Lectures

Athens and Jerusalem: God, Humans, and Nature

  • David Novak
2017
University of Aberdeen

In this series of six lectures Professor David Novak (University of Toronto) explores the dynamic interrelation of reason and revelation in the history of Jewish (primarily) and Christian (secondarily) theology and Western philosophy from antiquity. Contrary to the prevalent opinion that theology (designated as “Jerusalem”) is based upon revelation while philosophy (designated as “Athens”) is based upon reason, these lectures contend that both Hebraic theology and Hellenic philosophy alike arise from revelations.

Nationalism, Terrorism and Religion

  • Richard English
2017
University of Edinburgh

Between them, nationalism, terrorism and religion have substantially shaped the modern world.  From the First World War to the 9/11 Wars, from the politics of Empire to the process of decolonization, from the establishment of national states to their rivalries and dissolution, these three phenomena have done much to create what we have inherited in the twenty-first century.  They are also often viewed as destructive forces.

Christianity and the New Spirit of Capitalism

  • Kathryn Tanner
2016
University of Edinburgh

The current configuration of capitalism, in which finance plays a dominant role, has the capacity to shape people in ways that hinder the development of any critical perspective on it.  This series of lectures will explore the various cultural forms of finance-dominated capitalism and suggest how their pervasive force in human life might be countered by Christian beliefs and practices with a comparable person-shaping capacity.

Cosmopolitan Visions: Science and Reason in a World of Difference

  • Sheila Jasanoff
2016
University of Edinburgh

The Enlightenment ideal of humanity united in a common vision of the good, based on growing scientific knowledge and understanding, lies in tatters. Around the world, some deny evidence that we are changing the climate to our peril, that chemicals and genetic modification may threaten biodiversity, that research on pathogens could pose pandemic risks, and even that human beings evolved from earlier forms of life.

Human Struggle

  • Mona Siddiqui
2016
University of Edinburgh

This series of five lectures are structured so as to explore the theme of human struggle, suffering and hope in a comparative and interdisciplinary manner that analyses the writings of both Christian and western scholars alongside those of Muslim writers. This distinctive way of working has marked the style and approach to constructive theology in Professor Siddiqui’s most recent publications, opening up unique insights that afford the important work of contemporary comparative theology greater depth and import.

Exemplarist Virtue Theory

  • Linda Zagzebski
2015
University of St. Andrews

Exemplarist virtue theory is a comprehensive ethical theory in which all central terms in moral discourse (“virtue,” “good life,” “wrong act,” etc) are defined by direct reference to exemplars of goodness, picked out through the emotion of admiration. The theory maps the moral domain for theoretical purposes, but it also has the practical aim of helping to make people moral by structuring the theory around a motivating emotion– admiration.

Beyond Innovation. Temporalities. Re-use. Emergence.

  • Helga Nowotny
2015
University of Edinburgh

The quest for innovation has become ubiquitous. It is high on the political agenda and raises hopes where few alternatives are in sight. It continues to be equated with the dynamics of wealth and even job creation and is hailed as solution to the major challenges facing our societies. Yet, as Schumpeter observed more than one hundred years ago, innovation is not only disruptive, but can also be destructive. It creates winners and losers and therefore remains a double-edged sword. 

One Another’s Equals: The Basis of Human Equality

  • Jeremy Waldron
2015
University of Edinburgh

That humans are all one another’s equals, and this makes a difference to how we ought to deal with each other and to organize ourselves legally, politically, socially and economically. Indeed, this has been an enduring theme in Western philosophy, including Jewish and Christian thought (with a few disgraceful exceptions), for thousands of years. Yet it is woefully under-explored. 

What is Caesar's? Adjudicating Faith in Modern Constitutional Democracies

  • Catherine O'Regan
2014
University of Edinburgh

Courts in constitutional democracies face tough questions in developing a principled jurisprudence for the adjudication of claims based on faith.

