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Staff Profile

Professor Robert Song, M.A., D.Phil. (Oxon)

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 33 43959
Room number: Abbey House 101

Contact Professor Robert Song (email at robert.song@durham.ac.uk)

Research

After an undergraduate degree in ancient history and philosophy, my doctoral work was on theological approaches to liberal political thought, published as Christianity and Contemporary Society (1997). An underlying theme in this book was the connection between certain styles of liberal theorizing and technological modes of thought. This interest in thinking theologically about technology was developed specifically in relation to the ethics of new reproductive and genetic technologies, written up in a book, Human Genetics: Fabricating the Future (2002), and a variety of articles. For the last several years my research has focussed on theological approaches to medical ethics and the ethics of the life sciences. While some of this concentrates on detailed moral questions surrounding stem cell research, the status of the embryo, the Human Genome Project, transgenic animals, Body Integrity Identity Disorder, and so on, my overriding concern has been to situate such questions within a broader intellectual and cultural context. In particular I have tried to relate contemporary Western attitudes to the body, and to medical interventions in the body, to the legacy of the seventeenth-century revolution in thought and practice and its rejection of Aristotelian and theological modes of thought.

Locating contemporary bioethical issues within this wider historical setting brings a number of benefits. First, by giving a perspective that shows the longer trajectories of technological developments, it protects bioethics from being reduced to an unconnected series of discrete casuistical “issues”.  Second, it illuminates aspects of thinking about the body which are invisible to the dominant Kantian and utilitarian approaches to bioethics, both of which are heirs to post-seventeenth-century philosophy and are indebted to some of its basic commitments. Third, by investigating the aspirations behind central developments in modern medical technologies and biotechnologies, it reveals the implicitly religious commitments of some of Western culture’s most cherished and ostensibly secular enterprises. This also provides the background for a more specifically normative theological approach to technological interventions in the body. Theological thinking about the body should be located, I argue, in thinking about the church as the body of Christ, and theological bioethics in general should be related to the witness of the church as a political body.

This provides the base for my current research, which is a monograph on cosmetic surgery and the posthuman body, provisionally titled Heavenly Bodies. Debate on posthuman enhancements, while becoming increasingly urgent, is still largely speculative, based on technological advances which are beginning to emerge but still often lie at points in the future. Aesthetic surgery, by contrast, offers an empirically-rich example of non-therapeutic enhancement in the body, which is potentially highly instructive about social responses to enhancement technologies in general.

I have also developed a recent interest in theology and sexuality, based on my participation in the Church of England House of Bishops Working Group on Human Sexuality (the Pilling Group). My work in this area resulted in the publication of Covenant and Calling: Towards a Theology of Same-Sex Relationships (2014), which explores the theological case for ‘covenant partnerships’ as a form of non-procreative but sexual committed relationship, and considers the significance of this for the theology of marriage.

It is important to note that my theoretical and theological research has never been separated from attention to social and empirical context: hence published work with palliative medicine clinicians on spirituality and palliative care; an ESRC-funded project on lay Christian, Muslim and Hindu ethical evaluations of new reproductive and genetic technologies; and a willingness to collaborate in a wide variety of interdisciplinary projects.

From 2009-12 I was President of the Society for the Study of Christian Ethics.

Current postgraduates

I am currently supervising postgraduates researching in the following areas:

  • ethics in digital environments
  • Fresh Expressions and the role of place
  • religious freedom in China
  • theology and the common good, with special reference to Singapore
  • gender complementarity and sexuality in twentieth century English evangelicalism
  • the theology of the London Catholic Workers
  • Said Nursi and mental health
  • the history of church schools and education policy
  • theology and appetite/desire

Past postgraduates

Postgraduate research for which I have been primary supervisor includes the following:

  • Sarah Hills, ‘A Theology of Restitution as Embodied Reconciliation: A Study of Restitution in a Reconciliation Process in Worcester, South Africa’ (PhD)
  • Matthew Hill, ‘Nurturing Altruism: The Significance of Sociobiology for Wesleyan Ethics’ (PhD)
  • Michael Volland, ‘An Entrepeneurial Approach to Priestly Ministry in the Church’ (DThM)
  • Mark Newitt, ‘Ritual, Pastoral Presence, and Character Virtues in Healthcare Chaplaincy’ (DThM)
  • Elizabeth Kent, ‘Consuming the Body: The Church and Eating Disorders’ (PhD)
  • Anthony Kaniaru, ‘Rethinking Rationality: Theological Anthropology in Light of Profound Cognitive Impairment: Relationality, Embodiment and Personhood’ (PhD)
  • Pauline Everett, ‘A Relational Defence of Surrogate Motherhood’ (PhD)
  • Michael Shafer, ‘A Christian Theology of Sport and the Ethics of Doping’ (PhD)
  • Mark Vasey-Saunders, ‘The Problem of English Evangelicals and Homosexuality: A Girardian study of Popular English Evangelical writings on Homosexuality 1960-2010’ (PhD)
  • Jennifer Moberly, 'The Virtue of Bonhoeffer's Ethics: A Study of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Ethics in Relation to Virtue Ethics' (PhD)
  • Sarah Charlton, 'The Creation of Families: Christianity and Contemporary Adoption' (PhD)
  • Peter Manning, 'Cohabitation in Britain: A Theological and Pastoral Response' (PhD)
  • Ashley Wilson, 'Hermeneutics and Moral Imagination: The Implications of Gadamer's Truth and Method for Christian Ethics' (PhD)
  • Paul Markham, 'Conversion Converted: A New Model of Christian Conversion in Light of Wesleyan Theology and Nonreductive Physicalism' (PhD)
  • Mary Rowell, ‘Towards a New Paradigm for Bioethics: Ecological and Theological Contributions’ (PhD)
  • Dennis Cheek, 'Theology and Technology: A Framework for Analysis and Decision Making with Special Reference to Intelligent Transportation Systems' (PhD)
  • Edmund Wee, ‘A Christian Theological Response to Human Gene Patenting’ (MA)
  • Helen Savage, ‘Changing Sex? Transsexuality and Christian Theology’ (PhD)
  • Maria Lastochkina, ‘Christian Views of Euthanasia: A Comparison of Russian and Western Perspectives’ (MA)
  • Nigel Oakley, ‘Educating Christians for Political Involvement: An Examination of Augustinian, Liberation and Confessing Church Approaches’ (PhD)
  • Audrey Elkington, 'A Theological Consideration of Issues Raised by Human Genetic Manipulation with Particular Reference to Gene Therapy' (MA)

