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Institute of Advanced Study

Race, Religion and Inheritance Debate

(28 March 2007)

Panel members

On 26th April 2007 Durham University publicly launched its Institute of Advanced Study by hosting a debate on Race, Religion and Inheritance at Durham Castle.

One topic that has emerged from the Institute's inaugural theme, 'The Legacy of Charles Darwin' concerns the relationship between classification and responsible knowing. Is it possible to develop means of classifying that are not divisive, harmful, or exclusionary, and especially among the human races and faith systems?

In the April 26 round-table debate, the Institute's interest in classification turned to the question of whether classes are pre-given, whether human taxonomy is hard-wired. This was a question of fundamental public interest, in the context of current controversies relating to the origins of racial and religious beliefs. We are seeing the resurgence of biological readings of race and racial difference, the rise and rise of religious fundamentalism, and growing bi-centennial public interest in the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade. These controversies – and possible solutions relating to religious and racial tolerance and understanding – hinge around the unresolved problem of whether differences of behaviour, disposition, and affect are inherited, and if they are, through what kind of evolutionary mechanism.

The panel of distinguished speakers included:

John Hedley Brooke (IAS Fellow, Professor of History of Science at the Ian Ramsey Centre, Oxford University, and author of the prize-winning book Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives);

Madeleine Bunting (Author, Guardian columnist, and recipient of the Race in Media award by the Commission for Racial Equality in 2005);

Robin Dunbar (Professor of Evolutionary Psychology at the University of Liverpool, Fellow of the British Academy and author of The Human Story);

John Dupré (IAS Fellow, Philosopher of Science at Exeter University, Director of the ESRC Centre for Genomics in Society, and author of the celebrated book The Disorder of Things);

Anthony P Monaco (Professor of Human Genetics and Director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, Oxford University)

The debate was chaired by Durham University's new Vice-Chancellor, Professor Christopher Higgins.

Transcripts of what Professors Brooke, Dunbar, Dupré and Monaco had to say at this debate are now available to download.

IAS Conference Review

The IAS’s Decennial conference (July 12th-14th) brought former Fellows and other international visitors to Durham to build on ideas emerging during a year on the theme of Evidence. The first keynote, by Monica Grady, looked outwards into the cosmos for extra-terrestrial life, and concluded that there was no definitive evidence demonstrating its existence. However, she left the door open to finding such evidence, so it may still be that the proof is out there. Penny Harvey’s keynote was more down to earth, and focused on concrete evidence of material vitality through and exploration of… concrete. Panels and roundtables ranged across topics as diverse as evidence for the efficacy of psychotherapeutic analysis; the evidence of sentience in non-human beings and its implications for their use in scientific experiments; the intangible evidence of intangible heritage; and the ways in .which IASs can foster the bringing of evidence together in interdisciplinary collaborations. Details of the panels are available here.

Delegates greatly appreciated the warm welcome from the Vice Chancellor at the conference dinner, which was followed by a definitively uproarious game of Durham Bluff, in which, for the first time in a while, the Home Team managed to beat the Visitors with some exemplary mendacity.

A grande finale to the conference was provided by a public debate, in which lively argumentation swayed a preliminary ‘for’ vote towards a narrow defeat of a provocative motion proposing that this House Believes it is Possible to Apply Universal Standards of Evidence.