This lecture will consider some of the recent jurisprudence from Europe, North America, India and South Africa and discuss key questions including whether it is possible to identify a principled basis for the adjudication of claims based on faith, whether cross-jurisdictional learning is possible and proper and whether different social, political and religious contexts should and do make a difference to answering these questions.

Dealing with Darwin: Place, Politics and Rhetoric in Religious Engagements

  • David Livingstone
2014
University of Aberdeen

In this series, Professor David Livingstone examines the role of place, politics and rhetoric in the way religious communities sharing a Scots Presbyterian heritage engaged with Darwinism in different venues - Edinburgh, Belfast, Columbia and Princeton.

What emerges is the degree to which debates over Darwin were deeply embedded in local circumstances whether to do with anxieties over the control of higher education, views about the politics of race relations, challenges to traditional cultural identity, or attitudes to higher criticism.

Facing Gaia: A New Enquiry Into Natural Religion

  • Bruno Latour
2013
University of Edinburgh

There could be no better theme for a lecture series on natural religion than that of Gaia, this puzzling figure that has emerged recently in public discourse from Earth science as well as from many activist and spiritual movements. The problem is that the expression of ''natural religion'' is somewhat of a pleonasm, since Western definitions of nature borrow so much from theology.

The Better Angels of Our Nature

  • Steven Pinker
2013
University of Edinburgh

Contrary to the popular impression view that we are living in extraordinarily violent times, rates of violence at all scales have been in decline over the course of history. I explore how this decline could have happened despite the existence of a constant human nature.

From Toleration to Freedom of Expression

  • Onora O'Neill
2013
University of Edinburgh

Communication has a myriad purposes, but two are ubiquitous. One is theoretical: we hope (and often need) to judge whether others' claims are true or false. The other is practical: we hope (and often need) to judge whether others' commitments are trustworthy or untrustworthy. Yet many contemporary discussions of speech rights and speech wrongs seem ambivalent or indifferent to norms that matter for judging truth and trustworthiness.

Making Representations: Religious Faith and the Habits of Language

  • Rowan Williams of Oystermouth
2013
University of Edinburgh

When considering how language about God enters into our ordinary human discourse, it helps to look at some of the ways in which language itself is stranger and more problematic than we may have thought. This, in turn, prompts us towards a greater openness to references to the transcendent.

 

Genes Determinism and God

  • Denis Alexander
2012
University of St. Andrews

Denis Alexander speaks in this four-part lecture series to the complex interplay between biological claims about genes, philosophical claims about determinism and theological claims about God. 

Body and Mind: Insights from Neuroscience

  • Vilayanur S. Ramachandran
2012
University of Glasgow

V.S. Ramachandran, Professor at the University of California, San Diego and Director of the Center for Brain and Cognition, argues in his 2012 Gifford Lectures, “Body and Mind: Insights from Neuroscience,” that neurology provides the tools to bridge the often hermetically sealed fields of study in the humanities and those in the material sciences.

Sacrifice Regained: Evolution, Cooperation and God

  • Sarah Coakley
2012
University of Aberdeen

In the 2012 Gifford Lectures, Sarah Coakley seeks to listen to contemporary mathematical and empirical reconsiderations of ‘cooperation’ and ‘sacrifice’ in evolutionary biology; yet the lectures also aim at critically investigating evolutionary theory’s own narratives of meaning so as to raise once more the question of God. ‘Natural theology’ is therefore ‘reconceived’, argues Coakley, in light of global economic and ecological challenges precipitated by false notions of ‘sacrifice’. 

Alan Turing Centenary: Legacy of a Code Breaker

  • Jim Al Khalili
2012
University of Edinburgh

From cryptanalysis and the cracking of the German Enigma Code during the Second World War to his work on artificial intelligence, Alan Turing was without doubt one of the greatest minds of the 20th century. An extraordinarily gifted mathematician, he is rightly regarded as the father of computer science having set in place the formal rules that govern the way every computer code ever written actually work.

