2019-2020 Conferences:
Christ, the Academy and the (Post-)Modern World

FACM organised three conferences in the 2019-2020 academic year. Read on to find out more about the theme and details about the conferences. For recordings, see here.


2019-2020 Theme

Harry Blamires famously claimed that the 20th Century was a time of historic rupture between Christianity and the major intellectual institutions of Western Culture.

As a result, the present generation of scholars and educators have inherited a world in which Christianity is considered either peripheral to the life of the university or antithetical to the pursuit of scholarship.

Our series of conferences in 2019-2020 explored this supposed rift between Christianity and the life of the mind. What are the occasions of these frictions – and their causes? What distinctive challenges does the modern world provide for Christian scholarship? And what new opportunities? How might Christian vocation and mission be carried out in such an environment? Who are the most important intellectual voices with whom Christian academics should engage today? In our conferences, Christian scholars reflected on these questions – helping them situate themselves and their academic vocation in relation to these issues. 


November conference

Date, time and location
Saturday 9 November 2019, 9.30am-4.15pm
Old Divinity School, St John’s College, Cambridge 

Theme and focus

  • 2019-2020 Theme: 
    Christ, the Academy and (Post-)Modernity (see above)
  • November conference focus: 
    Studying excellently from the basis of a biblical worldview 

Speakers

  • Dr David McIlroy (Visiting Professor of Law at Queen Mary University of London)
  • Dr Daniel Hill (Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Liverpool)
  • Dr Anna Nickerson (Special Supervisor, English, University of Cambridge)
  • Dr Richard Gunton (Lecturer in Statistics, University of Winchester)

Morning plenaries

  • ‘The Narratives of Modernity and the Christian Story’ 
    Dr David McIlroy
  • ‘Christianity and the Modern Conception of Rights’ 
    Dr David McIlroy

David gave an introduction to the impact of (post-)modernity on the academy and on the field of jurisprudence in particular, and showed how a Christian worldview can open the door to a difference approach. 

Tracks for Subject-Groups
After lunch, we gathered in one of two major subject groups: Arts & Humanities and Science.

  • Arts and Humanities Track: 
    ‘The Secular Imagination: Insights from the 1930s’ 
    Dr Anna Nickerson
  • Science Track: 
    ‘Science and the Modern Worldview’ 
    Dr Richard Gunton

These subject groups provided the opportunity to hear from academics who have sought to apply the Christian worldview to their discipline. 

Afternoon Plenary

  • ‘Serving in Academia as Christian’
    Dr Daniel Hill

February conference

Date, time and location:
Saturday 22 February 2020, 10.00am-4.15pm
McGrath Centre, St Catharine’s College, Cambridge

Theme and focus

  • 2019-2020 Theme: 
    Christ, the Academy and (Post-)Modernity (see above)
  • February conference focus: 
    Pursuing your studies toward worship, cultural apologetics and mission 

Speakers

  • Prof John Wyatt (Emeritus Professor of Neonatal Paediatrics, Ethics & Perinatology, University College London)
  • Prof Glynn Harrison (Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry, University of Bristol)
  • Dr Sam Brewitt-Taylor (Fellow and Tutor in History, Oxford University)
  • Kristi Mair (PhD candidate in Philosophical Theology, University of Birmingham, and Research Fellow, Oak Hill College)

Morning Plenaries

  • Science, Modernity and the Post-Human (Prof John Wyatt)
    Rapid advances in AI, robotics and related technologies are raising profound questions about human nature and the future of humanity. This session looked at some of the deep forces and trends which underlay these developments and showed the extraordinary relevance of historic biblical thinking to these challenges, and the opportunities for Christian witness and engagement
  • Identity Politics and the Doctrine of the Image of God (Prof Glynn Harrison) 
    We are living through a post-modern era marked by campus culture wars and the weaponisation of identity. This session explored how a confident biblical anthropology, rooted in the doctrine of the image of God can help Christians academics engage more positively with these cultural issues of the day.

Tracks for Subject-Groups
After lunch, there was a choice of four subject-specific groups (arts and humanities; philosophy and theology; natural sciences; social sciences). 

  • Understanding Western Secularity: Historical Insights on Today’s Western Societies (Dr Sam Brewitt-Taylor)
    To reach a culture, it is helpful to understand it: but understanding one’s own culture is often extremely difficult. This seminar explored how recent historical insights into the nature of today’s Western secular societies can help Western Christians understand the cultural context they are called to operate in. 
  • Beyond (Post-)Modernity: Michael Polanyi’s Contribution to the Development of a Christian Epistemology (Kristi Mair) 
    Absolute truth claims within the Academy are often greeted with bemusement, if not outright scorn. Postmodern construals of truth can be devastatingly powerful. Without a robust realism, ontology and epistemology, it is tempting to compromise and follow the status quo. In this session, we looked at reality and knowing through the work of scientist-cum-philosopher Michael Polanyi as we allow him to lead us into a fruitful engagement with the nature of truth and reality which moves beyond the strictures of modernity and the ‘me-ism’ of late-modernity. We explored how questions of truth ultimately connect with Christ, thus establishing a greater confidence in our academic disciplines and greater joy our own knowing ventures. 
  • Transgender and the Politicisation of the Social Sciences (Prof Glynn Harrison)
  • Life as a Research Scientist: Opportunities and Challenges in a University Context (Prof John Wyatt)
    Prof John Wyatt discussed lessons and experiences from a career as a research scientist in a university context, with opportunity for Q and A.

May workshop

Date, time and location:
Saturday 16 May 2020, 9am-1pm
Speaker: Kay Carter (Head of Communications, Tyndale House)
Central Cambridge location

Communicating Your Message to the Public: Speaking and Writing Workshop
Our half-day workshop focuses on communication training for aspiring academics seeking to make a public contribution in the light of the Christian worldview. How do you communicate your academic work to a public audience in a way that is engaging, persuasive and commends the relevance and plausibility of the Christian faith? How do you present your material in a simple, but not simplistic way? Our gathering aims to address these questions and provide interactive training.

NB: Due to COVID-19 this event was postponed.


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