RELIGION AND TECHNOLOGY: DICTIONARY OF TECHNOLOGY AS A CASE STUDY
25 May 2018, 10:00 | University of Belgrade Rectorate
Under the auspices of the Department for History and Philosophy of Natural Sciences and Technology of the University of Belgrade
Aleksandar Petrovic, University of Belgrade (president)
Efthymios Nicolaidis, National Hellenic Research Foundation, Athens
George Vlahakis, Hellenic Open University, Athens
Nikos Livanos, National Hellenic Research Foundation, Athens
Predrag Milosavljevic, University of Belgrade
Aleksandra Stevanovic, University of Belgrade (secretary)
Please scroll down for video of the workshop
The Belgrade workshop “Religion and Technology: Dictionary of Technology as a Case Study” was organized in May 2018 within the frame of the long-term international project “Science and Orthodoxy around the World” held by National Hellenic Research Foundation in Athens.
The event was opened by coordinator of the event Professor Aleksandar Petrović, Vice President of the Department for History and Philosophy of Natural Sciences and Technology and Advisor of the Scientific Committee of the project SOW. Professor Petrović introduced Dictionary of Technology, a script published in Belgrade in 1981 used as a template for the workshop. He invited participants, as well as the audience, to engage in an open exchange of views from a multipolar perspective. After these introductory words, Dr. George Vlahakis introduced Project SOW to the speakers and audience. He explained the vision and diverse academic activities which the project aims to convey since its initiation in 2016. The workshop explored theological and technological discourse permeating in the optics of one specific historical and creative moment – the phenomenon of Dictionary of Technology. Dictionary is an incentive subject for this discussion because it is a completely genuine manuscript, which in the form of Medieval Orthodox handwritten script refers to the issue of modernity and technology. It thus fruitfully connects the question of theology and technology and fosters their dialog. The text published by SOW researcher Aleksandra Stevanović in issue 15(2018) of the international journal Church Studies titled “Theology of Dictionary of Technology” served as an impulse for triggering dicsussion among the present scholars and a critical reconsideration of the religion–technology relation in the contemporary world. The keynote address by Dr. Suzana Polić, Dictionary of Technology and Electronic Personality, introduced the issue of an electronic personality, or, the personality of a humanoid robot, and the coming EU legislative on the protection of its rights. In her presentation, Dr. Polić compared the religious concept of personality and the technological concept of the electronic personality. She underlined the fact that technology never explored the concept of personality until the proposed legislative at the European parliament in 2017. In that sense, Dr. Polić elaborated on the multi-layered complexity of the issue of the electronic personality. She presented the religious considerations of Dostoevsky, Žarko Vidović, and Father Mitrofan, as well as that of Dictionary of Technology and contrasted them to the phenomenon of the electronic being. The lecture focused on biomimicry and artificial intelligence and showed how Dictionary long ago reported about some of the crucial outcomes of the technological revolutions. Another discussion-sparking theme was presented by Dr. Aleksandar Gajić who elaborated on Technological and Theological Dilemmas in the Postmodern Era. He argued how technology, despite its attempts to enter all spheres of life, is not truly able to reach qualitative layers of human existence. He implied that this closed determinism tends to eliminate all the other circles of cognition or streams of thought. In that endeavour, technology tries to mimic God and be existentially dominant. Dr. Gajić additionally deduced that technology shifts traditional religion to the new virtual places of worship. Doing that way, it breaks all the limits of human life as we know it. The second session of the workshop started with the thought-provoking presentation by Professor Tatjana Paunesku on the theme The Fall of Insight. One of the main aspects of her lecture was biotechnology and its impact on contemporary human life. She explained the effect general reductionist approach has onto the reading of the Bible. It is sometimes considered that it is not necessary to perceive the entire message of the Bible. In many cases, people focus only on some parts of it. Professor Paunesku recollected Maximus the Confessor who said that for him those who understand the Bible literally are not theologians, but technologians. Furthermore, with the reductionist approach, science became the victim of technology. Such approach consequently led to fundamentalism in religion, but in science as well. Everything tends to be simplified and insight is perceived as not necessary. There is no clear comprehension of the words and what they mean – all that is lack of profound view. That is why Dictionary of Technology is produced in such a way that each person that reads it needs deeper perception without which they cannot comprehend Dictionary. Not only did Dictionary point at such civilizational problems, but it showed the way out from those labyrinths as well and long ago fostered reflection on religion and technology. Professor Paunesku concluded her exposé by saying that it must be well remembered that whatever is apt for tools is not adequate for human beings. Professor Dragiša Bojović in the presentation Dictionary of Technology and Church Studies – One Idea