Therefore, the role of discussant was as important as the role of presenter, and for each presentation the discussion was at least at long.

This page contains:

List of Participants

(In order of abbreviation used in Discussion.)

AA: Mr. A. Azhoni, PhD researcher in environmental engineering, Cranfield University, U.K. Presenter, 'Reflections on how religious belief can shape a vision for future research'

AB: Prof. Andrew Basden, Business School, University of Salford. Co-Chair and Organiser.

CB: Prof. Carole Brooke, Professors of the Faith; CCSR, DeMontfort University; Warwick Manufacturing Group, University of Warwick; Co-Chair.

DB: Prof. David Booth, Dept. Psychology, University of Birmingham. Presenter, 'An exploration of the religious roots of a Biosocial Cognitive Scientist' (Prevented from attending, so AB read out his presentation.)

DSR: Mrs. Deepa Shruthi Ramaswamy. Background in molecular biology. Discussant.

DH: Dr. Daniel Hill, Dept of Philosophy, University of Liverpool. Presenter, 'Serving Christ in Academia'

JC: Prof. Yong Joon (John) Choi, Director of Handong Institute for Learning & Faith, Prof. of Global EDISON Academy, Handong Global University, South Korea. Presenter, 'Impacts of religious belief on scholarship'

JI: Rev. Dr. Jeremy Ive, Vicar (Church of England), and South East England School of Christian Studies. Presenter, 'The three-legged stool of experience and theoretical thought - The transcendent (religious) basis and transcendental (universal) framework for any field of study -- with special reference to the social sciences.'

MB: Maria Burke, Business School, University of Salford. Discussant.

MS: Dr. Miriam Sampson, Retd researcher in applied sociology; education, music. Discussant.

NM: Dr. Neil McBride, DeMontfort University, UK. Discussant. Also presented short piece on Humanism.

OA: Mrs. Opeoluwa Adewolu, PhD researcher, Business School, University of Salford. Discussant. (Prevented from attending, but send discussion points by email.)

PS: Dr. Phil Sampson, Retd researcher in discourse and change. Presenter, 'The strange case of the compassionate Puritan: the representation of the puritan world-view in modern discourse'

RB: Mrs. Ruth Basden, Bible Explorer, UK. Discussant.

RG: Dr. Richard Gunton, Postdoctoral researcher, Department of Ecology, University of Leeds, and West Yorkshire School of Christian Studies. Presenter, 'Presuppositions, faith and statistics: an ecologist's view'

RR: Rev. Richard Russell, Christian Studies Unit. Discussant.

SKH: Mr. Subrahmaniam Krishnan-Harihara, PhD researcher, Business School, University of Salford. Discussant.


The following are the presentations, presenters and discussants at the Workshop on Scholarship and Religious Belief, held 26-28 July 2013 at The Gladstone's Library. Abbreviations are given for each name, with XXcYY meaning that XX comments on YY. The summaries of presentations and discussions below do not reflect the order in which things were said, but link discussion points directly with presentation points.

At present, some have still to be written.

Session 1. Richard Gunton (RG). 'Presuppositions, faith and statistics: an ecologist's view'

Discussants: Maria Burke (MBcRG), Neil McBride (NMcRG).

Kind of link focused on: Content of theories, and paradigms.

Summary of Presentation and Discussion: "How many species of tree are there?" We cannot count them, so we must resort to counting species in selected areas where trees grow, and using statistics to answer our question. We might use either Frequentist or Bayesian statistics. Bayesian statistics acknowledges that we begin and end with belief, with evidence updating our beliefs. Frequentist statistics tries to operate 'objectively' without beliefs, or to rely on 'expert' opinion, and yet in practice it is merely disguising belief. Richard argued that the Bayesian paradigm is closer to the way we do, and want to do, statistics. The choice of statistical paradigm is governed by our religious presuppositions about the nature of the world; people who acknowledge beliefs find Bayesian congenial; those who do not find Frequentist congenial. ('Religion' here includes e.g. humanism an atheism, and concerns presuppositions about what is ultimate and self-dependent, rather than doctrines about a Deity; however other definitions were also voiced, and used in other discussions.) Those who wish to sideline religious beliefs tend to opt for Frequentist statistics - and yet employ beliefs in disguised form.

