The CEE scoping project

At the time of writing, September 2019, the Ian Ramsey Centre (IRC) has completed an eighteen-month project at the University of Oxford, funded by the John Templeton Foundation (ID: #60984) to investigate the capacity of researchers in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) to engage with questions of fundamental importance in science and religion, specifically at the interface of science, theology and humane philosophy (‘Big Questions’). The IRC has held meetings with over 160 CEE researchers, as well as receiving more than 70 expert surveys completed by individual CEE scholars and departments

The report concludes that CEE is an emerging intellectual ecosystem with high potential for world-class research into Big Questions if timely support is provided. CEE has a history of intellectual creativity, and until the mid-twentieth century it was a major centre for religious thought and scientific research. Decline under communism, and economic and political disorder following its collapse, saw CEE research fall behind the West. Intellectual life in CEE is now recovering in many places and the region is poised to regain its former status as a centre for world-class scholarship and research.

Without a catalyst, however, it is not yet clear how far this revival will include space for research that engages with Big Questions. On the positive side, CEE is a region of immense religious vitality, and CEE researchers are already organising major initiatives such as the first International Philosophical Dialogue on Science and Religion (Skopje, 2015) and the second World Congress on Logic and Religion (Warsaw, 2017). On the other hand, researchers report a perception among CEE institutions and funding instruments that matters of faith and spirituality, though important, have little place in an academic setting. This perception is in part the legacy of communist-era suppression of academic discussion of religion, but it has been reinforced in recent years by the association of the West with secularism. Coupled with financial pressures on early-career researchers, and limited community support, this perpetuates a culture in which research into Big Questions is peripheral. But a creative intervention now could have a deep and lasting effect on the character of CEE intellectual life, allowing the region to realize its potential as a global centre for generations to come.

In order to turbocharge Big Questions research, the IRC considers that a new project in CEE should aim to: legitimize Big Questions research through flagship projects, high profile events, translations and international exchanges; champion rising stars through competitions, leadership roles, research leave and visiting fellowships; and create a community of Big Questions researchers in CEE through public outreach, student programmes, conferences, and incentivised collaboration.

 

Copernicus monument, Torun, Poland
Source: Big Stock Photo 188619124