Andrew W Mellon funded project from April 2017 to March 2021
One of the most pressing contemporary problems not just for the academic community but also – and more disturbingly – for the political order of the world is how to understand and respond to the current toxic combination of religion and politics. It is a fundamental concern on the one hand for the issue of diversity. How should the liberal ideal of a tolerant and mixed society comprehend claims to exclusive and totalizing visions of truth, which set themselves against such liberal ideals? We may recognize that there is now, nationally and globally, a new and complex map, which has more than one monotheism, and polytheism, competing alongside secular standpoints. The challenge, in brief, may be expressed like this: how can we take account of theological difference without going to war for belief? Quite simply, diversity in modern society cannot be adequately broached without an engagement with religion. It is, on the other hand, an equally if differently problematic arena of conflict for universities and other institutions of education. Current attempts at legislation in Britain and elsewhere (e.g. Britain’s 2015 “Prevent” strategy) demonstrate little but bafflement, and consequently a profoundly incoherent response to the vexing issues of how teaching and other university practices should engage with the raft of interests unhelpfully sloganized as fundamentalism. The modern secular university – itself the result of a long and contested development – in part because of its very history, has left religion in a systematically awkward and often vexed space on campus, for all participants: teachers, students, administrators. This project aims to approach these problems from a new direction and with new methods of engagement. It will place the dialogic dynamics of religious interaction at the heart of a series of interlinked workshops, summer schools and seminars, to explore how the university can explore the issue of religious diversity in the most sophisticated, historically grounded and productive manner.
Professor Simon Goldhill