Old Categories, New Territories, and Future Directions: A Response to Bernard Lightman

Map of the universe, from Petrus Alphonsi, Dialogi cum Moyse Judaeo. Shelfmark: MS. Laud Misc. 356, fol. 120r

By Peter Harrison

A note from the editor: In a previous article on this site, historian of science Bernard Lightman offered a reflection on the new work of Peter Harrison. Harrison’s book, The Territories of Science and Religion, seeks to outline how conceptions of science and religion have changed throughout history, and details the inadequacy of projecting our present categories onto the past. In his reflection, Lightman raised four points about Harrison’s work: concerning the influence of Darwin’s evolution, the role of ‘professionalization’, the impact of evolution on natural theology, and how Harrison’s Territories relates to the ‘complexity thesis’, the current dominant idea in the historiography of science and religion. Below is Harrison’s response to Lightman’s post:

I’m grateful to Bernie Lightman for his thoughtful and perceptive comments on The Territories of Science and Religion. Lightman is a leading authority on science and religion in the nineteenth century, and a scholar from whom I have learned a great deal. Accordingly, I was interested to see his assessment of my treatment of a pivotal period in which he has a particular expertise. Fortunately, it seems mostly to have passed muster, although Lightman has issued a few challenges and identified some important issues that warrant further attention.  Continue reading Old Categories, New Territories, and Future Directions: A Response to Bernard Lightman

Peter Harrison’s The Territories of Science and Religion: A New Peter Principle

http://www.press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/T/bo19108877.html
The front cover of Harrison’s The Territories of Science and Religion.

Peter Harrison’s new book,[i] based on the Gifford Lectures that he delivered at the University of Edinburgh in 2011, is essential reading.  It is the most important study of the history of science and religion since the publication in 1991 of John Brooke’s Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives, in which Brooke laid out what has been called the “complexity thesis.”  That thesis has been the principle guiding almost all scholarship in the history of science and religion since 1991, so for at least the last 25 years.  In brief, Brooke argued (and he was by no means the first) that the conflict thesis, the notion that science and religion have been at war throughout history, was fatally flawed, and that any single thesis had to be rejected as the basis of a historiographical model.  Instead, scholars had to conduct empirical research on the period they were examining to determine the nature of the relationship between science and religion.  Brooke’s book inspired scholars to go back and look again at key moments in the past in order to find more complicated patterns than the simplistic emphasis on conflict that had reigned in earlier studies. Continue reading Peter Harrison’s The Territories of Science and Religion: A New Peter Principle