Richard was concerned about possibility reductionism. Humanist assumptions also pervade teaching of statistics, in that Frequentist are taught first, and Bayesian, if taught at all, is seen as special or secondary, whereas Richard beliefs that our curricula should place Bayesian statistics first with Frequentist as the special case. In Business Intelligence, politics, etc., there is almost a religious dependence on numbers and desire for certainty, but acknowledging beliefs opens the door to uncertainty. Those who acknowledge beliefs (e.g. Christians, Hindus) recognise different ways of knowing, and hidden layers of interpretation (CB).

Paper available.

Session 2. A. Azhoni (A). 'Reflections on how religious belief can shape a vision for future research'

Discussants: Opeoluwa Adewolu (OAcAA) (Richard Gunton standby, RGcAA), Subrahmaniam Krishnan-Harihara (SKHcAA) and Deepa Shruthi Ramaswamy (DSRcAA)

Kind of link: Main link: Faith motivates direction of scholarship. Also faith giving paradigms or worldviews, faith determining choice.

Summary of Presentation and Discussion: "Which God do I really worship as I undertake my academic career? How can worship of God shape my scholarship?" That is the question that Azhoni found himself asking before he returned to academic life to begin a PhD a year ago in the UK, after several years working for the Indian government. Earlier, in common with many Christians, he had challenged himself "Is Jesus Christ really true, to me?" but later found this was not enough. He did not want faith to be separated from his academic career, but wanted his commitment to Jesus Christ to shape it, with the question "What are Christ's interests in my scholarship?". CB also expressed such questions. Thus his faith motivates him to take a particular direction. He had recently been at a summer school hosted by the Faraday Institute on this topic, which gave him ideas, but he still had questions. This presentation summarizes his journey in these attitudes, and mentioned several links between faith and scholarship.

AA mentioned two main links between religious beliefs and scholarship: Faith as paradigm, or perhaps worldview, is found in C.S. Lewis' statement that "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." (See Paradigms part of Discussion.)

Faith determining choice may be seen in John White, who chose medicine rather than physics, and in Vinoth Ramachandra, who chose to be against nuclear power for Sri Lanka despite being a nuclear physicist. (See Choice part of Discussion.) It was for this reason that AA shifted from engineering to policy in his PhD; he was asking "For whose beneficial purpose?" and the belief that we are not owners nor passive users but stewards of the natural creation.

DSR pointed out that such choices occur not only in scholarship, but also in e.g. which jobs we take up; as a Hindu she refused a job in meat processing.

Faith influencing our worldview gave him perspective on society. Though, in the West, religion and the 'secular' are separated, this is not so in India. Examination of the concepts behind Hindi (and Sanskrit) words for 'religious' and 'secular' revealed different nuances than in the West. SK-H contributed to this. However, in both, the 'new religious temples' are things like shopping malls and cricket stadiums, which demand sacrifice. This sounds like modern idols.

However, SK-H pointed to Eric Liddle, "God made me for a purpose but God also made me fast!" and warned not to so readily see idolatry in sport (though perhaps in shopping idolatry may be seen). SK-H, whose research is into idolatry of e.g. e-government, which involves sacrifice, worship, etc., felt that cricket stadiums are more social places, though the former could indeed be idols. SK-H wondered whether AA might be succumbing to the sacred secular divide in this part of his thinking.) [It seems that the influence of sacred-secular divide can be very subtle among most Christians influenced by Western thinking, that even when we are aware of the danger, we might still succumb in some areas of our thinking. AB.]
RG continued the investigation into words in order to clarify distinctions, and warned against using Scripture as argument within scholarship. For example, AA agreed, we should not use Scripture to calculate the age of the Earth. NM also was concerned about the divorce of religion from science, and CB agreed; see NM's presentation. MS and MB warned about seeing 'secular' as 'enemy'; 'secular' can simply mean 'areas other than overtly religious'.

Final point: AA suggested that theology can integrate other fields. RR suggested that is misleading; theology can be seen as a 'science of God or faith', and it is rather philosophy that integrates. [From Dooyeweerdian standpoint, both are true; philosophy rather than theology integrates, but also if theology is science of the faith aspect, and all other aspects anticipate the faith aspect (it opens up the others), then it can perform a kind of integration. AB.]

Paper available.

