Some of the participants at the summer school (29.08 - 01.09.2018) and conference (03.09 - 04.09) on the theme, “The Human Person and the Human Brain”, held at Ciovo, Croatia, as part of the scoping project 60984, funded by the John Templeton Foundation. This event was run in collaboration with the University of Zagreb, University of Warsaw, the Humane Philosophy Project, and the Croatian Dominican Province. The summer school consisted of advanced undergraduate/MA level classes by lecturers from the University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge, the University of Warsaw, and the University of Zagreb.
CEE has frequently played a central role in the history of international science, philosophy and theology. It remains an area of unusual religious vitality: by some measures, it has the highest rates of religious observance in the economically developed world. Since the fall of communism, CEE has also rebuilt its research infrastructure, and it is home to a significant number of institutions and individuals with the capacity to carry out world-class research on Big Questions at the intersection of science and religion. If CEE is to realize its potential to become a leading region for Big Questions research, the academic, institutional, and infrastructural disconnects identified above must be addressed. This section identifies three approaches that, together, will turbocharge Big Questions research in CEE. These are: (i) legitimizing Big Questions research; (ii) championing rising stars; and (iii) building networks.
Legitimizing Big Questions research
There is a perception in CEE that academic research and spiritual matters do not concern one another (see section 4.2). This perception is partly a legacy of communist cultural policy, reinforced by a present-day association of world class academic research with Western secularism. As a result, CEE researchers tend to focus on other interests, or to engage in scholarship of historical and Western research instead of aiming to make an original contribution to a Big Questions research programmes.
A central challenge for funding bodies is to foreground and legitimize Big Questions research in CEE academia. This will involve directly supporting CEE researchers engaged in Big Questions research, as well as increasing the visibility of world-class Big Questions research by both CEE and non-CEE researchers. In concrete terms, this could include:
- Flagship projects. Funding for discrete research programmes on Big Questions in CEE is scarce (see section 4.1). For this reason, there is room to generate considerable impact by supporting Big Questions research projects led by CEE-based researchers. A suite of high-profile projects on Big Questions, executed at the highest standards of academic rigour, will transform the cultural norms faced by Big Questions researchers in CEE. Programmes should be generously funded to attract the most talented researchers in the region, and they should be supported in developing an international network and an international profile.
- High-profile events. Academic events that bring together CEE researchers with their colleagues within, and outside of CEE play an important role in increasing the visibility of Big Questions research. Unlike research projects, and exchange programmes which focus on established researchers, events such as conferences and workshops also provide an opportunity for research students and young scholars to explore new fields of enquiry, thereby encouraging a new generation of researchers to develop their interest in Big Questions.
- Translation. A crucial difficulty in consolidating the position of Big Questions research in CEE is that recent international scholarship in this field is often not well-known, especially in translation. Paradigm-setting texts by writers like William Lane Craig, Eleonore Stump and Richard Swinburne are often wholly unavailable in local languages. To allow wider engagement with Big Questions work, especially in CEE in teaching syllabi, scholarly translations of these works should be made available.
- International exchanges. Scholars interested in Big Questions research in the region are often isolated from international networks working in these areas. Enabling CEE scholars to join these networks, either through supporting CEE scholars to spend time abroad or through inviting internationally leading scholars to spend time in CEE, will demonstrate that Big Questions research has international standing and that scholars can build an internationally prestigious career through involvement in it. Bringing major Western thinkers on Big Questions to CEE also plays an invaluable role in counteracting the perception that to be Western is necessarily to be secular.
Championing rising stars
The IRC has identified young researchers across the region with impressive research profiles and a deep commitment to Big Questions work (see section 3.3). These individuals have the potential to become academic leaders in CEE, to create a network of institutions collaborating on Big Questions research, and to bring about a permanent transformation in the position of Big Questions research in the region. Young scholars in CEE face considerable challenges, however, putting them at a disadvantage compared to their counterparts in the West (see section 4.1). Supporting and championing these young scholars might take the form of:
- Research leave. Young scholars in CEE are often employed on teaching-heavy contracts that constrain their ability to produce research at a crucial time in their careers. Research leave offers young scholars a crucial opportunity to develop research profiles. Funding research leave within CEE in particular provides an incentive for scholars to continue to work in the region, who might otherwise be tempted to emigrate to a Western university.
- Visiting fellowships. A research stay at a leading Western university is a career-transforming opportunity for young scholars in CEE. This is true both because of the opportunities for joining international debates and forming international networks, and because of the prestige that attaches to such experiences. For this reason supporting research exchanges for the best young Big Questions scholars in the region will be invaluable in helping those scholars to become the professional leaders that the region needs.
- Leadership roles. Academic systems in CEE tend to be hierarchical and young academics often have few opportunities to assume leadership responsibilities. Providing opportunities to lead flagship projects will help them to gain the skills and networks that they will need for broader professional leadership in the future. It will also help them to apply for other international grants in the future.
- Academic competitions and awards. Winning an international competition held by a leading Western university is highly prestigious for CEE researchers. Offering essay competitions or awards for existing work on Big Questions is a simple way to allow the best young researchers to establish a strong profile in the region and beyond. It will also help to establish that work on Big Questions can be a successful career path, thereby supporting the strategy of legitimizing Big Questions research discussed in section 5.1.
Creating a community
Intra-regional networks in CEE are frequently lacking, due to a range of historical and continuing factors discussed in section 4.3. This means that many scholars across the region with closely related interests and approaches are not able to collaborate with one another, and may not even be aware of one another’s work. Connections to the West are improving but are still underdeveloped, especially in Big Questions areas. Most importantly of all, links between Big Questions researchers and the world beyond academia are weak, despite the great interest in religious questions among CEE publics. Forging networks, and enabling collaboration and cross-fertilisation between CEE scholars and publics across the region is likely to have significant knock-on effects. Such initiatives should include outreach. As discussed in section 1, there is intense interest in Big Questions among CEE citizens, but connections between academia and the wider public tend to be limited, and recent Big Questions research seldom reaches wider publics. Funding bodies should support a range of activities to bring Big Questions research to a wider public in CEE. These should encompass traditional forms of outreach, like developing new teaching curricula, as well as innovative approaches with proven success, like producing video shorts explaining key ideas in recent debates.
- Incentivising collaboration. Funding for CEE researchers tends not to insensitive intra-regional collaboration. Most research funding is state-awarded, and confined to a particular country. As a result, where collaboration exists it tends to be informal and peripheral to core research activities. By encouraging grant applicants to include intra-regional collaboration in their plans funding bodies will incentivise CEE researchers to consolidate existing networks, and build new ones.
- Student programmes. Research networks are typically formed early in academics’ careers, frequently during graduate work. By creating opportunities for the best CEE graduate students with interests in Big Questions to attend workshops, exchanges or summer schools, funding bodies will create supportive communities during the formative years of a researcher's work.
- Conferences. High-profile conferences drawing speakers from across a region remain the simplest way of fostering networks. Events should be focused on themes where extensive interest exists across the region, but where existing networks remain inadequate. Events need not take place in CEE to foster networks there. For example, the first World Congress on Logic and Religion took place in Brazil, but has generated an international community of scholars with a marked presence in CEE.