Guidance on project themes

Research for the project New Horizons for Science and Religion in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) is broadly within the three main project themes of:

  • Science and Religion in the CEE Context;
  • Reason and Faith;
  • Persons, Mind, and Cosmos

All those applying for grants relating to this project may find the following list of sample questions useful. Please note, however, that: (a) these particular questions are given only as examples: the project team absolutely welcomes different and fresh questions, provided they fall under the three themes, and (b) we do not normally expect applicants to select their research questions precisely from these examples.

Prospective applicants may also find it useful to investigate the John Templeton Foundation’s ‘Science and the Big Questions’ funding area to get an idea of the kind of research the IRC aims to support. For enquiries about whether a given idea for a project would fall under the project themes, please contact cee.irc@theology.ox.ac.uk.

Sample questions

Science and Religion in the CEE Context

Questions and approaches to science and religion research that makes special reference to the intellectual and spiritual traditions and histories of CEE, for example:

  • How has the relationship between science and religion historically been understood in CEE?
  • How do understandings differ between Greek, Latin and Armenian Christianity, and between Christianity, Judaism and Islam?
  • How has religion intersected with secular intellectual traditions in CEE?
  • In what respects have religious thinkers in CEE drawn on secular intellectual and philosophical traditions?
  • What view have major modern thinkers from CEE such as Leszek Kołakowski, Jan Patočka, Georges Florovsky and Karol Wojtyła taken of the relationship between science and religion? How have they understood the position of religion in modern societies?
  • CEE has a rich Byzantine heritage. How has this heritage shaped understandings of the relationship between science and religion?
  • How has the modern history of the region, including the experience of communism, affected understandings of religion and its relationship to science? How far has this effect differed in countries of Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant and Muslim heritage?
  • How are the respective roles of science and religion in fostering human flourishing and character formation understood in CEE?
  • How have the diverse religious traditions in Eastern Europe interacted with one another, and how do they do so today?
  • Regional intellectual traditions like Lublin Thomism developed partly as a challenge to the official Marxism of the communist period. Do they have continuing relevance?
  • CEE includes ancient theological traditions that are relatively little-known internationally, such as those of the millennia-old Georgian and Armenian churches. What distinctive insights can these traditions offer on the relationship between science and religion?
  • In some parts of the region, religion was treated as an alternative to communist government and even as a focus of organised resistance. Do views of the role that religion should play in the public sphere differ in CEE?
  • What is the connection between promotion of “scientific atheism” by communist governments and the region’s distinctive religious vitality today?

Reason and Faith

Questions surrounding the relationship between rational enquiry and faith, for example:

  • Are central religious claims admissible of rational proof or disproof?
  • What significance do theological traditions have for scientific practice today?
  • How can researchers best guard against ““philosophical pride” which seeks to present its own partial and imperfect view as the complete reading of all reality” (John Paul II, Fides et Ratio)
  • Can the existence of evil and suffering be rationally justified?
  • Is morality fully justifiable in terms of reason or does it require a transcendent ground in God?
  • “Transhumanists” predict that technological advances will make possible radical human enhancements in the near future. Are these enhancements compatible with a religious view of human persons?
  • What light can research in experimental psychology and neuroscience cast on spiritual and aesthetic experience?
  • What is the rational status of religious experience; can religious experience be informed by rational reflection?
  • In what respects can secular intellectual traditions be informed by religious thought?
  • How far is it possible to develop an understanding of themes like transcendence, spirituality, sanctity or consolation in isolation from organised religious traditions?
  • What role has religion played in the development of scientific, cultural and artistic forms? Is an understanding of their religious roots useful in understanding their later development?
  • Is religious faith more akin to scientific enquiry, or to artistic expression?
  • What role does aesthetic appreciation, like the experience of beauty, play in religious faith? Are human beings unique in being able to experience beauty?
  • Can human responsiveness to aesthetic qualities be explained in scientific terms alone?
  • Is it possible to preserve a sense of irreducible value and meaning of human creativeness without recourse to the supernatural?
  • Can science or culture be a substitute for religious faith?
  • Is there a connection between left-brain/right-brain processing and human engagement with the world in terms of reason and faith?
  • What role does teleological reasoning have to play in science?
  • Do the third person approach associated with science and objective enquiry leave out irreducibly first-person or second-person perspectives?
  • Can spiritual values be upheld in a naturalistic paradigm?
  • Do prevalent CEE intellectual traditions like phenomenology or Lublin Thomism have a distinctive contribution to make to these questions?

Persons, Mind, and Cosmos

Questions at the intersection of science, theology and philosophy concerning the relationship between human persons, minds, and the natural world, for example:

  • Can physical cosmology explain the origin of the cosmos?
  • Are theories about the origin of life and the cosmos inevitably empirically underdetermined?
  • Can consciousness be explained as a result of natural selection? Is Thomas Nagel right that phenomenal states pose a special problem for existing theories?
  • In asking about the cause of the universe, must we also ask about the cause of mathematical laws? (Cf. Michał Heller, Templeton Prize Acceptance Speech)
  • Should computers be considered “living beings”? Might they ever be?
  • How can science and theology benefit one another in studying the origins of life and the cosmos?
  • Is “the mystery of life's origin... the most consequential facing science”? (Harold 2001, The Way of the Cell, 235)
  • Can Leibniz’s question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” be answered empirically? (See e.g. Lawrence Krauss, A Universe from Nothing)
  • Are advances in neuroscience helping to clarify the relation between the brain and the mind?
  • Does explaining the existence of human beings pose greater challenges than explaining the existence of other life? (Is there a “human difference” in reason, free will, or something else, that creates additional challenges?)
  • Does science undergo revolutions; what will the next revolution look like?
  • Is it possible for God to intervene in the universe after the moment of creation?
  • To what degree should beliefs about the origin of life and the cosmos matter for religious believers?
  • What was the relationship between Homo sapiens and God for the first few hundred thousand years of our existence; how should present-day theologians understand evidence of prehistoric religious practices?
  • Can laws of nature be appealed to in explaining the origin of the cosmos, or must we explain the origin of the laws themselves?
  • What are the differences between “someone” and “something”, between the between the “I am” of the person and the “it is” of the human organism?
  • What am “I”? Am I to be identified with part of my physical being and, if so, which part? What are my boundaries, for example, can artefacts become extensions of “me” in some sense? Am “I” only meaningful in relation to some “you” or “it”? How should I think of “me” if I am not to be identified with my body or some part of it?
  • Is the concept of free will redundant in the light of Libet-like experiments and other contemporary work in neuroscience?
  • Is there or might there be a “theology” as well as a “philosophy” of the brain?
  • Is the person inherently relational or second-personal, as in Aquinas’s account of the Trinitarian persons, or Buber’s account of I-Thou relatedness?