Session 3. Phil Sampson (PS), 'The strange case of the compassionate Puritan: the representation of the puritan world-view in modern discourse'

Discussants: Subrahmaniam Krishnan-Harihara (SKHcPS) and DeepaShruthi Ramaswamy (DSRcPS), Opeoluwa Adewolu (OAcPS)

Kind of link discussed: Impact on worldview and on practice.

Summary of Presentation and Discussion: "The Puritans forbade bear-baiting," wrote Lord Macaulay, "not because it gave pain to the animals but because it gave pleasure to the spectators." Macaulay was wrong! The English Puritans actually cared considerably for animals, believing that we have a responsibility under God to treat them well. They believed that humans and animals were created for companionship, that the eating of meat was a result of sin, so when we eat meat we should repent, that animal cruelty is wicked, that we must give an account to God for the way we treat animals, and at the Restoration of All Things, our relationship with animals and a vegan diet will be restored. (JC pointed out that Noah's ark showed God's love for animals, and drew attention to prophecies of harmony among animals and humans.) This view left a legacy which the Evangelicals of the 1800s followed, continuing the same concern for animals, and during the Welsh Revival, a vegetarian diet was advocated.

The Puritans were grossly misunderstood, denigrated and misrepresented by being viewed through the lens of the Enlightenment. Rather than being haters of pleasure (as Enlightenment and modern views assume) the Puritans actually aimed at 'the art to live well'. They held the Bible rather than tradition to be their authority and, possibly as a result, the scholarship of the Puritans was of very high quality, but it has been largely ignored.

(From the 1920s, the Evangelicals paid little attention to the matter; for some reason they changed. Perhaps it was because they no longer believe that Christ claims sovereignty over all of life. AB thought it might also be because of their humiliation and defensiveness after the Monkey Trials. PS listed some of the reasons Evangelicals give today for ignoring care for animals. OA argued that in Nigeria animals are eaten in celebration and argued against PS's view of care for animals. CB drew attention to the theological question whether animals have souls.)

SK-H found PS's exposure of the care for animals to be an eye-opener. The Hindu point of view cares for animals, but Christians in India care little for animals. PS acknowledged that care for animals by Evangelicals might be in part because of contact with India as well as Puritanism. Mahatma Gandhi, according to PS, both gave and received from Christian ideas while in Britain.

In this we see two impacts of religious belief on scholarship.

have been long denigrated and misunderstood,

Paper available.

Session 4. Jeremy Ive (JI), 'The three-legged stool of experience and theoretical thought - The transcendent (religious) basis and transcendental (universal) framework for any field of study -- with special reference to the social sciences'

Discussants: Maria Burke (MBcJI), Daniel Hill (DHcJI)

Kind of link discussed: Religious doctrine about the nature of God informs theoretical constructs.

Summary of Presentation and Discussion: The Christian doctrine of Trinity (God as three persons in unity of God-hood) can be the inspiration for an theory that not only attempts to provide a comprehensive ontological understanding of the world, but can also be used to inform extant thinking in various fields. His theory is that temporal reality exhibits three basic kinds of 'thing': individuality, relating and process. All three are necessary, and must be seen in combination. He showed how various earlier biases in sociology could be explained by reductionism to or of one of these three.

The basis for this theory is that the nature of God is reflected in the basic structure of what God created, which implies that we might be able to deduce from our understanding of the nature of God to an ontology of reality, and also healthy paradigms for our fields of study. The following table expresses much of Jeremy's argument:

Person of Godhead Father Son Holy Spirit
Revealed function Origin of all things Coherence of all things Makes all things possible
Ensures Individuality Relationality Time and change
'Transcendentals' Individuals Relationships Events
Holistic view "Individuals-in-relation over time"
Reductionisms in social theory Seeing society as conglomeration of individuals Seeing society as a collectivist whole Seeing society as flux
Healthy paradigm in social theory "We need to see clearly differentiatied social structures, arising from the order of creation but unfolded in history, each with its own appropriate sphere of responsibility and competence."

JI showed how each of individualities, relations and events are of a variety of kinds, and that Dooyeweerd's aspects can help us distinguish different kinds.


MB liked this, but asked what would social theorists think of this view? PS likewise suggested that other Giddens and other social theorists had tried to overcome this, in his duality between agency and structure [though that seems to be only two things A.B.]. RR also liked it.

MB also asked whether Jeremy's transcendentalism sat on the spectrum of research paradigms of positivism, interpretivism and critical theory.

