School of Divinity awarded £3.4M grant

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The School of Divinity at the University of St Andrews (St Marys) has secured its largest ever research grant of £3.4 million from the John Templeton Foundation to support the creation and launch of a free, online encyclopaedia of theology.

The Encyclopaedia will grow to include material from the world’s major religions, beginning with Christianity and expanding to Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism, offering articles written from within the faith traditions they describe.

Brendan Wolfe, Honorary Reader at the School of Divinity, will serve as the Encyclopaedia’s Principal Editor, with Dr Steve Holmes, Senior Lecturer, as Chair of the Editorial Board.

Articles will be written by leading scholars, with the Encyclopaedia serving as a resource throughout the world, particularly where libraries are constrained or absent. Articles will give perspectives from inside their subjects, supporting theological instruction within a religious tradition, and will enable and inform inter-religious discussion and understanding.

Brendan Wolfe said: “The Christian theology section is expanding quickly, due in large part to the support of the entire School of Divinity’s research community. We are developing links with other institutions so that the work in other traditions can be similarly grounded in communities of scholarship.”

Dr Steve Holmes, who compared the new project to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, commented: “If the St Andrews Encyclopaedia of Theology can achieve the same level of scholarly excellence, it will be the most significant new initiative in academic theology this century.”

The project team at the University also includes Professor Christoph Schwöbel, Professor of Systematic Theology, and Professor NT Wright as Senior Editors for Christianity, with Associate Lecturer Dr Oliver Langworthy as an Academic Editor. Professor Lejla Demiri, who holds the Chair in Islamic Doctrine at Tübingen, will be the first Senior Editor in Islam.

The project is currently in negotiations to add a third Senior Editor in Christianity, and further Senior Editors in Judaism and Islam. Advertisements for two more Academic Editors for Christianity have been posted, with further posts in other traditions to be advertised in due course.

More information is available from the project website.

The John Templeton Foundation is a philanthropic organisation that reflects the ideas of its founder, John Templeton. A devout Presbyterian born and raised in Tennessee, John M. Templeton launched the extremely successful Templeton mutual funds in the 1950s and became a billionaire. He started spending serious money to promote his religious values in 1972,  supporting research in religious and spiritual knowledge, especially at the intersection of religion and science. He also sought to fund research on methods to promote and develop moral character, intelligence, and creativity in people, and to promote free markets.

The foundation administers the annual Templeton Prize for achievements in the field of spirituality, including those at the intersection of science and religion. It has an extensive grant-funding program (around $150 million per year as of 2016) aimed at supporting research in physics, biology, psychology, and the social sciences as well as philosophy and theology. It also supports programs related to genetics, “exceptional cognitive talent and genius” and “individual freedom and free markets” The foundation has received both praise and criticism for its awards, regarding both the breadth of their coverage, and ideological perspectives said to be associated with them.

Largely as a result of Templeton grants, some 90 American medical schools now offer courses on links between health and spirituality. Templeton funds have even trickled down to atheists like the physicist Steven Weinberg, who once proclaimed during a AAAS conference sponsored by the foundation in 1999, “I am all in favor of a dialogue between science and religion, but not a constructive dialogue.”

Scientists have often criticised the foundation’s grants for attempting to interject religion into the sciences. Now the same debates are spilling over into philosophy. As it does in the sciences, the foundation funds grants surrounding the “big questions,” nearly all of which could be viewed from a spiritual or theological point of view: research into free will and the philosophy of religion among them.

That debate emerged again when Jason Stanley, a professor of philosophy at Rutgers, posted what he thought was a casual Facebook status update: “We may expect a huge number of papers and books in our field taking a religious perspective at the very least extremely seriously,” Stanley wrote. “This is not why I entered philosophy, and it is incompatible with my conception of its role in the university. I will not take any money from Templeton or speak at any Templeton funded conferences. Reasonable people may disagree, but I hope there are others who join me in so doing.”

Others have pushed back against this view.

For more on this debate, go to https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/05/21/some-philosophy-scholars-raise-concerns-about-templeton-funding

St Andrews Q.V.

St Andrews QV (Qui Vive) is an independent not-for-profit, non-political platform for news and debates about issues that are important to the Town. It exists to hold decision makers and public services to account while its editorial policy is to accommodate all shades of opinion from all parts of the community, prioritising evidence-based arguments. St Andrews QV is a member of the Independent Community News Network and is committed to the Community Journalism Charter

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