Jens Zimmermann: A Theological Account of Personhood

Jens Zimmermann: A Theological Account of Personhood May 3, 2018

Jens Zimmermann has been awarded a British Academy Visiting Fellowship and will be conducting research in the faculty of theology and religion at Oxford University, Christ Church College, in collaboration with Graham Ward, from August 1, 2018 to February 1, 2019.

Over the course of this project, Zimmermann intends to sketch the historical development and substantive contours of a theological conception of personhood and bring this description of ‘who we are’ to bear on pressing technological and social issues. For example, evolutionary theorists ask what distinguishes human nature from all other forms of sentient life? Moreover, the concept of ‘person’ underlies the Western legal framework and the modern understanding of universal human rights. The debt owed to theology for modern ideas concerning human identity and dignity, however, remains obscured or contested. Yet at perhaps no other time in history has a robust notion of ‘person’ been more important. Technologies of enhancement in both genetics and computing, especially in the areas of artificial intelligence (AI) and information exchange through the internet (including social media) confront us with an unprecedented uncertainty about what it means to be human. The ancient ‘imago dei’ tradition provides a way forward. Through an analysis of the rise of personhood through patristic, medieval, and modern theology and a discussion of the concept of the person in the thought of several modern theologians, Zimmermann aims to produce a personalist anthropology and theology that can effectively respond to and engage with modern debates concerning human distinctiveness in evolution, genetic engineering, and technological enhancements (to name just a selection of issues), thus opening a space for dialogue on the question of what constitutes true human flourishing.

You can read more about the British Academy visiting fellowships here.

Image courtesy of Christ Church College.

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