Scholarship and Religious Beliefs

"How Can or Should Religious Beliefs Impact our Scholarship?"

The aim of a Workshop held 26-28 July 2013 at Gladstone's Library, Hawarden, N. Wales, was to draw a rich picture of insights related to that question, from a wide range of views. We found many kinds of impacts, but to date, most attempts to address that question have recognised only a few, and there is little dialogue between those with different views.

Participants at the SARB Workshop at Gladstone's Library

Sixteen participants at the Workshop were split between presenters and discussants. The emphasis was on stimulating a wide range of ideas. Participants were mainly Christians and Hindus, with Christians in the majority (evangelical, charismatic, reformational).

Outcome and Contribution

On the one hand,
some believe that religious belief has no place in scholarship (except perhaps to be explained away!).
On the other hand,
there are several different assumptions about how religious beliefs should affect scholarship, ranging from
ethics of scholarship or being people of integrity,
introducing different paradigms for research,
restricting what we should teach and research,
to using Scripture verses in academic arguments and theories.

Unfortunately, seldom is there any discussion about which of these are valid and which are not. Seldom do holders of these views talk to each other. Seldom is the question asked whether there are any other ways religious beliefs might or should affect scholarship.

A major theme that resonated throughout this Workshop was that religious beliefs, far from restricting scholarship, can actually stimulates scholarship and open it up by suggesting aspects that had been ignored.

This Workshop included people of various opinions and found six different kinds of link between religious belief and scholarship that seemed valid:

Each of these might be valid in different ways, at different times. The use of verses of Scripture in arguments or theories was considered not valid.

Here it is in more detail ... The third, on kinds of impact or link, was the main one.

1. What is 'Religious'?

Any of:

2. What is 'Scholarship'?

Any of:

3. Kinds of Link between Scholarship and Religious Beliefs

Five main kinds emerged and were discussed during the Workshop. The variety of links is the main finding of the workshop. Click on each link type to access the discussion about it.

Link type Impact Quotes and Notes
Worldviews within which Scholarship takes place 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, Reformational Christianity, Hedonism, Humanism.
Paradigms of Scholarship 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.
Example: Frequentism and Bayesianism in statistics, which presuppose either that belief is to be ignored or acknowledged. Example: positivist, interpretivist and critical-social paradigms in social research, which presuppose that the purpose of research is to test hypotheses, gain insight or challenge the status quor.
"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.
Content of theories taught or researched Doctrines of faiths, are brought to bear to either constrain or stimulate theories being discussed in the scholarly communities. Though there is a close link to paradigms, this link refers to explicit inclusion of doctrines in theories, often as axioms. In Christian circles, the link is often narrowly restricted to Apologetics.
Examples: In biology, theories about the six 'days' of creation in Geneisis, or theories about 'emergence' of life from chemicals; In theology, proofs of God in Scholastic thought. In statistics (under Bayesian paradigm), the explicit inclusion of belief as a factor.
Choice of topic to teach, research Religious beliefs imply norms that 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.
Motives for doing scholarship Religious beliefs, as adherence to a faith (genuine, not just nominal), 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. "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.
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.

Different kinds of Christian (and other religions) have tended to emphasise one or two of these and ignore others - probably because of their theological stance. Evangelicals tend to emphasise Manner, motive and choice, Reformationals tend to emphasise worldview and paradigms, Pentecostals tend to emphasise motive, Brahmin Hindus might acknowledge all, but emphasise worldview, motive and manner over the others.

4. So What?

This section discusses some implications of the above. It is yet to be written.

Note that the proposal of these kinds of links offers a different explanation for some of these phenomena than is found in much literature, which often argues for social or economic explanations. While these might indeed be valid, it is wise to also consider the possible role that religious beliefs (widely defined) play, since belief is often a very powerful motivator.

5. Guidelines and Action

Engaging in scholarship as a person of faith is a challenge, and can be done either well, effectively in a way that brings fruitfulness to the world of scholarship, as well as letting people experience what Jesus Christ called the Kingdom of God, but can also can be done badly in a way that is counterproductive and that diminishes scholarship and repels people from the Kingdom of God. The participants made a number of points that can be used as guidelines for further action. For example, about the value and universality of guidelines suggested for making choices. We also discussed future possible activity.

Contents of Site

Some participants at the SARB Workshop at Gladstone's Library

Created: 2 August 2013 Last updated: 5 August 201317 August 2013 added a 'so what' section, and compared religius with social and economic motivators. 28 August 2013 better outcome statement.