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Faith and Reason: The Albertus Institute, Edinburgh

Monday, November 28, 2016

Fr John O'Connor OP describes the work and inspiration of a new organisation that seeks to engage Catholic teaching with contemporary concerns.

What do Christians bring to the contemporary discussions of our time, such as on terrorism and civil liberties? Many in our society treat the Church and Christian reflection more generally as largely irrelevant to the burning issues of our day. The Albertus Institute in Edinburgh is a positive and confident response to this mistaken attitude.

A Christian Response to the Security State

Launched in 2012 out of discussions in the Catholic University Chaplaincy and Parish of St Albert the Great, the Institute recently held its biggest event to date: a one-day conference on 26 November 2016 addressing The Changing Face of Conflict: Modern Security & Human Values. Participants discussed the use of emerging technologies to counteract terrorism, the impact of this on the state, civil liberties and the individual, and Christian responses to these issues. Speakers included a former Chief of the Hungarian Defence Staff, a former member of the FBI, NATO advisors and the Head of the Centre for International Security and Resilience at the Defence Academy of the UK. Three University of Edinburgh partners collaborated with the institute: the University Department of Informatics, the Centre for Security Research, and the SCRIPT Centre for IT and IP Law, as well as the Scottish Society for Computers & Law, and the Mentor Group (Boston US). Making links with organisations in Scotland and beyond is an important part of the Institute's outreach. From the outset, the institute has set out to be an example of collaborative ministry, a lay organisation with Dominican support, involving both Catholics and Christians of other denominations, as well as cooperating with external bodies including the University Divinity Faculty (New College) and professional organisations.

Origins and Purpose

The institute takes its name and inspiration from St Albert the Great (d.1280), the Dominican friar and patron saint of scientists. As well as a fine theologian and philosopher, St Albert notably took a keen scientific and empirical interest in the world, bringing his theological and philosophical eye to the natural and human sciences. That outlook informs the Albertus Institute as a public platform for reflection on religion, the sciences and other intellectual disciplines, by putting on colloquia and talks on topics of current concern, and doing so in an open and welcoming fashion. This involves listening to diverse points of view from people of faith and no faith; but it also provides a forum to share Christian, and in particular Catholic, insights and perspectives with a diverse and intellectually enquiring audience.

Dominicans and Science

In the autumn, the Albertus Institute celebrated the 800th anniversary of the foundation of the Dominican Order with a series of lectures on the Order’s contribution to science. Other events have included conferences on Science and Religion; The Person in Virtual Reality; Faith and Cosmology; Theology, Science and the Environment. The Institute has also run reading groups and seminars in connection with these and has provided a course of lectures on Catholic Social Teaching.

Programme for 2017 

Forthcoming events for 2017 include a series of talks on conflict, technology and the individual. Topics will include the impact of terrorism, surveillance, artificial intelligence, robotic and drone technologies. Since 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the nailing by Martin Luther of his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, the Albertus Institute will host a lecture given by Prof. Andrew Pettegree of the University of St Andrews on Martin Luther and the New Technology. 

The Albertus Institute is a recent and vibrant development in the life of the Church in Edinburgh and in Scotland more widely. It has a promising future! 

For further information about the Albertus Institute and forthcoming events, please see the Institute’s website.

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