Two anthropologists and two theologians will discuss how anthropology can engage with Christian thought and practice.
‘Natural Religion’ refers to the 18th century debates as to whether an empirical study of the natural world provides evidence for the objective existence of the Christian God, and the extension of demonstrative reasoning beyond pure mathematics to the areas of morals and metaphysics. The question of religion, science and rationality is not new to anthropology. But rather than address the rationality of religion, the panel will interrogate the rationality of our own discipline. How can anthropologists, based in secular intellectual and institutional locations, engage with Christian conceptual spaces.
In recent years, anthropologists of Christianity have questioned anthropology’s relation to theology. Joel Robbins has challenged anthropologists to go beyond a critique of the Christian roots of the discipline, or treating Christian thinking as ethnographic data, to be open to the possibility that Christian theologians might get some things right about the world that anthropologists get wrong. This concern is part of a larger discussion of how to ‘take seriously’ the people we write about. Eduardo Viveiros de Castro (at another ASA themed ‘Anthropology and Science’) advocated placing anthropology as a meaning-making practice in ‘epistemological continuity’ with native discourses. Others have advocated a renewed engagement with ‘native ontologies’ as a basis for anthropological theory.
The potential for the panel to take this discussion forward would be in providing an opportunity for anthropology to be in a direct dialogue with theology. Anthropologists working in the areas of Christianity will be in dialogue with Christian theologians, followed by an open discussion.
Chris Brittain (Senior Lecturer, Divinity, University of Aberdeen) will respond to the papers presented by the other three participants.