David Hume and Civil Society

  • Stewart Sutherland
2011
University of Edinburgh

David Hume's thinking was radical and thorough. This was his strength, but also a source of ammunition to his enemies. He has been interpreted as being scathingly negative in all of his conclusions - whether about morality, religion or basic epistemology.

The lecture will argue that Hume has much that is positive to teach us about all of these topics.

However, the main focus will be upon the nature and foundations of Civil Society, including both ethical and social insights, and their relevance to contemporary talk of 'broken' or 'fractured' society.

Science, Religion and Modernity

  • Peter Harrison
2011
University of Edinburgh

This lecture series will offer a revised history of science-religion interactions in the West. It will consider the way in which religious concerns have shaped the study of nature over the past 2000 years, with a particular focus on the changing boundaries of science and religion.

The Future of Jobs and Justice

  • Rt Hon Gordon Brown
2011
University of Edinburgh

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown returns to his former university to give a talk on economics. The lecture argues that there is an alternative to a future of low growth and high unemployment; that the alternative is a future of jobs and justice.

Morality and the Mammalian Brain

  • Patricia Churchland
2010
University of Edinburgh

Self-caring neural circuitry embodies self-preservation values, and these are values in the most elemental sense. Whence caring for others?

The End of Reality

  • Gianni Vattimo
2010
University of Glasgow

Professor Gianni Vattimo, Emeritus professor of Philosophy at the University of Turin presents four lectures for the Gifford Series organised around the notion of the “End of Reality.” The four in-depth lectures begin with a careful and considered critique of Alfred Taski’s truth definition – that “P” is “P” if, and only if, “P.” Or, as 

The Face of God

  • Roger Scruton
2010
University of St. Andrews

Scruton suggests that the crisis of the modern world has arisen from losing a sense of its sacred “subjectivity” in persons, culture, and finally God’s presence. Science only addresses “objects,” so it will be resources such as philosophy and religion that help explain the mystery of the subject. Scruton identifies the subject through the theme of “faces” in the world and the fact that every human being experiences an “I” and “you,” and ultimately asks the question “why” regarding existence.

The God Debate

  • Terry Eagleton
2010
University of Edinburgh

Why has God suddenly reappeared in intellectual debate? The lecture attempts to put these contentions in the broader political context of the so-called 'war on terror'.

The Age of Pluralism

  • Diana Eck
2009
University of Edinburgh

The historic religious traditions of humankind are being reshaped in our time by the encounter of people of every faith with one another. The past half-century has accelerated this encounter, and the awareness of religious diversity is today part of the experience and consciousness of people throughout the world.

The Necessity of Secularist Regimes

  • Charles Margrave Taylor
2009
University of Glasgow

Secularist regimes are the subject of vigorous debate in many countries: France, USA, Turkey, India and others. What are the defining features of secularism (or laîcité)? Very often we reach for some institutional definition, like 'the separation of church and state', or 'neutrality of the state.' But in fact, we need to define better the goals or values we are trying to foster or defend by these institutions. The centre of gravity of secularist regimes is changing in our day, and this is a positive development.

The Science of Mind Constraining Matter

  • Michael Gazzaniga
2009
University of Edinburgh

LECTURE ABSTRACTS:

1. What We Are

"I shall begin by considering what we are. What do we need to know about the human brain in order to discuss the weighty questions of free will, mental causation, morals, ethics, and the law?

Why Does Faith Survive

  • Jonathan Sacks
2008
University of Edinburgh

Neither the state nor the market, the two dominant institutions in liberal democracies, are society-creating forces. They do not sustain relationships, or provide a framework for meaning, identity and community. That is why, against prediction, religion survives and will grow stronger in the course of the 21st century. How can we ensure that it does not bring with it the religious conflicts of the past?