[Though it has both individuals of the first two and social structures of critical theory, it seems to lack a place for causality, which is important to positivism, meaning, which is important for interpretivism, and normativity, which is important in critical theory. This could raise the question of whether such argumentation from a religious doctrine about the nature of God is a valid and useful way to form ontological theories of the world, or to critique extant theories. This opens up a discussion. A.B.]

DH also liked this, but, noting its roots in Reformational Philosophy, posed the challenge: is Reformational thought the only way to overcome such problems in a field like social theory? (See re. Giddens above.) Jeremy responded by giving the example of another attempt at transcendentals, Truth, Beauty and Goodness. He suggested that these are three ways of relating, and hence are partial components within his own approach, a suggestion that DH questioned (is truth a relation?). JI responded that we still suffer from ancient Greek ways of thinking, and do not treat na´ve experience well.

[That is a good question that reformationals might like to consider. A.B.]

DH also suggested that in such an approach it is important to ground the starting point, not just in religious doctrine, but in Scripture. itself. [That should be relatively easy to achieve.]

PS also suggested that such an idea needs to take account of historical beliefs. For example, where is Fall (evil, tendency to evil)? Fall is another fundamental doctrine of certain kinds of Christianity, including reformational forms (Creation, Fall, Redemption). (JI had mentioned creation and redemption and final consummation in his talk, but not fall.)

Paper available, and Presentation,

Session 5 (semi-keynote). Yong Joon (John) Choi (JC). 'Impacts of religious belief on scholarship'

Discussants: Neil McBride (NMcB), Miriam Sampson (MS)

Kind of link discussed: Religious beliefs influence worldviews, which influence the generation of theoretical knowledge; Christian-based philosophical view of theoretical thought to challenge students; Quotations from religious texts to lend support to scholarship for those in that religious community.

Summary of Presentation and Discussion:

Professor Yong Joon Choi gave an overview of the work that is being undertaken on the link between beliefs and scholarship in the Handong Global University in South Korea, especially in the Handong Indtitute for Learning and Faith, and the Global Entrepreneurship Academy. This may be seen as an example of an organisational attempt to explore and enact relationship between belief and scholarship.

In the HILF the teaching places much emphasis on worldview as the way in which beliefs influence schllarship, and on the topic of the integration of faith and scholarship. Worldview comparison: strong and weak points of each. Students are stimulated to reflection and exploration. Prof. Choi undertakes research in Calvinism, which is important in worldview terms. Critical questions are raised not just about religion but also about what science is [NMcB agreed that was important], and what truth is (perhaps reflecting American interests), along with an historical perspective thereon. The transcendental critique of theoretical thought of Dooyeweerd is used, even though it is intense philosophy. Part of the reason this is done is to challenge students. In this Christian university, 20% of the students are non-Christian because they like the challenge; YJC gives them a chance to defend themselves. YJC tries to listen to non-Christians as much as possible.

More generally, the University tries to integrate faith and life as a whole. Taking an explicitly Christian view, they take the view that the purpose education, like that of all learning in life, is to make us more like Christ (in such things as attitude and character). There seems to much reference to Bible verses, not so much to prove things in scholarship, nor to constrain, as to try to find meaningful links between scholarship and what is seen as God's ways. An example is Genesis 2, where the man was given responsibility of naming animals; this is seen as lending Biblical support the notion of exploring the nature of the world, as in scholarly research. This seems to be aimed at those in the Christian community.

NMcB noted that much in this challenges the standard views, and asked whether or how curricula are created that bring in Christian content. Is there a threat to academic freedom where Christian are not allowed to express their views; are we like Daniel in Babylon? Christianity gives the idea of scholarship as service [rather than e.g. career-for-self-seeking]. He claimed that the "secular understanding of freedom is limiting", which is interesting and needs unpacking. Allowing religious beliefs to inform scholarship makes it more sustainable. Finally, NMcB made the important point that the audience we write for should not just be ourselves, but the rest of the world, "How do we write for The Guardian?"

MS asked what kinds of students choose the course on integrating faith with scholarship. At Portsmouth, she finds that Chinese scholars are very interested in this link, partly because of rapid change in China and their concern about growing consumerism, and the input of Western ideas like postmodernism alongside Confucionism, Buddhism, etc. This is a challenge.

RCB told of her work in State and other schools with Bible Explorer; children and teachers welcome it.

