Beyond Secularization: Religion, Science and Technology in Public Life
We explore ideas of progress that underpin common understandings of what it means to be human, to live a good life, and to aspire to a better future. We examine how science, technology, religion, and secularism interact to shape these ideas—and with what effects.
This interdisciplinary research project, funded by Templeton Religion Trust, looks at relationships between religion, science and technology in several important domains of public life:
in environmental movements;
in shifting ideas of the spiritual self that draw upon science;
in arenas of high-technology innovation that are reshaping how we live; and
in the ways societies debate and govern technologies with the potential to remake human life.
This program of cross-cutting social research begins with two crucial observations: the boundaries between science and religion, and between the secular and the sacred are neither sharp nor self-evident; yet the idea that they are—and that scientific and technological advance inevitably drives secularization and diminishes religion—shapes public life in consequential ways. This project rejects the notion that science and religion are categorically distinct and intrinsically at odds, and problematizes the assumption that progress is intrinsically science-driven and secularizing. Instead, it takes as an object of social inquiry the interlacing of science, technology and religion in public life order to reassess—and re-imagine—dominant ideas of progress.
Working as a CoLab (a collaborative laboratory), this intellectual hub of ASU scholars organizes research around three areas of inquiry:
Biotechnologies capable of reshaping who we are raise fundamental questions about what it means to be human—and about who answers those questions and how, drawing upon what bodies of knowledge and what ideas of human nature, purpose and progress. As scientists, ethicists and publics seek to make sense of the significance of advancing biotechnologies like genome editing for the human future, questions of human identity, integrity and dignity have become central. Sites of scientific and technological innovation have also become sites of moral and spiritual inquiry. This area of research explores how conceptions of the rightful uses of science and technology that could, at the limit, alter our ideas of being human are taking shape in arenas of research, innovation and governance.
Embedded in many innovation cultures is the idea that all aspects of life--from cells to societies to ecosystems—house information that can be directed and altered as easily as software engineers modify code. Built into this idea is the expectation that humanity can be improved and a better world built simply by working out the kinks or upgrading imperfections—aims that might be achieved by harnessing science and technology. Recognizing how Silicon Valley’s innovation culture, profoundly shaped by the idiosyncratic spirituality and culture of northern California, has traveled and given rise to a plurality of tech enclaves, this research area explores the complex spiritual visions these enclaves emerge from and give rise to—visions in which technological innovation is the key to material abundance, political freedom, and the evolution of human consciousness.
How we think about nature and how we think about the self are central concerns of both science and religion. These ideas frame a moral relationship, impacting how humans relate to the natural world and to each other. They even shape how we think we know—whether by intuition, reasoning, measured studies, mystical experiences, or something else—as well as what we think that knowledge is good for. Through case studies, field work, and interpretative analysis, this research area explores how the material world and the self are re-conceptualized and re-invigorated by ecotheologians, environmental activists, and spiritual entrepreneurs who connect science directly to religion and spirituality.
About the icons: Blurring the lines between the literal and the representational, the ill-defined and the evocative, these icons seek to conjure a spectrum of associations held within spaces of the “realistic” and the “figurative.” Each icon plays off of the acronymic visualization of an area of inquiry (H, D, and N) while also channeling and juxtaposing imagined connotations of each area's resonant concept: “The Human,” represented in figures that are tied together with DNA and a shared comradery; “The Digital,” represented in severe lines of runistic mystery and futuristic innovation of information architecture; and “The Natural,” represented in aerial views of steady streams or contour lines of earthly topography.
By creating icons that play with concepts through juxtaposition and varying degrees of ambiguity, the observer is invited to consider multiple methods of interpretation and challenged to consider how boundaries and conceptual distinctions might be working, that is how wide—and just as well, how narrow or even better, how fixed or elusive, how rigid or permeable—lines and gaps are between musings of objects, concepts, and meanings.
Funded by a grant from the Templeton Religion Trust