ECLAS Partnerships: Nurturing Deeper Understandings
The Rt Revd Dr Richard Cheetham, ECLAS Co-director for Global Engagement and member of the Anglican Communion Science Commission, reflects on the launch of ECLAS’ global partnerships.
The partnerships developed by ECLAS in four different contexts around the world have come at a very opportune time for science/theology engagement. They offer tremendous potential for new and deeper understandings of this fascinating and important conversation between science and religion which is more vital than ever in the 21st century.
My own experience has always been that the engagement of science and theology always produces fascinating and deeper understandings of both disciplines. Given my context in the UK, and my academic background in physics and philosophy, much of this conversation has focused on some of the epistemological questions about what and how we know about life and the universe and God. Often, such an approach led to a conflictual engagement which threatened to become rather sterile. It was locked into features of a secularized Western culture which built on the importance of empiricism and reason and regarded modern science as the ultimate arbiter of what could be known with any degree of certainty. Religious beliefs could be relegated to mere private opinions with no real cognitive content.
In our global world we have become much more aware of the many different cultures and contexts in which humankind lives. They are all interlinked in a complex way. The best learnings are when we are open to different approaches. One obvious example is how much we can learn from the understanding of our relationship with our environment which is coming from indigenous cultures. Another would be from the many places where a more theistic understanding of reality is much more deeply embedded than in a secularized Western culture.
My experience as an Anglican bishop visiting many different places around the world, including Zimbabwe, Jerusalem, Delhi, Hong Kong and California, has left me in no doubt that such relationships across contexts build more profound understandings of Christian faith and how we engage with the world around us.
A good example of this was at the last Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops which took place in Canterbury in August 2022. In a seminar run by ECLAS we asked the question of the bishops present (who were from very different places) about what the key issues were for them in science-theology engagement, and what insights helped them in that. The answers revealed a rich texture of similarity and difference between the various contexts. It was a fascinating foretaste of the new thinking that could be developed in this next stage of ECLAS working with partners around the world.
The potential scope of this has been enriched by the formation of the Anglican Communion Science Commission (of which I am a member) with its brief to promote science-theology engagement around the Anglican Communion. Other networks building up in different places suggest that this global inter-contextual conversation is brimming with energy. All these partnerships, both within the ECLAS project and with other like-minded networks, will need careful building and nurturing, but they have great possibilities.
My excitement and hope around the new partnerships is that this kind of inter-contextual conversation and engagement will lead to new and deeper understandings of the nature of the science-theology relationship. It will also enable the vital questions in each context to be at the centre of enquiry. Many of these questions are major issues facing the world today about how we should live, and how we are to understand our lives in this extraordinary universe. Developing the fruitful engagement of science and theology in different contexts around the world will play a major part in producing deeper and more helpful understandings.
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