Paper available.

Session 6. Daniel Hill (DH). 'Serving Christ in Academia.'

Discussants: Miriam Sampson (MScDH), Richard Russell (RRcDH)

Summary of Presentation and Discussion:

This was a highly practical session, with considerable clarity of categorization. Daniel suggested four things to which a person who wants to serve Christ in academia should give attention, and each applies to the three roles of research, teaching and administration:

Response by MS: Very helpful ideas; especially the idea of choice. Could be written for other faiths too. However,

DSR: What do, what not do, how do?

MS: Relationships with students different. Choice in administration, e.g. on Equality and Diversity Committee. Choice in teaching: broader vision, e.g. Politics of gender with Elaine Storkey. John 3:16, Christ is to benefit the whole world. While it's OK to use research for apologetics, we should not do research for that reason. Motivation is to uncover the truth about the creation.

Response by RR: Danger that we are satisfied with doing just one thing for Christ. Many things can make a difference. Be careful about being too over-prescriptive about areas to avoid; for instance, some say that philosophy should be avoided because it sometimes destroys faith, but we need Christians to 'redeem' philosophy. Also, beware focusing too much on sexual issues, and ignoring the evil of the power of mega-corporations etc. [Question for research: how do we determine what to avoid, in any context?] In past some Christian teachers have studiously avoided speaking of Christ, because of fear of indoctrinating. We need to develop a new generation of Christian thinkers [and this might mean taking risks; Question for research or discussion; how do we determine when and when not to take risks?]

Presentation available.

Session 7a. Neil McBride (NM). The impact of Humanistic beliefs.

Summary of Presentation and Discussion: How should we compile a set of ethical rules, for example in relation to information technology (ICT)? Philosophers NM met ignored social theory. Functionalist or Kantian ethics were seen as 'OK' but virtue ethics was seen as 'contaminated' because of its association with the Roman Catholic church (despite its origins in Aristotle). The discourse around ethics was distorted by prejudice, especially of an 'atheistic' kind, and the Kantian demand not to kneel before anybody. So, in any area of discourse, we should look under the bonnet of what is going on. For example, in discussing ethical issues in ICT, the PAPA criteria (privacy, accuracy, property, accessibility) are limited because they presuppose humanistic mindset, such as "The freedom of man transcends the world". "Proud to be an atheist" [Pinker] In addition, written media tend to be scathing about anything related to Christianity, or they limit or reject anything that is not a positivist agenda. Example: a Malaria researcher was forced to presuppose Dawkins. This is amplified by commercial pressures not to upset them. So I am giving a Call to Arms. Challenge is that Christians [and Hindus etc.?] are counter-cultural.

There was some discussion about how we should respond ('calls to arms' arouse emotional responses) [Also, should we treat them as enemy, or as "sheep without a shepherd"? Ed.] Mention was made of McIntyre and Ch. Taylor as thinkers beyond the humanist worldview. Some discussion on altnernatives, e.g. ACTIVE, and e.g. whether virtue ethics is a useful basis for Christian ethics.

No paper available.

Session 7b. David Booth (DB). 'An exploration of the religious roots of a Biosocial Psychologist' (presented by Andrew Basden).

Discussants for DB: Richard Russell (RRcDB), Richard Gunton (RGcDB)
Summary of Presentation and Discussion: How does a committed Bible-following Christian work fruitfully in the areas of psychology, philosophy, etc.? Four themes were presented. The discussants had read a more complex version, in a paper, and found it hard to understand. The discussants appreciated the interdisciplinary nature of DB's work (though two felt he was rather reductionist). [Why was this? Maybe because, though DB acknowledges several causalities, he does so within a paradigmatic assumption of an input-output (systems) approach, to both body and mind, which they did not; the input-output approach pervades the whole rather than being explicit; this might demonstrate one effect of paradigmatic presuppositions not being made explicit.] Also, DB's separation of causalities was questions; for example might not a brain tumour or a social relationship event affect mental functioning?
Paper available, and version read by AB.

Roles of Participants

Presenters were asked to:

Discussants were asked to:

Everybody was asked to:

Created: 3 August 2013. Last updated: 5 August 2013, 12 August 2013 AA. 16 August 2013 small correction. 17 August 2013 PS summary. 12 September 2013 JI summary. 12 November 2013 YJC summary. 19 April 2014 completed DH's session.