President's Doctoral Scholar Award


Scott Midson

Research Degree: PhD Religions & Theology

(Working) Thesis title: 'A Cyborg Theology? Venturing Between and Beyond Humans, Technology and God'

Scope of your research:

Does technology alter how we see ourselves, or does it, indeed, has it always, informed that definition? In short, my doctoral research seeks to respond to the challenges that technology presents to the constructed figure of the ‘human’. I aim to develop a critical theological response to various attempts in the literature that have sought to explain how humans interact with technology. Once a distinction has been made between the different approaches to, or outcomes of, our engagement with technology, the figure of the ‘cyborg’ will be considered in greater detail in an attempt to construct a ‘cyborg theology’. Broadly speaking, this endeavour responds to the anti-essentialist proposals of ‘hybridity’, which largely seek to overcome distinctions and dichotomies that have previously defined who we are. It was popularised in the field of posthumanities by Donna Haraway, but in this investigation I intend to reappraise the cyborg in light of theological thought. As a result of the interdisciplinary nature of posthumanities, this research spans numerous disciplines and approaches, from sociology to computer science, and from anthropology to bioethics. By grounding these ideas via a recourse to theology, with particular reference to doctrines of creatureliness, I will suggest the implications of our intermingling with technologies, as well as suitable routes that this relationship may take as technologies develop and advance at an ever-increasing rate. Is there a limit to how much the ‘human’ can withstand technological change? Is there a limit to how much change we should instigate? Or do new technologies invite us to a new awareness of our ontological status?

Brief Personal Biography:

My research seeks to relate theology to the challenges raised by technology, in particular how new technologies (such as biotechnologies, nanotechnologies, robotics) call into question the ontological construction of the human. Although I have always worked from a broadly theological perspective, my research has a distinctly interdisciplinary approach, and I often relate sociological and philosophical insights, among others, to engage with the present context in adequate depth.

Academic background:

  • BA Hons Religions & Theology (Religion & Society) - University of Manchester - 2007-2010 (First Class)
  • MA Religion & Political Life - University of Manchester - 2011-2012 (pending)
  • PhD Religions & Theology - University of Manchester - 2012+

Academic achievements:

  • Bishop Leigh Greek Prize - University of Manchester – 2008
  • Brandon Memorial Prize - University of Manchester – 2010
  • Award for Outstanding Academic Achievement - University of Manchester – 2010
  • Chadwick Prize - University of Manchester - 2011

Research interests:

  • Religion and Technology
  • Posthumanism, Transhumanism, Cyborgs (and 'Humans')
  • Jean Baudrillard
  • Religion and New Media
  • (Sociology of) Identity (particularly Symbolic Interactionism)
  • Dystopia and Apocalypse

Questions

1. Why did you choose to do your research at the University of Manchester?

I've been an undergraduate and a postgraduate at Manchester; it is one of the rare places where I have the opportunity to not only approach the 'cyborg' from a theological perspective, but also from a nonspecific religious attitude (although my work does contend predominantly with the Christian doctrine of 'imago dei'). Manchester is a vibrant, cosmopolitan city, and the University meets my requirements for scope to conduct interdisciplinary research; there are numerous interdisciplinary centres both within and outside of the university, and researchers are moreover actively encouraged to pursue such links between various schools and departments.

2. How do you feel about being selected as one of the President's Doctoral Scholars?

I was completely surprised to be in receipt of one of the PDS awards - it is such a prestigious award, and it gave me greater confidence in my research and in my ability to pursue doctoral studies. The idea of bringing together researchers from numerous disciplines has worked well; it offers new researchers a platform to network, to develop their own skills as well as to develop insights in their research, and fosters a strong work ethos. I am excited about the special program of training events that are forthcoming over the three years, and feel that these will stand me in good stead as a researcher well beyond the years of my PhD.

3. What are your career aspirations after completing your PhD?

I would ideally like to remain in a university environment and continue to conduct research at the intersection between religion and technology. As I progress along my academic career, I am continually finding new avenues for study, and I strongly believe that this research is of prime significance in our contemporary age, where the challenges I discuss are pertinent, and will only become increasingly more relevant. So much of our society, our beliefs, our very identities are predicated on a certain understanding of the human; if this symbolic figure is increasingly under threat, then it will have significant ramifications for all aspects of our lives.

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