CC 300 K - Modern Technology and the Life of Faith

3 Credits
Professor Clausen
MW 9:00-9:50 am

It is increasingly hard to imagine a world without the power and convenience of modern technology. Spectacular breakthroughs in technology occur with ever-increasing rapidity, and remain hot topics of discussion in our culture. Yet very seldom is technology itself questioned as a concept or its deeper impact on our lives examined. This is perhaps because it is assumed that technology is already well understood, that the progress of technology is necessary and inevitable, and that nothing new and radical has transpired with the advent of ‘modern’ technology.

Scratch below the surface, however, and the matter is not so straightforward. There is a serious debate among theologians and philosophers concerning what technology really is and what it does for us and to us as human beings. Is it simply a completely neutral “tool” for humanity’s use? Or does it engender a more comprehensive worldview and manufacture its own self-justification? What are the positive and negative impacts of the ideas and behaviors that technology promotes? And finally, how should this topic be approached by Christians and Christian theology?

In addition to this theoretical mode of inquiry about technology itself, there is also the practical question of modern technologies. The two modes, theoretical and practical, are inseparably linked, and part of the aim of this course is to enable students to bring these two modes of questioning together. How do advances in particular modern technologies impact the life of Christian faith? Are there advances Christians ought to challenge or resist in such areas as social media and entertainment, communications, food production, genetic research, etc., because of their impact on consumerism, human exploitation, or the environment? Or is it more a question of creative and responsible engagement with these advances? Are some technological advances more compatible with a moral and Christian vision than others? In short, what does a faithful Christian witness look like in a technological age?

In this course students will be invited to examine these questions in a discussion-based format. They will reflect on their own experience with technology and analyze its wider cultural impact through the lens of Christian faith. They will also consider non-religious or secular perspectives that explore the frontier of modern technology, and raise important questions for Christian theology and ethics. Every two weeks students will read a portion of text or an article devoted to a particular theme or issue and write a brief, informal paper (c. 300 words) in response. Students can then choose from among the pool of these response papers their topics for two longer essays (5-7 pages). There will also be a final exam. Readings will be drawn from modern scholars, popular writers, and the ancient Church Father St. Augustine, who provides some surprising and valuable perspectives from which to consider our modern technological age.

Readings may include:
Brian Brock, Christian Ethics in a Technological Age
Jana Marguerite Bennett, Aquinas on the Web? Doing Theology in an Internet Age
Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains
Sherry Turkle, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other 
Oliver O’Donovan, Common Objects of Love: Moral Reflection and the Shaping of Community
Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in a Digital Age
St. Augustine, Confessions