CODEC Director, Dr Pete Phillips, Presents at DH2017
The largest international Digital Humanities conference, held in Montreal this year, included its first session on digital religion and theology (see further here). Dr Pete Phillips was the opening presenter, exploring the development of digital theology within the development of digital religion and the digital humanities. Find the text of Pete's presentation here, and his slides here.
CODEC's New Newsletter is now available!
(1 January 1970)
The Book Club
The CODEC team have initiated a bookclub which meets every other Tuesday lunchtime. Recently I was asked to pick the reading for the first meeting and then to write up the conversation afterwards in the form of a blog post. Sadly, so much is happening in CODEC at the moment that I have only just got round to writing this post.
I asked the group to look at David Berry’s introductory chapter from the book he edited, Understanding Digital Humanities (Palgrave MacMillan, 2012). In the chapter, Berry gives an overview of the development of Digital Humanities within the modern academy as a reaction to massive growth in knowledge, data and ways of working. He talks of the “new infinite archive” and the academy’s reaction to this in terms of waves:
- wave 1: the process of digitization, development of infrastructure, focus on quantitative aspects of knowledge and research
- wave 2: the embedding of digitally native artifacts into research, generating new environments for research which is much more qualitative, experiential and emotive.
Berry’s understanding is that the first wave replicated the old forms of scholarship in digital terms – that it was essentially mimetic, digitally reproducing established disciplines. However, the second wave, exemplified in the Digital Manifesto, creates entirely new “disciplinary paradigms, convergent fields, hybrid methodologies and new production models” (Berry quoting directly from Presner’s version of the Digital Manifesto - see more on this below).
The group had a long and intense conversation about Berry’s work. Our conversation was prefaced by a reminder that photography changed everything – or rather than the experience of playing with a pinhole camera reinforced that the image created was not the same as the image viewed with the eye – photography framed reality and changed reality, reformed, remodeled reality... Of course, it’s not quite that simple – the arts and humanities have always sought to frame reality. But there is a parable here about the persistent move to see reality through the screen, and so the overriding importance of the screen in modern life.
So we talked as well about a popular/populist view in contemporary hermeneutics as dealing with texts as a window (historical/sociology of past cultures), as a frame (historical-critical approaches like text, form, redaction criticism), as a mirror (reader-response, ideological criticisms). We wondered whether Digital Humanities were pushing us further to think of a hermeneutics of the screen – observation, distancing, a lack of power to change, passivity of the part of the reader, a kind of reflexive circularity in thinking about the thinking – meta-hermeneutics?
We talked about Digital Humanities as yet another control mechanism whereby something new simply replicated the control patterns of the past in demanding a new form be created to feed the capitalist machines. Some of us have been reading Heidegger’s “Question on Technology” which makes a similar point. A river crossed by a bridge remains a river. The technology of the bridge does not change the river’s essence (Dasein). However, when a hydro-electric power plant is set into the river, the river is dammed up into the plant – the river becomes a resource for the plant, its essence has been changed. Modern technology, for Heidegger, turns everything it touches into a resource waiting to be used up – what Heidegger calls Gestell. (If you are interested, I think Marika would recommend you read Deleuze’s “Postscript on Control Societies” as well).
I’m not convinced that Heidegger is right here. Or if he is, then he misses the change which the bridge effects. The river is now a crossable river. It has changed. It is no longer a barrier but a path. And the bridge actually changes the structure and fluidity of both river and riverbed. The bridge is as much a piece of technology as the hydroelectric power plant. It changes the river and the context of the river. The river’s Dasein is simply not the same with bridge as it was without bridge.
Earlier in the piece, before he runs away with his control metaphor (Gestell), Heidegger had talked about technology as a place of revelation. In other words, technology reveals something, like Art does, about the nature of things. McLuhan, of course, argues that technology is an extension of humanity’s capabilities which reveals what is gained by that extension but also what is lost (probably best read through Shane Hipps reflection. A car extends the human faculty of movement, but in driving, we lose the connectedness with the earth, the rhythm of walking which, as Wittgenstein used to say, is the only way to do proper thinking.