 

"Because it was he, because it was I": Friendship and Its Place in Life

  • Alexander Nehamas
2008
University of Edinburgh

The basis of moral engagement in modernity has been the realization that human beings are importantly similar to one another; its aim is to act toward others in ways these similarities support and justify. That has made the aspirations of modern moral philosophy impartial and universal. The values of morality bind us together. Emblems of our commonalities, they urge us to expand our range of concern. But there are other values as well. Badges of our particularities, these values favour imposing limits on our solicitude.

21st Century Science: Cosmic Perspectives and Terrestrial Challenges

  • Martin Rees
2007
University of St. Andrews

Martin Rees’ Gifford lectures present an overview of the current scientific understanding of reality and the unique set of challenges that face the next generation of scientists and indeed the entire global community. As an astrophysicist, Rees brings to the discussion a cosmic perspective to the present human situation and asks his listeners to learn from this perspective on ‘deep time’. He concludes that the advances of science and technology in the last century have had considerable impact on our understanding of reality and our place in it.

Seeing Things: From Mantelpieces to Masterpieces

  • Stephen Pattison
2007
University of Aberdeen

Professor Stephen Pattison delivered a series of six Gifford Lectures at the University of Aberdeen, entitled Seeing Things: From Mantelpieces to Masterpieces.

In the first of his six lectures, ‘Ordinary Blindness’, Professor Pattison outlines how a practical theologian approaches contemporary beliefs and practices, in this case related to sight and seeing. He examines the cultural assumptions and practices adopted by Westerners and describes how we tend to overvalue and misunderstand the apparently autonomous sense of sight.

The Crusades and Christianity

  • Jonathan Riley-Smith
2007
University of Edinburgh

The archbishop of Canterbury was only stating the obvious when he recently maintained that "most Christians would now say that...the crusades...or the religious wars in Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were serious betrayals of many of the central beliefs of the Christian faith."

Illegal but Legitimate: A Dubious Doctrine

  • Noam Chomsky
2005
University of Edinburgh

The 2004–2005 Gifford Lectures were originally to be delivered by Professor Edward Said. His untimely death in September 2003 meant that the Gifford Lectures were given by Dame Margaret Anstee, Dr. Stephen Toulmin and Professor Noam Chomsky in memory of Professor Said.

Peacebuilding in a Shrinking World

  • Margaret Anstee
2005
University of Edinburgh

In the opening remarks to her lecture, Peacebuilding in a Shrinking World, Dame Margaret described her academic career and went on to give details of her own experience of serving the United Nations, particular in war-torn Angola. In setting the scene she covered the evolution of the concept of peacebuilding which went back fifty years.

Sovereign God, Sovereign State, Sovereign Self

  • Jean Bethke Elshtain
2005
University of Edinburgh

Professor Elshtain presents a series of six Gifford Lectures examining the changing understanding of God’s sovereignty in relation to the development of the state and the concept of the self. From Lecture 1, which traces the movement from God as Logos to God as will, to Lecture 2, which suggests that God’s sovereignty is moved to the margins or ‘privatized’, Dr. Elshtain raises questions about changing political configurations and what that means for whether God’s will is in any way bound. Lectures 3 and 4 explore the sovereign state and whether and how God’s will influences or is affected by political will. Lectures 5 and 6 examine the emergence of the sovereign self and whether the self that rises in importance in relation to God can find a via media between pridefulness and inappropriate self-loss.

Thou Shall Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself

  • Lenn Evan Goodman
  • John Hare
  • Abdulaziz Sachedina
2005
University of Glasgow

In 2005 Lenn E. Goodman, along with John Hare, Abdulaziz Sachedina and A.C. Grayling, delivered the Gifford Lectures at the University of Glasgow on the topic "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." Professor Goodman, approaching the topic from the perspective of Jewish philosophy, published his lectures.

In his first lecture Professor Goodman seeks to put the commandment in the broad context of the Hebrew Bible and in the context of rabbinic tradition. His second lecture attempts to answer the question as to the relationship between ethics and God. Dr. Goodman's thesis is that "We learn about God through our ethical understanding and we learn about ethics through our understanding of God."

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