Cadbury lectures 2013: Abstracts

Notes on a scandal: the persistence of the sacred and the profane in the modern world. Gordon Lynch

'From phone hacking to the Jimmy Savile case, public moral scandal still has the potential to over-turn powerful political actors and institutions and to taint reputations irretrievably. How can we understand the force of shared public reactions to such scandals, though, in a modern societies that are highly individualised and supposedly lack a strong moral core? This lecture will explore how a cultural sociological understanding of the sacred and the profane, building on Emile Durkheim's classic study of religious life, can help us to make sense of the nature, content and significance of sacred forms in the modern world. In doing so, it will explain why public and social media have become more important carriers of sacred content than traditional religious institutions, the ways in which sacred ritual succeeds and fails in modern life, and the value and risks inherent in our moral passions.'

Myths of Mary and the married Jesus: how popular culture is affecting scholarship. Mark Goodacre

From Jesus Christ Superstar to the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife, from the Last Temptation of Christ to the Da Vinci Code, this generation has seen a radical alteration in our perspectives on key characters in early Christianity. Mary Magdalene has been transformed from a repentant prostitute to the first apostle. Now she is even Jesus’ wife. But is Mary’s rehabilitation rooted in reassessments of the primary texts or is it a product of our own immersion in popular culture? What do we know about her Gospel, her tomb, her family? The real story of Mary’s rejuvenation is so mysterious that it leads us to question the identity of the woman we thought we knew.

Which West should we defend? The crisis of Theology and the crisis of the University. John Milbank

The reasons for the decline in theology over time in the UK as elsewhere are in part internally generated. In order to curry secular academic respectability much of theology, ever since the 19th C, has not really been theology at all, but supposedly 'objective' historical and textual study. A further dilution has occurred recently when the 'theology' in 'theology and religious studies' is construed, without discussion, as 'plural theologies' rather than as 'Christian theology'. But it is the latter which in our cultural context is the genuinely coherent and longstanding intellectual tradition, even though it was not often described as 'theology' before the year 1300. This discourse, under whatever name, embodies nothing less than a continued articulation of the main way in which the west has understood itself since late antiquity. Its loss is therefore an integral part of the displacement of that discourse by the discourse of 'liberalism', whose value-neutrality means that it is unable to say what it is that the west is positively committed to or to defend the western project into the future. For all who continue to believe in this project it is therefore crucial to seek to defend and expand the place of Christian theology in Higher Education. As the lamentable case of Lancaster has proven, 'religious studies' is not a defensible discipline and is likely in future to be parceled out to other subjects.

Within Theology and Religious Studies departments, the religious studies component needs to be understood in more rigorous and 'continental' terms as 'the history of religions' and the prime reason for studying this should be the fact that modern theology has to consider the question of the entire variety and scope of human religious traditions. At the same time, it should be accepted that many people will want to study this subject and also theology itself for non-Christian or entirely secular reasons. Moreover, theology and religious studies should also be promoted as a new sort of literae humaniores very suited to undergraduate study in a globalised world. Yet perhaps paradoxically, the survival of this enterprise depends upon the hegemony of theology within it. However, the presence of other religions within our culture should be recognised by encouraging also the engaged intellectual articulation with Theology and RS departments of other religious traditions by practitioners of those traditions. Such practitioners often accept that this will nonetheless be a minority activity within a predominantly Christian department appropriate to a still officially and even, in some ways unofficially Christian country -- which they generally prefer to the prospect of a completely secular polity.

Hearing Texts and Reading Voices: on the redrawing of early Christianity. Judith Lieu

In recent years new approaches and questions have led to a significant redrawing of the map of early Christianity, in particular during the second century. Somewhat straightforward, linear narratives of the separation of Christianity from its Jewish roots, and of the development of its literature, ideas, and institutions have been replaced by a much richer awareness of diversity. At the same time, we have become much more attuned to those voices hidden between the lines of the texts or in alternative sources which were soon forgotten.

‘Read! In the name of thy Lord!’: Vision and vocation of the Word. Ataullah Siddiqui

Islamic historical order is contiguous with other cultures, faiths and civilisations. It also shares with them the supposedly common moral and spiritual as well as intellectual matrix of humanity. But what boundaries does the command ‘to read’ put upon the human quest for understanding, and in particular for Muslims? Should Islam provide a detailed blueprint for human society? Or does the Quranic calling to read ‘in thy name’ envisage a pluralistic vision of society? Siddiqui will explore such themes and the radical polarisation of the ‘study of Islam’ both in the academy and Muslim centres of religious learning. 

Distinctive voices require distinctive universities. The case for theology and a Christian university. Gavin D'Costa

D'Costa will examine some key steps in the secularisation of theology and then develop an argument for theology as the queen of the sciences within the university. This renewal of theology's proper disciplinary role implies that one proper setting for theology is a Christian university. The notion of a Christian culture underlying this institutional idea is key for the future of Christianity in Europe.

Questions between religions: deep reasonings, no map. David Ford

Questions raised between the religions can be a lever for the transformation not only of the field of theology and religious studies but also of how other academic disciplines relate to the religions, and of the nature of the university itself. But how are these questions best approached? The lecture will draw on examples from Europe, North America, the Middle East and China, and will also respond to earlier lectures in the series, in the course of offering a vision of best practice in relation to the religions for universities in plural societies of the twenty-first century.