Then other thing about the Heidegger push to control is that this is exactly what Digital Humanities seems to want to avoid. I mean, you have read the Digital Humanities Manifesto (linked above already! READ IT!!!)? The whole essence of which is an attempt to blow apart the old ways of being a university, the closeted lone academic image and in its place create collaboratories of academics working together in the humanities just as in the sciences. I’ll quote a paragraph from Berry (p.3), quoting Presner’s version of the Manifesto:
“Digital Humanities 2.0 is deeply generative, creating the environments and tools for producing, curating, and interacting with knowledge that is ‘born digital’ and lives in various digital contexts…[it] introduces entirely new disciplinary paradigms, convergent fields, hybrid methodologies, and even new publication models”
In a talk in 2003, Alan Liu talked of the new concept in the humanities of teams working together like scientists – or even of new ventures where students and staff worked collaboratively, where we consciously “intermix faculty from the humanities, arts, sciences, engineering, and social sciences”. That was over a decade ago - lots has happenned but...lots remains left undone!
Such places are the collaboratories of the Digital Humanities.
CODEC is designed specifically to be a collaboratory.
Our current work with the Institute for Advanced Research Computer to explore a UK Data Centre on Religion Analytics is not an accident. We have just sent off a research centre bid for a 250K project looking at Data in Religious Communities. It is a joint project with our iARC colleagues. We want to purposefully push against the boundaries and silos of some of contemporary academia.
CODEC is consciously a Digital Humanities Project.
But not just because we are tech-centred. It is because for us, for me as Director certainly, “digital” is shorthand for larger cultural shift – a Kuhnian paradigm shift perhaps, towards greater democratization, flatter hierarchies, shifting in disciplinary boundaries, the use of technology to ameliorate the feeling of incompetence in the wake of information overload, and the fusing of various disciplines and technologies to offer new paradigms for research. It is, of course, so much more…but space doesn’t allow us to explore too much more.
One final point, Berry raises the point (p.5) that computer code facilities everything nowadays – as Matthew Fuller points out: “all intellectual work is now ‘software study’.” I see the point and agree with the sense that the ubiquity of code and coding could further change society, especially if our children are taught to code from an early age. The shift from Greek to Latin was not just one of vocabulary but one of semantics and linguistics. Greek is a much more fluid language, with a greater tendency towards metaphysics than is available within Latin – although you have to admit they did well. The shift from medieval French to English transformed British life and not just in a political dimension. Code is not a full language with which we communicate with one another. But the structure and flow of this new language may well have an even greater role to play in our future paradigms. What would it mean to do theology in the language of Code?
Pete Phillips, CODEC Director
CODEC welcomes some new staff to the team
Over the summer, CODEC some fun interviewing a host of excellent candidates for the new posts made available through the research grants awarded to us last Spring. The three successful candidates are now in post.
Joshua Mann is our new Research Fellow in Biblical Literacy. He is going to be working with the Director of CODEC, Pete Phillips, to develop research opportunities for biblical literacy and digital theology and on a major review of the BigBible project. Joshua comes from USA originally and is currently engaged in a PhD programme in Edinburgh looking at illumination as a theme in Luke/Acts.
Dr Marika Rose is the new Research Fellow in Digital Discipleship and Curator of the Discipleship Portal Project. It’s a big title. Marika has just completed her PhD her PhD, which was a theology of failure, drawing on the mystical theology and the work of Slavoj Žižek. Marika’s focus will be on the Discipleship Portal Project – of which more later – and on exploring online pedagogy. Marika has already been working part-time for CODEC on a number of research bids and this work will also fit into her new post for a while.
