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AAR Annual Meeting
Atlanta, GA
November 21-24, 2015

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Transhumanism and Religion Group

Statement of Purpose: 

“Transhumanism” or “human enhancement” refers to an intellectual and cultural movement that advocates the use of a variety of emerging technologies. The convergence of these technologies may make it possible to take control of human evolution, providing for the enhancement of human mental and physical abilities deemed desirable and the amelioration of aspects of the human condition regarded as undesirable. These enhancements include the radical extension of healthy human life. If these enhancements become widely available, it would arguably have a more radical impact than any other development in human history — one need only reflect briefly on the economic, political, and social implications of some of the extreme enhancement possibilities. The implications for religion and the religious dimensions of human enhancement technologies are enormous and are addressed in our Group. We are interested in encouraging and providing a forum for a broad array of input from scholars, including Asian and feminist perspectives. To be placed on a very occasional mailing list, contact Calvin Mercer, East Carolina University, mercerc@ecu.edu .

Call for Papers: 

This Group welcomes papers on any aspect of transhumanism and religion and seeks perspectives from a variety of religious traditions. We encourage feminist, queer, postmodern, and postcolonial analyses and more overtly philosophical critiques of posthuman discourse. Original research is a priority. Papers may identify and critically evaluate any implicit religious beliefs, practices, and values that might underlie key transhumanist claims, goals, values, and assumptions. For example, are there operative notions of anthropology, soteriology, ethics, embodiment, and eschatology at play in transhumanist quests? Papers might consider how transhumanism challenges religious traditions to develop their own ideas of the human future; in particular, the prospect of human transformation, whether by technological or other means. Papers may provide critical and constructive assessments of an envisioned future that places greater confidence in nanotechnology, cognitive science, robotics, and information technology to achieve virtual immortality and create a superior posthuman species. In accordance with the 2015 AAR theme (“Valuing Religion”), we are particularly interested in papers that address why religion is important to the transhumanist conversation.

We also are interested in receiving proposals that focus on potential modification of the human mind for a possible session cosponsored with the Cognitive Science of Religion Group.
Topic/Title: "Can we now hack the religious mind?" (for possible co-sponsorship with the Transhumanism and Religion Group)
Papers Session Proposal Organizer: Don Braxton, don.braxton@gmail.com
“Cognitive Science has made significant progress in explaining how the normal human mind produces religious ideas. What it has not done, and cannot do as a science, is offer advice on how to put that knowledge to use to improve human life. By contrast, transhumanism seeks explicitly to put scientific knowledge to work to improve human life beyond its normal functioning. This panel wants to place these two intellectual currents in dialogue to see how the mind, as cognitive science explains it, can be upgraded in terms of the quality of religious life. What counts as an upgrade is left to the panel participants to articulate and defend.
Papers are welcome on topics that include:
-- How can we limit or eliminate the least desirable outputs of religion (e.g, tribal violence, science denial, etc.) in our world given what cognitive science tells us?
-- How can we encourage the most desirable outputs of religion (e.g. prosocial behavior, self-esteem improvement) in our world given what cognitive science tells us?
-- Are there novel forms of religion that might be possible with a little mind-tweaking? If so, what are they, and why do you think such novel forms are possible?"

Method: 
PAPERS
Process: 
Proposer names are visible to chairs but anonymous to steering committee members
Comments: 
We selected papers in 2014 that represented varied topics that were consistent with the stated call for papers. Our three presenters were males. Since the proposal rated most highly by the Steering Committee was largely a response to a recent book by one of our Steering Committee members, we decided to ask her (Jeanine Thweatt-Bates) to serve as a respondent. We also invited well regarded theologian Ted Peters to respond more generally to the presenters, from his point of view as one who has seen the development of the field to this point. Both Thweatt-Bates and Peters graciously accepted our invitation. This variation on the design of the session made for a lively session with very constructive interaction.
Leadership: 
ChairSteering Committee