Cambridge has long been a stimulating home for Christian minds. Devout doctors, monks and other medieval scholars helped birth the world-famous university in 1209, key figures in the English Reformation studied, taught and preached in the town, and God-fearing pioneers in many disciplines have been nurtured in the colleges, departments and research institutes that make up the modern university. An inspiring documentary called “Saints and Scholars” tells the story of the development and influence of Christian thought in this historic market town – watch it at the Round Church if you haven’t seen it!
But do we have to look to past centuries to find Christians making intellectual history on the strength of their faith? We can certainly find a plethora of organisations and initiatives in Cambridge today seeking to nurture that kind of progress. So let me tell you what happens when six of them collaborate to foster Christian thinking.
The Jubilee Centre, Cambridge Papers, Christian Heritage, the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics, the Faraday Institute and the Christian Graduate Society share a conviction that Christian faith should interact positively with people’s intellectual development. So once a year they team up to run “Forming a Christian Mind”, a day conference for Christian postgraduates and other early-career researchers. This year’s event six weeks ago brought 60 people to Cambridge from as far afield as Edinburgh and Paris: a diverse group whether you looked at subjects of study, ages or nationalities. Its theme was “Human Flourishing and the University”.
The opening plenary talk was given by Dr Donald Hay, professor emeritus of economics at Oxford University. Donald contrasted perspectives from evolutionary psychology, classical economics and social constructivism against Christian theology in addressing the question “What is a person?”, showing how prominent paradigms in different disciplines suggest radically different views. We were left to think about what elements of truth each of these reductionistic models might contain and how a Christian student might engage with them.
There was then a set of parallel seminars among which participants could choose. These gave opportunity to interact with senior Christian academics in our disciplines and develop our own perspectives.
The day ended with a plenary session in which Dr Louise Driffill spoke about her teaching on sustainability in the university’s business school. After sharing some relevant biblical considerations for her subject, Louise gave us time to discuss the relevance of biblical hope for our own areas of research. This was another stimulating opportunity – and I’m sure that I was not alone in developing more questions than answers once again!
Two things especially encouraged me about this event. The first was how it was preceded by a meeting for people involved in Forming a Christian Mind and other relevant initiatives (Donald Hay’s Developing a Christian Mind in Oxford, Transforming the Mind, the Christian Academic Network and our own Faith-in-Scholarship), to discuss vision and strategy. The second was the sense of energy and enthusiasm among such a crowd of young Christian thinkers wanting to engage our world’s big questions with a lively faith and make intellectual history in our disciplines.
For lots more ideas, links and forthcoming events, see www.cpgrad.org.uk.