David Stout is our new Research Fellow in Digital Resources. Previously working in IT in Sheffield, David comes with an MA in Biblical Studies from the University of Manchester and the possibility of starting a PhD in Technology and the Sacred here in Durham while he works for CODEC. David will be working on a project CODEC has developed in partnership with the Common Awards Programme of the Church of England creating and disseminating digital resources for theology, as well as developing new research projects on online education and discipleship.
Hope you can engage with us and enjoy what happens too!
CODEC designated as a Research Centre of Durham University
CODEC has been designated as a Research Centre of the University of Durham, hosted by the world-renowned Department of Theology and Religion, and within the Faculty of Arts.
What does that mean? Well, it means that our ground-breaking research, our passion for networking and our brilliant staff are recognised within the university as offering a leading role in developing the new field of Digital Theology. It means that we have more confidence in approaching Research Councils, knowing that we are part of one of the UK’s top five universities and one of the top 100 universities in the world. It means we can hopefully secure more funding to do some more great work.
Coming at the same time as we opened up our interview process for the appointment of the three new CODEC posts, this is indeed good news for Digital Theology.
Some more information about the new Research Centre:
The CODEC Centre for Digital Theology
Codec: /kəʊdɛk/ a device, either physical or virtual, hardware or software, for translating, re-coding, re-engineering the analogue and the digital. CODEC is not an acronym: it is a name.
CODEC began as a research project at St John’s College focussed on biblical literacy and Christian preaching. Since then, we have developed into a major research centre exploring the interfaces between theology, media and digital culture, focussing especially on religious communication, theology and the sacred texts.
The CODEC Research Centre for Digital Theology seeks to provide an ongoing place of translation, re-coding, re-engineering between the ancient world of faith and contemporary world of the digital. CODEC aims both to research and to transform theological discourse around and within digital culture.
Our focus is on the interaction between theology studied/practiced/performed within digital culture, and on the impact of the digital environment on religious identity and practice. But our research also looks into the theological implications of that digital culture. For example, CODEC seeks to research the full scale of the interaction between social media and religion: “What is the theology of social media?”, “What are the implications of social media for the teaching of theology?” and “How does social media affect the contemporary practice of faith communities?”
CODEC seeks to translate/re-code/re-engineer theological discourse through developing major national and international research projects on aspects of the pedagogy, practice and culture of contemporary religious communities, as well as on classical aspects of religion research such as biblical literacy, hermeneutics and homiletics. The outcomes and delivery of this research aim to transform theological discourse as part of the new movement of Digital or Transformative Humanities.
CODEC’s overall research focuses on three areas:
- Theology for a Digital Age – including Biblical/Scriptural literacy; humanology; impact of digital transformation on society, culture and communication; theological issues related to transhumanism, digital divides, singularity research
- Preaching and Imagination in a Digital Age – homiletics; communication of ideas; narrative theory and imagination theory
- Discipleship in a Digital Age – ongoing Biblical Literacy projects; BigBible web project; issues of growth and discipleship within religious communities and their use of social media; being human; humanology
The CODEC Research Centre for Digital Theology, integrated into the UK’s leading research department in Theology and Religion, offers a unique opportunity to develop major research projects exploring the interface between biblical literacy, theology and digital culture. The impact of the Centre is intentionally both academic and public: through peer-reviewed publication, conferences and seminars, research and taught courses as well as through engagement with religious practitioners, religious bodies and society in general.
CODEC is non-denominational in focus and does not apply any sort of faith test for those it employs. On the one hand, growing out of a Christian theological seminary at Cranmer Hall, CODEC’s current research focuses mostly on Judaeo-Christian texts (Biblical Literacy), discipleship in the Christian Church and preaching in the Christian traditions. However, CODEC is excited about and will actively pursue options to widen this research into other contexts – for example we are actively seeking out research funding to explore Jewish and Muslim aspects of contemporary discipleship.
The Centre will seek to work collaboratively with other research centres, institutes, departments both at the University of Durham and at other institutions; with the Academy and Religious Bodies; with public bodies and with the public; with researchers and practitioners.