referred to the scientific paper Theology of Dictionary of Technology by Aleksandra Stevanović. He explained the history, strategy, aims, and activities of the journal Church Studies, established in 2004 as the first academic journal in Serbia that fosters multidisciplinary research on theology, science, literature, and arts. In that sense, professor Bojović related the establishment of Church Studies to the idea of Dictionary of Technology implying that both these theoretical blueprints stem from one seed: multipolar re-ideation of the world dynamics from the foothold of medieval and Orthodox Christian creativity and canon. Dr. Vladimir Dimitrijević did not manage to attend the workshop and his paper on Searching for Theology behind Technology was read by Dr. Predrag Milosavljević. In the paper, the historical context of Dictionary was explained and brought into relation with contemporary context of this script. Project preceding Dictionary, titled Technology, a 1980 special issue of the journal Vidici dedicated to the texts from anthropology of technology was mentioned with the aim to show genealogy of the philosophical thought on technology. In his paper, Dr. Dimitrijević elaborated on how Christian concept of victim is presented in this compilation of texts referring to technology, as well as in Dictionary, as the impetus to Orthodox Christian religion. Dr. Dimitrijević concluded that Dictionary of Technology triggered one of the key theological questions of contemporary world – how did the world lose Logos and get drawn into virtuality? The third part of the workshop included the summary of the presentations and concluding remarks by Aleksandra Stevanović. She commented the keynote address and the relation of Dictionary of Technology and an electronic personality inferring that this issue opened a new window to the comprehension of Dictionary. Along with virtual reality, the electronic personality is one of the themes this script implies. Stevanović added that apart from some theological manuscripts, Dictionary of Technology is the only treatise of that time that explored the concept of personality in the frame of technology and its development. She found the lecture by Dr. Gajić equally engaging for the emphasis on technological “values”. Technology tries to enhance religious values and upgrade them to be suitable to some modern forms of life. She recollected a round table held at the Institute of European Studies in 2016 which engaged in discussion on Dictionary and anti-utopia. Dictionary did not appear as an antiutopian script, rather it confronted the utopia which aided technology in its attempt to be at the apex of historical circumstances. In the lecture by Dr. Paunesku, the commentator found relation of reductionist approach to the attitude towards Dictionary which still poses challenge to the true comprehension of it and the overall perception of the relationship between religion and technology. Relating Church Studies and Dictionary of Technology as one project in his presentation, professor Bojović illuminated another significance of Dictionary – perseverance of idea and will to endure despite all uncertainties of the contemporary era. Aleksandra Stevanović concluded that the same dedication is also evident in the attempt of both “projects” to harmonize a plethora of significant thinkers from the fields of history of science, philosophy, theology, science, and technology with the aim of searching for truth and undivided experience. The presentation by Dr. Dimitrijević, which recollected conditions of the time when this separate issue of the journal Vidici appeared showed how Dictionary was able to transcend its time for its identity is not technological in its essence. The script is significant event almost forty years since its publishing while the context of the time completely faded and left no mark on the present time. Having summarized the diverse views by the workshop participants, Stevanović presented some views on the theme and explained the reasons for the choice of Dictionary of Technology as the case study of the project SOW workshop Religion and Technology. Dictionary represents a unique unallotted inner dialog of Orthodox theology and technology. Not only in Serbian setting, it is the only treatise which connects these spheres in their essence and represents the amalgam of premodern-postmodern experience which serves as an epistemological nucleus for the technological pulse observation. Stevanović stated that in technological milieu traditional anchorage is abandoned so that the new possibilities are sought in the sea of endless technological hopes. Even though the opportunities seem unlimited, maybe there is less and less spiritual freedom in such a context. The main problem is in the hopes that the only one eligible of bringing in better future is technology. Thus, it becomes the mirror of Divine power when at the same time pure theological questions are put aside. It offers people to believe in it and now it is not even the question whether people believe in it or not, but whether they are good enough for it or not. The final part of the workshop was concluded with a one-hour discussion among the speakers and audience. The questions orbited around the relationship of religion and technology and Dictionary’s vision on its growing, both secular and religious power. All the scholars in the audience engaged in the vivid discussion and presented their views regarding relationship between Orthodox theology and technology. Finally, it was concluded that Dictionary of Technology undoubtedly presented a unique connective tissuefor the final inner comprehension of religion–technology dynamics.