A Theologian on a Science Conference?

– Tom Uytterhoeven –

Someone tweeted this announcement for a workshop on human evolution. Whenever I notice something similar, I usually scramble for my calendar. But even before I check the dates to see if I could go, and certainly before I check whether my budget allows me to go, doubts start raising their ugly heads… I'm not a scientist, so what could I contribute to a conference on cultural evolution, a colloquium on cognitive science or a workshop on the development of language?

Of course, one could also turn this around. I'm working in the field of religion ánd science, which implies studying science. And doesn't studying science also means participating – even only as observer – in events where the latest findings, the newest theories, the most recent questions are debated?

Moreover, one could argue that proponents of the humanities should be routinely invited if the object of a conference is humanity. Surely we could – and a lot of us do – all read books and articles outside our own fields. But maybe some of the discussions between proponents of science and the humanities could be more fruitful and less entrenched when both would meet each other face to face more often.

Is the academic world organised for such interdisciplinarity? Just compare applying for a budget to participate in a conference that is 'right up your alley' with applying for a budget to participate in a conference that is not explicitly related to your field of expertise (e.g. a neurologist considering going to a conference on education or visual arts because there is a possibility this might help her with her own research): which one has the best chance of getting approved?

That said, not everything is bad and negative. I did receive a PhD-scholarship from my faculty, and I get to work in an interdisciplinary research group. And there are exciting interdisciplinary conferences being organised (sadly, I cannot join the next ESSSAT conference, but it is exemplary in this regard). But still: could a theologian attend a science conference? And what about scientists attending theology conferences?

 

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