Posted by: gcarkner | October 16, 2012

Notre Dame History Scholar @ UBC Wednesday

Losing My Religion: The Reformation Era and the Secularization of Knowledge? Wednesday, October 17, @ 4:00 p.m.,  Woodward IRC Room 5 (Gate One UBC) How did theology go from being “queen of the sciences” to exclusion from the secularized academy?  Standard narratives point to the emergence of modern science and critical humanistic scholarship as the keys to the eventual secularization of knowledge.  But as Brad Gregory argues in his new book, The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society, the eventual secularization of knowledge was more paradoxical: it was a long-term result of the unresolved doctrinal disagreements that followed from the Reformation in the sixteenth century, and the political privileging of theology in the confessionally divided universities of early modern Europe.  This insulated theology from new knowledge and set it up in the modern era for an institutional fall from which it has never recovered.

“Hyperpluralism” is Brad Gregory’s description of what some have called “the postmodern condition” in his new book, The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society (Belknap, 2012).  We live in an era in which, empirically speaking, human beings hold an enormously wide range of truth claims pertaining to questions about meaning, morality, value, purpose, and priorities.  Their respective claims influence their actions and the sorts of lives they aspire to live.  The academy contributes to hyperpluralism through the findings of the humanities and social sciences, which disclose a vast array of ways in which human beings across cultures and over time have answered these fundamental human questions, up to and including the present in our era of cosmopolitan globalization.  Every attempt to transcend the hyperpluralism ends up augmenting it, without any shared criteria for how the many rival—and often politically conflictual—claims might be assessed in consensually persuasive ways.  The same holds true of the “real world,” except that religious answers to these questions are permitted in ways that are not true of the academy.  The many competing religious truth claims augment still further the hyperpluralism characteristic of the early twenty-first century, without any shared means of adjudicating among them.  Professor Gregory’s lecture on the Reformation era and the secularization of knowledge will explore one long-term strand which, in the Western world, contributed in paradoxical ways to the exclusion of religious truth claims from assumptions about knowledge and its pursuit in the academy. See full lecture details:

Biography Dr. Brad Gregory holds a PhD in History from Princeton University. His principal research interests center on Christianity in the Reformation era (sixteenth and seventeenth centuries), including magisterial Protestantism, radical Protestantism, and Roman Catholicism approached comparatively and cross-confessionally. He is concerned to understand the long-term ideological influences and institutional consequences of the Reformation era on the making of the modern Western world, and to trace the postmodern condition back to the premodern world. Another of his areas of research and interest is methodology and theory in the understanding of religion and history. His publications include: The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2012). Co-editor, with Alister Chapman and J. R. D. Coffey, Seeing Things Their Way: Intellectual History and the Return of Religion (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2009) “No Room for God? History, Science, Metaphysics, and the Study of Religion,” History and Theory, 47 (2008): 495-519. Academic awards include the Hiett Prize in the Humanities, Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, 2005, and the Kaneb Teaching Award, College of Arts and Letters, Notre Dame, 2005. Comments on the Lecture:

This event was an intellectual treat. I have bought the book Unintended Reformation and am busily devouring it. There are serious implications for our life as a conservative orthodox community which need airing more widely. My own church could usefully reflect on this with respect to the way in which schism has become a way of life for mainstream Protestantism.

Olav Slaymaker, Geography, UBC

I found his presentation well-delivered and clear. But I would put more explanatory power for the ending of Christendom in the shifting themes identified by sociologists like Peter Berger and philosophers like Charles Taylor. I don’t think the world we have lost since the Reformation could have been sustained by better magisterial efforts of theological faculties of universities in Europe and American. Gregory’s epistemological points in critiquing the hegemony of current naturalism in the physical sciences were certainly convincing, but hardly new. Historians tell stories, and Gregory’s story was superb.

George Egerton, Professor Emeritus History, UBC Thought Provoking Quotes from The Unintended Reformation: Key Historical Value: We cannot understand the character of contemporary realities until and unless we see how they have been shaped and are still being shaped by the distant past. Our age suffers from a “blithe and incoherent denial of the category of truth in the domain of human morality, values, and meaning among many academics. It is frequently alleged that all human meaning, morality and value can be nothing more than whatever human beings of different times and cultures subjectively and contingently construct for themselves, or at least that we cannot know whether any among them might be more than this.” 19 From the undeniable fact of pluralism, it is frequently inferred that moral and cultural relativism is true, that there are no norms and values rightly applicable to people of all times and places. 20 How to ground truth claims about morality and values amidst swarms of incompatible, shifting assertions about them remains a genuine and pressing problem. Problematic: What sort of public life or common culture is possible in societies whose members share ever fewer substantive beliefs, norms, and values save for a nearly universal embrace of consumerist acquisitiveness. Individual choice has become the summum bonum of our day; it allows us to ignore the needs of others. We are colonized by Capitalism and consumerism. Central argument of Ch 6: The current three features of knowledge—its secularity, its specialized and segmented character, and its intrinsic separability from the rest of life—are related and derive from in complex and unintended ways from the doctrinal disagreements of the Reformation era. On Scientism: UR, p 358 Given the assumptions of metaphysical univocity and Occam’s razor, the methodlogical naturalism and evidentiary empiricism that define knowledge as secular also mask the ideological  alchemy by which methodological precepts became metaphysical assertion.

Golden roof of the University of Notre Dame

Golden roof of the University of Notre Dame (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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