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Technology, religion, and transforming the secular 
Yunus Telliel (Worcester Polytechnic Institute)
Marie Stettler Kleine (Colorado School of Mines)
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Combined Format Open Panel

Short Abstract:

Sociotechnical systems create multiple secular frames for being human--with, against, and refracted by religion. The panel explores a new transformation generating ‘hybrids’ (e.g., evangelical engineers, UFO researchers, AI spiritualists) that restructures relations of the secular and the religious.

Long Abstract:

Technologies are co-constructed with their narratives of hope, redemption, and terror. Dissecting techno-optimism underlying modern technosciences, STS scholars have built an analytic language to describe the phenomenon of hopeful futures, often tied to engineers and scientists’ artifacts. At the same time, scholars in religious studies are grappling with what secularity is—agreeing that it is not just the absence of religiosity but the historically and culturally situated replacing, hybridizing, and (in some cases) rejecting religiosity. From cybernetics and AI to robotics to large-scale transportation infrastructure, technological discourse often flirts with religious and spiritual language. Yet, technological discourse shares many characteristics of the languages of secularity as well as cultural values of a modern, secular state. It is this tension--between the inherent religious and secular qualities of technologies--that we hope to illuminate in this panel for combined format presentations including traditional academic papers and exploratory workshops.

The place of the past and tradition is also varied in our narratives of technological development. The transcendent imaginaries of building “new” through innovation in comparison with the conservatism of engineering practice welcome generative dialogue. The embeddedness of technological discourse in religious and secular temporalities adds something unique to this interdisciplinary inquiry. This panel explores what can be learned from the intersection of the theoretical claims of religious studies and the methodological movement of studying the artificiality of technology within STS. We also suggest that secularity looks more complex and peculiar through the study of technology and engineering. In this inquiry, technologists and engineers can become main actors, supporting characters, or companions for the formation of a secular modernity. Technologies and their co-constructors can become the predestined demise, the context for moral and ethical debate, and central to questions about religious and secular action in a politically-volatile world.

Accepted contributions: