Focusing on the Big Questions has produced a wealth of research in various branches of religious studies, but we have noticed one lacuna. Some Christian theologians hesitate to interact with empirical research. This is surprising since, until recently, theologians commonly used exactly this type of evidence. Our hypothesis is theologians hesitate for at least two reasons.
They fear incorporating empirical data because they worry when they start to do so, theology’s distinctiveness could be lost and replaced by another discipline. A more substantial concern, indeed a mark of intellectual humility, is some theologians realize they are unqualified to distinguish good science from the scientific fad of the day. (There are additional reasons, some institutional and some tied to certain theological ideologies.) Is there a way to help theologians—ourselves included—recover the authentically theological use of empirical sources, without leading to any of the setbacks feared?
Our remedy is based on a previous article where we set out five guidelines for doing science-engaged theology (as distinguished from ‘science and religion’, thus conceived). One of these is to devise research projects as sub-discipline pairings, namely:
(1) Moral Theology & Evolutionary Biology
(2) Spiritual Formation & Developmental Psychology
(3) Ecclesiology & Cognitive Science.
We will extend current theology by using the resources of behavioral science to answer concrete questions in theological anthropology that align with Sir John’s vision. We call these questions ‘theological puzzles’.
We propose a competitive RFP funding competition for early and mid-career scholars. Our outputs will include articles/books growing out of collaborative workshops, syllabi for new courses, conferences to build the academic community, a pilot program for undergraduate teaching, postgraduate cluster groups, an innovative online resource, and a monograph—all studying puzzles in theological anthropology.