Thinking Christianly, Redeeming Secularity
Conference held at jointly with Centre For Contemporary Ministry
at Westminster College, Cambridge
13-15 September 2006
Twenty-five men and women, most whom are currently involved in academic life in a wide variety of disciplines, met together for two days to acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus in the academic and intellectual worlds and to seek to understand more of what that means for them and their academic work, personally and with others.
Key Issues and Ideas:
There are both benefits and limitations of an interdisciplinary approach: looking at issues from different disciplines can aid understanding (e.g., identifying and resolving issues by locating causes / roots more accurately), but there are language / culture issues when we meet across disciplines (especially between the humanities and the sciences). As Tony Lane commented in his review, we can prove to be incredibly naïve in other peoples disciplines, while sophisticated in our own. Ard Louis emphasized the importance of humility in relation to our views and those of our discipline: we need a community of scholars that can criticize each other, while still loving one another.
- As disciples of Christ, we can see our studies in part as recognizing the worth of Gods creation. This feeds into worship.
- Kantian autonomy can be challenged, and also the public / private (secular / sacred) divide.
- The ideas of sin (=dysfunction) and judgement (=accountability) need to be repatriated in some of our disciplines.
Recognizing and putting forward distinctively Christian views in the academic and wider intellectual worlds is a learning process for Christian academics and their Church and University communities. Many of us feel we are not well equipped to bring a Christian view to our discipline, partly because it can be hard to find a way into the tight intellectual structure of some disciplines. This is where an interdisciplinary approach can help, and it is vital too that we work at this with others, not just on our own.
While neutrality in our academic work is an illusion, we can and should cultivate impartiality and critical judgement in our work. When we are working outside our own field, we need to value the expertise of those in other disciplines, not uncritically but with humility, being willing for our own discipline egos to be dethroned. Overall, as Christians, we can contribute a sense of the unity of Gods creation, seeking to give glory to Him in our shared work as academics.
1. Individuals, pairs or trios who attended the conference (or who did not do so but support its aims) may offer to take a first step and produce to a self-set deadline an interim document on a specific academic and/or practical issue for a national or local meeting or on the C-A-N- email group.2. There is a priority on Christians working from within their own academic disciplines to tackle specific issues in collaboration with specialists in other disciplines and professions.3. We need to further interdisciplinarity by addressing academic and public issues not touched on in the conference groups. It is important to keep open channels of communication with the outside world. It is proposed to invite a group of theologians / philosophers to a future conference to assist in engaging in areas where there is a need.
- 4. There was a proposal to set up a working agenda group to consider which issues it would be helpful to study from a Christian viewpoint. This group should have broad representation from different disciplines. It might need to meet initially, and could then proceed to correspond by email. The results could be fed into future conferences and into research programmes by individuals and groups. Please let us know if you are interested in being a part of or contributing to this group.
- 5. Areas of interest could be proposed for research students in theology and Christian philosophy, as well as for interdisciplinary studies. Networking is necessary with other institutions engaged in seeking a Christian Mind (e.g., the Jubilee Centre, LICC), with theological colleges and Christian research supervisors.
- 6. Other practical possibilities:
- - text books modelling Christian ways of thinking,
- - books defining how Christians see the history of ideas (one paragraph per idea for the popular market),
- - productions of CDs,
- - a working group on how to talk about the Christian faith to a colleague,
- - publishing a bibliography of resources on Thinking Christianly on the website (annotated bibliographies on Christian perspectives on each discipline would be very helpful, or links to where these already exist).
- 7. It is intended to publish the plenary papers given at the Conference on the C-A-N- website, with links from the CCM website. We would also encourage other presentations given to the groups to be submitted to the conference organizers (preferably in electronic form) with a view to their being published on the website. We appreciate however that some of the group presentations were of a provisional nature, and while very helpful and valued at the conference, may not be felt to be appropriate for wider circulation.
Ard Louis spoke to us about his work with postgraduate students and introduced Remi Tobler, who is involved in Christian ministry with postgraduates, sponsored by Friends International. There is an annual conference for postgraduates (for details see www.christianpostgrad.org.uk) and Ard has been putting together some resources specifically to help postgraduates (see www-louis.ch.cam.ac.uk/postgrad). We also had a visit from Ruth Bancewicz, who brought some literature about Christians in Science.
- To be fully Christian and fully academic.
- To be fully participatory.
- To be broadly interdisciplinary.
- To be open-ended.
Following the conference, John considers we need to take this further, and we would invite ongoing comment from participants and others. Please get involved, as God calls and guides you, in some of the Practical Ways Forward.
C-A-N-s next annual conference, to be sponsored jointly with the West Yorkshire School of Christian Studies, will be entitled Effective in Changing Culture and held at the University of York on 7-8 September 2007. Jonathan Chaplin, who was with us for part of this conference, and is Director of the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics, based at Tyndale House, Cambridge, will be one of the main speakers, together with his wife Adrienne. Dont miss out on this book early!
We all need Gods help, as we seek what He wants, and so we continue to pray:
Father God, help us to think Christianly, help us to understand more how You intend to redeem the secularity around us, and help us to work with You in that task.