LETU Theology Professor Jonathan Lett Awarded Fellowship at Oxford

Tue, Mar 13 2018

LeTourneau University theology professor Jonathan Lett has been awarded a grant to travel during the next two summers to Oxford, England, in the United Kingdom to work in an enhanced summer program developing interdisciplinary skills in science and religion.

Lett is sponsored by a grant given by Bridging the Two Cultures of Science and the Humanities II, a project run by Scholarship and Christianity in Oxford, the UK subsidiary of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, with funding by Templeton Religion Trust and The Blankemeyer Foundation.

Lett is one of only 25 career faculty members from across the globe to be selected to serve as a SCIO Visiting Scholar in Science and Religion. The SCIO offers this two-year fellowship for early- and mid- level career faculty members from schools that are members of the CCCU.

“Professor Lett’s being awarded this honor is an indication of how promising of a scholar and leader he is,” said LETU Dean of Theology Kelly Liebengood. “He is clearly someone who can help LETU think deeply and broadly about technology from a theological perspective.” 

The two month-long summer research seminars in Oxford, England, will feature over 40 lectures presented by eminent science and religion scholars; research and student-focused activities on CCCU campuses and in Oxford; and roundtable and colloquium for institutional leaders on relevant issues.  Lett and other participants will enjoy access to Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries, excursions to places such as Darwin’s house and relevant collections in Cambridge, and cultural activities relevant to addressing the two cultures of science and religion.

Social and natural scientists will join those in the humanities to explore established and emerging science and religion issues, guided by eminent scholars in the field, all with the aim to train a new generation of leaders in science and religion.

The fellowship will begin this summer of 2018. 

Lett said he applied for the program because of its goal to help bridge the gap between humanities and sciences.

“My doctoral work focused on the theology of creation and much of my master’s work focused on bioethics, so this project will allow me to take an important next step in my research to engage questions of human nature and order from the quarters of biotechnology and evolutionary biology,” Lett said. “Technology in general and biotechnology in particular shape how we think about human life—its limits and possibilities, its nature and order, and so our notion of what human flourishing looks like. Technology is always packaged as a contribution to society as something that makes life better, easier, richer, and more efficient. Underneath these claims are unstated theological views about the nature of the human person or what a human person should be like.

“I applied for this SCIO opportunity by providing a research project proposal that is interdisciplinary,” Lett said. “I am approaching the issues surrounding technology and human nature as a theologian and an ethicist.”

Lett explained that his project will be on evolution, technology and the ethics of created order.  Each participant in the program will make an original contribution to scholarship through the publication of articles or a book, advancing rigorous science and religion research. Participants will present their research as a conference paper to members of the cohort during the summer program, receiving valuable critical feedback.

“Basically, Christians have always had some idea of created order, but since biotechnology can alter human nature, the question becomes, if you can alter it, should you?” Lett said.  “Can created nature still be considered a reliable moral guide?”

“Evolutionary biology says everything is changing, so maybe we should use technology to maximize each evolutionary development,” he said. “To answer that as a theologian and ethicist, you have to know something about the ins and outs of human nature from a biological perspective. 

“Here at LETU, we are known as an engineering school,” Lett said. “We do so much with technology. My research project is to help us think theologically about technology so that we can ask questions about what counts as good design. I want Christians to have an approach that can help us know when we ought to limit our applications of technology.

“Much of the work of engineering is committed to making things more efficient,” Lett said. “But is efficiency always a good thing? Many of my best relationships are not very efficient. Making things easier doesn’t always result in a good life.

“We want to form engineers who can think about technology theologically and form those in the humanities also to engage theologically the myriad of ways that technology is shaping our lives,” he said.

Part of Lett’s grant proposal also detailed how he would use grant funding to start a technology and theology club at LETU for students, and expand faculty formation to engage more fully in science and religion discussions, as well.

The program also includes a three-day President’s Roundtable in Oxford hosted by CCCU President Dr. Shirley Hoogstra during the Summer of 2018 for all of the presidents of participating institutions and a colloquium in North America for senior academic officers, chief student development officers and chaplains to seek to foster further engagement with a wide range of institutional leaders, designed to shape institutions and leaders for years to come.

Lett and other participants will receive one-on-one supervision along the lines of an Oxford tutorial, which consists of an hour-long conversation between a supervisor who is engaged in research and a student who has spent time reading for and writing a substantial essay in answer to an assigned question.  These interdisciplinary supervisions are designed to coincide with the participant’s research topic and may contribute to their future publications. This process will expose participants to other relevant disciplines.

Mentoring by eminent scholars will be available to participants with scheduled 30- to 60-minute mentoring sessions where participants can discuss their research projects and gain advice about professional and academic advancement. The mentoring sessions provide critical feedback and build personal connections to senior scholars in their fields and suitable publication channels.

Workshops will address rhetorical, pedagogical, curricular, cultural, translational and CCCU-specific issues relating to science and religion to help participants shape a positive culture at their home institutions and discuss how they can best reach their constituents while implementing best practices in teaching and research.

LeTourneau University is the premier Christian polytechnic university in the nation where educators engage students to nurture Christian virtue, develop competency and ingenuity in their professional fields, integrate faith and work, and serve the local and global community. LETU offers undergraduate and graduate degree programs across a range of disciplines and delivery models at LETU’s residential campus in Longview, Texas, and in hybrid and fully online options at centers in the Dallas and Houston areas.  For additional information, visit www.letu.edu.