Can religious and scientific understanding be integrated? At what risk to either or both?
An interdisciplinary team of academic researchers is trying to answer those questions among others.
"With the support of a 3.56 million dollar grant from the John Templeton Foundation, and with additional support from the Henry Luce Foundation, Fordham University, and the University of California-Berkeley, the Varieties of Understanding project brings the combined efforts of some of the world's leading psychologists, philosophers, and theologians to bear on these crucial questions."
The theology team has a blog where they are posting some of their contributions to the project. I get pretty excited about projects that think across the boundaries of science, philosophy, and theology. I posted my thoughts and questions in their blog's open thread, and I wanted to repost my thoughts here. I'll also post here any ongoing discussion I have with Aaron or Martin.
Martin and Aaron, I’ve read both of your recent posts and figure that this open thread is the best place to respond to both, particularly because my response also engages the larger project as well.
I want to bring into conversation Martin’s chapter on philosophy and genocide (available at academia.edu). I think it may have important implications for The Varieties of Understanding Project (the Project from now on) as a whole and your group’s section on inquiry into religious understanding. Let me see if I can pull these threads together then you two can let me know your thoughts. I do not have a thesis to put forward, rather a set of comments and questions.
My main question is this: If secular rational society harbors genocide within itself, or in other words, if integration necessitates elimination, then in what ways are the varieties of understanding placed at risk within the Project?
But how did I get to this question from your two posts here and Martin’s chapter on philosophy and genocide? First, your two posts, read together, raised the question for me of the prioritization of ethics over metaphysics. Initially, an inquiry into religious understanding seems to naturally raise questions about the metaphysical reality of the divine, as articulated in Aaron’s post. Martin raised an additional concern, an ethical one, by suggesting we explore when negation “is spurred by means of something like an ethical or moral orientation.” Upon reading your two posts here I was immediately reminded of an undergraduate seminar on the philosophy of genocide in which I tried to use a bit of Levinas to defend the prioritization of ethics over metaphysics as way to promote solidarity and reduce violence. As I was pondering this connection I was also reading Martin’s biography which led me to his chapter on philosophy and genocide, which I downloaded and read in haste. There, in that chapter, Martin articulates Horkheimer and Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment (DE), which I have not read, but according to Martin, is the dialectical process whereby secular rational society is teleologically driven to produce genocide. The Enlightenment is a totalitarian integrator, and “anything that is unable to be integrated is eliminated” (p 230). I immediately connected this thought to one of the stated purposes of the Project:
“If different types of inquiry provide different forms of understanding, how might they be combined to produce an integrated understanding of the world” (http://www.varietiesofunderstanding.com/about.html).
But according to Horkheimer and Adorno, secular rational society harbors the dark passenger of genocide, or total integration plus the elimination of remainders. For Martin, “the question becomes: given the proximity and inherent friction of vocabularies [what I assume to be the fertile union of secular rational society and genocide], how does or can disagreement lead to cohesion or unity without silencing certain segments of society or without manifest conflict with others? Ultimately, how do we achieve community” (p 233)? And more basic, is community possible? Can we integrate and not eliminate? And this is the direct challenge to the Project’s wish to “produce an integrated understanding of the world” from its constituent projects in philosophy, theology and psychology.
Martin, in his chapter, suggests that an empirical solidarity, actual community, depends on first sorting out a theory of our commitments to each other, which I read as prioritizing ethics over metaphysics. Martin articulates Adorno’s material, bodily, or a-cognitive, model of solidarity in which bodily suffering demands a response from other agents. For the witnessing agent, there is no retreat into discursive or logical forms because the other’s bodily suffering demands an immediate response, a response which is an ethical response first, grounded, I suppose, in the solidarity between each other’s body-ness and present-ness, a solidarity prior to any metaphysical truth claims.
Although Martin discusses this solidarity in the context of preventing genocides, if we read it in terms of the broader context of the potential eliminations that result from the DE (in so far as contemporary researchers and thinkers practice Enlightenment values), then we can ask my main question about the Project: If secular rational society harbors genocide within itself, or in other words, if integration necessitates elimination, then in what ways are the varieties of understanding placed at risk within the Project? And secondly, what would an a-cognitive solidarity look like between the sciences, philosophy and theology?