Religious Faith, Ethics and 21st Century Surveillance

London, 20-22 November 2017

Invitation to leaders in faith communities.

Big Data  and other data-collection strategies shape men and women in most spheres of everyday life. These large-scale processes can include the workplace, on social media, in medical care or in education. Airline travel, as well as routine journeys in cities, regularly bring ordinary people into contact with systems that we more usually associate with surveillance. Yet, to a greater or lesser extent, our personal data is collected, analysed, and used to influence decisions.

Alongside Big Data collection from large groups of people – sometimes whole populations, there is also ’small data’ that we each willingly share on an everyday basis. We give personal information to religious organisations, charities, schools, shops, and other organisations.

Whether on a large or small canvas, gathering of personal information is surveillance; but that does not imply it is either good or bad. Surveillance, or watching over, can be to manipulate or to care for people.

Human flourishing is, therefore, aided and hindered by surveillance systems. This means that religious traditions have a significant interest in how authentic ways of life are shaped by today’s surveillance practices.

The Surveillance and Religion Network, funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council, aims to advance understanding in faith communities and the public sphere, including the academy. We are convening a workshop in London, UK, 20 – 22 November 2017 to bring together faith practitioners, theologians and academics under the broad banner of ‘religious ethics and 21st century surveillance’. (More details here.)

Participation in the workshop.

We invite leaders in faith communities and theologians to propose a short talk (10 minutes) or a more substantial academic paper (30 minutes) they would like to give at the workshop in November.  (Where a tradition distinguishes between ‘lay’ and ‘ordained’ we welcome proposals from both. ‘Theologians’ may, or may not, have a formal academic affiliation.)  The aim of a talk or paper could be to unpack some aspects of how the speaker’s own faith tradition interprets theological themes that intersect with contemporary surveillance concerns such as privacy, trust, or risk. Alternatively, a talk might focus on the experience of the speaker’s faith community when, for example, its members encounter surveillance-security systems (e.g., in airline passenger profiling).

The workshop takes place in a venue near Euston and King’s Cross stations during the afternoon of Monday 20th November, all day Tuesday 21st, and the morning of Wednesday 22nd. There is no workshop registration fee: the facilities as well as light refreshments at the workshop, including lunch on Wednesday, are funded by an Arts & Humanities Research Council grant. Participants from outside London will, however, need to make their own accommodation arrangements.

Next step.

If you would like to give a short talk or a more substantial paper to the workshop please send a short proposal (not more than 300 words) to the workshop organiser, Dr Eric Stoddart, es61@st-andrews.ac.uk not later than 20th September 2017. Please indicate your position within a particular faith tradition and whether you would like to attend the whole, or just part, of the workshop.