The overall goal of the conference is to explore sympathetically and to evaluate critically certain genealogies of modernity. The focus will be on theological genealogies in the sense of accounts that give some prominence to theology in telling the story of the formation and consolidation of the modern condition. Even more specifically, this conference will aim to interrogate narratives that do not depict the onset of modernity as achieving progress in or amelioration of the human condition. Sometimes the narratives we will deal with are called decline accounts, but this is by no means the best terminology for thinking about them, as we will discuss at the conference.
Discussion at the conference will not be restricted to a single genealogy; rather, the goal is to gain some purchase on the category as such, at least as much as possible by focusing on prominent recent examples. Our confirmed speakers will be addressing questions such as the following:
§1 When genealogies of modernity claim that a wrong turn was made in history, and that this has negative consequences even up to the present, if this is not best described as a fall, what would be a better way to understand the nature of the claim? If decline is not the right rubric, what would be better terminology for the accounts that are often termed decline narratives?
§2 Genealogists often preface their work by saying that writing a wide-ranging historical account entails building on specialized scholarship but not producing another narrow specialized study. Some authors claim that this is necessary to perceive the secularizing process that marks the broad sweep of history from the medieval period to the present. What are fitting criteria that a successful genealogy should fulfil, if not those typically applied to more sharply focused work?
§3 How are normative and descriptive elements combined in genealogies? If a genealogist deploys historical research for the purpose of questioning assumptions that are often taken for granted in the present, how is that different from “straight” history—if there really is such a thing?
§4 Many of the recent genealogies are companionable to the claims of high-church traditions and portray Protestantism as a segue to secularism. What attitudes should Protestants have to these genealogies?
§5 Genealogists are sometimes criticized for operating with a theological or philosophical agenda, which they either announce explicitly or allow to remain hidden. Such critics often say, further, that evaluating this philosophical or theological material is different from and less straightforward than assessing historical claims. Is it the case that genealogies are driven by theological or philosophical commitments while non-genealogical historical discourse is neutral with respect to them?
§6 How should future theologians employ genealogies responsibly and to good effect in their constructive theological work?
Conference jointly funded by John Fell Fund (University of Oxford) and Australian Catholic University