Research Projects

School of Applied Social Sciences

  • Faithful judgements: the role of religion in lay bioethical evaluations of new reproductive and genetic technologies

Research Interests

  • Bioethics, ethics and the life sciences
  • Posthumanism, ethics of human enhancement
  • Technology and Christian ethics
  • Theology and sexuality

Publications

Authored book

Chapter in book

  • Song, Robert & Waters, Brent (2015). 'Introduction'. In The Authority of the Gospel: Essays in Moral and Political Theology in Honor of Oliver O'Donovan. Song, Robert & Waters, Brent Grand Rapids, Mi.: Eerdmans. xi-xxi.
  • Song, Robert (2013). Transgenic Animals and Ethics: Recognizing an Appropriate Dignity. In Animals as Religious Subjects: Transdisciplinary Perspectives. Deane-Drummond, Celia, Clough, David & Artinian-Kaiser, Rebecca London: Bloomsbury T & T Clark. 243-258.
  • Song, Robert (2010). Bonhoeffer and the Biotechnological Imagination. In Bonhoeffer and the Biosciences: An Initial Exploration. Ralf K. Wüstenberg, Stefan Heuser & Esther Hornung Frankfurt: Peter Lang. 75-87.
  • Song, Robert (2009). Humanity, Divinity and Interspecies Embryos. In The Legal, Medical and Cultural Regulation of the Body: Transformation and Transgression. Smith, Stephen W. & Deazley, Ronan Farnham: Ashgate. 127-141.
  • Song, Robert (2009). The Bible and Human Genetics. In God, Ethics and the Human Genome. Mark Bratton London: Church House Publishing. 33-45.
  • Song, Robert (2007). Conclusion: Fragility and Grace, Theology and Disability’. In Theology, Disability and the New Genetics: Why Science Needs the Church. John Swinton & Brian Brock London: T & T Clark. 234-44.
  • Song, Robert (2004). 'Sharing Communion: Hunger, Food, GM Foods and Population Growth'. In The Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics. Stanley Hauerwas & Samuel Wells (eds.) Oxford: Blackwell. 388-400.
  • Song, Robert (2003). 'The Human Genome Project as Soteriological Project'. In Brave New World? Theology, Ethics and the Human Genome. Celia Deane-Drummond London: T. & T. Clark. 164-184.
  • Song, Robert (2003). To Be Willing to Kill What for All One Knows Is A Person Is to Be Willing to Kill a Person. In God and the Embryo Religious Voices on Stem Cells and Cloning. Brent Waters & Ronald Cole-Turner Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press. 98-107.
  • Song, Robert. (2002). 'Whose Sanctity of Life? Ricoeur, Dworkin and the Human Embryo'. In Holiness Past and Present. Barton, Stephen. London: T. & T. Clark. 460-476.
  • Song, Robert (1999). 'Wisdom as the End of Morality'. In Where Shall Wisdom Be Found?. Stephen C. Barton (ed.) Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark. 295-306.
  • Song, Robert (1998). 'Democratie'. In Dictionnaire Critique de Theologie. Jean-Yves Lacoste (ed.) Paris: Presses Universitaires de France. 308-9.
  • Song, Robert (1997). ‘Moral Theology’ (revision). In The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. E. A. Livingstone (ed.) Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1110-12.
  • Song, Robert (1994). 'Political Life'. In Veritatis Splendor: An Anglican Response. Charles Yeats (ed.) Norwich: The Canterbury Press. 57-68.

Edited book

Journal Article

Media Contacts

Available for media contact about:

  • Ethics: Christianity and politics
  • Ethics: biotechnology/genetic engineering
  • Medical and health research topics: ethics in biotechnology/genetic engineering
  • Political thought & theory: Christianity and politics
  • Political thought & theory: ethics in biotechnology/genetic engineering

Supervises