Monday, July 21, 2014

Concrete interactions of theology with academic disciplines

I went to a very nice conference this past weekend, at Emmanuel College at the University of Queensland. It was jointly sponsored by the Centre for Science, Religion, and Society at Emmanuel and the Simeon Network, affiliated with the Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students. Here are the titles of some of the presentations:
  • Religious freedom as an associational legal right
  • Is all truth God’s truth? Common grace, general revelation and the academic disciplines
  • Lord keep my memory green: Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol
  • The kingdom of God to the kingdom of nothingness: Manning Clark and the course of Australian history
  • Lord Shaftesbury and evangelical social engagement
  • Tertiary chemical education: an ideal platform for connecting resources with students and teachers in or from developing countries
The attendees and speakers were academics from Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne. They ranged from Ph.D students to Professors. Fields represented included law, chemistry, anthropology, literature, history, physics, molecular biology,....
I was impressed by the quality of the presentations, both in content and clarity. Speakers did well addressing a multi-disciplinary audience. Plenty of time was allowed for discussion after each talk which was often quite lively.

Here are a some things I found particularly interesting in two of the talks.

Nick Aroney, a Professor of Law at University of Queensland, began his talk about the legal basis of religious freedom in Australia by sketching out a diagram that showed the multi-disciplinarity of law as an academic discipline. He showed its connections with history, ethics, logic, hermeneutics, politics, theology... He then reviewed the preamble to the Australian constitution and Section 116 which discusses religious freedom. Most people think it in terms of individual religious freedoms but actually it is relevant to "associations" and "corporations". This is relevant to cases involving anti-discrimination, particularly as it pertains to the freedom for churches and religious organisations to use religious criteria for membership and staffing.

Natalie Swann is a Ph.D student in anthropology at University of Melbourne. She asked, "What would a  Christian ethnography look like?"
This was motivated by the fact that in the past decade significant interest has grown in academic anthropology about the interaction of anthropology with theology.
In 2006, Joel Robbins, [recently appointed to a chair a Cambridge] wrote a paper in the Anthropological Quarterly, Anthropology and Theology: An Awkward Relationship? that highlights some of the issues.
Earlier this year the journal Current Anthropology included an article

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