The Human Person in an Age of Biotechnology: A Symposium

Nov 15, 2019
BSLC 115
924 E 57th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
Back to Events

Gaymon BennettArizona State University

Jeffrey BishopSaint Louis University

Stephen MeredithUniversity of Chicago

Willemien OttenUniversity of Chicago Divinity School

John NovembreUniversity of Chicago

Paul ScherzCatholic University of America

We are at the very outset of the Age of Biotechnology. This presses anew questions regarding the limits of the human person. What is the human species from the point of view of evolutionary biology? How malleable is this definition? Is there such a thing as a species? How does this compare to philosophical perspectives on the person? The questions above are not new, but they have acquired new urgency with recent advances in biotechnology. In ths symposium, six distinguished scholars discuss these and other pressing questions in two panels--the first addressing these issues in the practice of science and application of biotechnology in the world, and the second addressing these issues from the point of theory.

Cosponsored by the Program on Religion and Medicine at the University of Chicago,the Martin Marty Center for the Public Understanding of Religion, the Theology and Ethics Workshop, the Society of Catholic Scientists, and McCormick Theological Seminary. This program is made possible by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation and the Our Sunday Visitor Institute.



Panel 1 -- Praxis

Gaymon Bennett (Arizona State University): "The Algorithm and the Spirit: Big Tech and the Enchantments of Biotechnology"

John Novembre (University of Chicago): "The expanding scope for genetic discrimination: New genetic predictors and their challenges" 

Stephen Meredith (University of Chicago): "Brave New World: Revisited – Revisited."

Moderator: Victoria Prince (University of Chicago)


Panel 2 -- Theoria

Paul Scherz (Catholic University of America): "Being Human as Being at Risk: The Shift from Genetic Determinism to Precision Medicine"

Willemien Otten (University of Chicago): "The dynamics between nature and human nature on perpetration and victimhood”

Jeff Bishop (Saint Louis University): "On the Being of Humans and the Being of Technology"

Moderator: Hille Haker (Loyola University Chicago)



Gaymon Bennett is associate professor of religion, science, and technology at Arizona State University. He Holds a PhD in Anthropology from UC Berkeley and a PhD in Philosophical theology from the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley. He works on the problem of modernity in contemporary religion and biotechnology: its shifting moral economies, contested power relations, and uncertain modes of subjectivity. His book Technicians of Human Dignity (Fordham 2016) examines the figure of human dignity in 20th century international and religious politics and its current biopolitical reconfigurations. His co-authored book Designing Human Practices: An Experiment with Synthetic Biology (with P. Rabinow, Chicago, 2012) chronicles an anthropological experiment in ethics with engineers reimagining the boundary of biology and computation. And his co-authored Sacred Cells? Why Christians Should Support Stem Cell Research (with T. Peters and K. Lebacqz, Rowman & Littlefield, 2008) critically engages the early days of stem cell research and the unwitting role of religion in the secularization of life.

Jeffrey P. Bishop is the Tenet Endowed Chair in Health Care Ethics, professor of philosophy and professor of theology at Saint Louis University. He holds an MD from the University of Texas and a PhD in philosophy from the University of Dallas. Bishop's scholarly work is focused on the historical, political, and philosophical conditions that underpin contemporary medical and scientific practices and theories.  He has written on diverse topics from transhumanism and enhancement technologies to clinical ethics consultation and medical humanities. Dr. Bishop is the author of The Anticipatory Corpse: Medicine, Power, and the Care of the Dying and is currently working on a second book with colleagues M. Therese Lysaught and Andrew Michel tentatively titled, 'Chasing After Virtue: Neuroscience, Economics, and the Biopolitics of Morality'.

Stephen Meredith is Professor in the Departments of Pathology, Neurology, and Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Chicago, where he also teaches courses on literature, philosophy, and theology. He works on the biophysics of protein structure, concentrating on amyloid proteins associated with neurodegenerative diseases. He also teaches courses in the College on James Joyce’s Ulysses, St. Thomas Aquinas, Augustine’s City of God, and other authors, particularly Dostoevsky and Thomas Mann. His main theological interest is in the problem of evil, and in this connection, he is currently writing a book on the philosophical and literary perspectives on disease. His current interests also center on the impact of biotechnology and the genetic revolution on the definition of human nature.

Willemien Otten is Professor of Theology and the History of Christianity; also in the College; Associate Faculty in the Department of History, Social Sciences Division at the University of Chicago. She holds an M.A. and PhD from the University of Amsterdam. Otten studies the history of Christianity and Christian thought with a focus on the Western medieval and the early Christian intellectual tradition, including the continuity of Platonic themes. She is coeditor of Eriugena and Creation (2014), On Religion and Memory (2013), and the Oxford Guide to the Historical Reception of Augustine (430–2000) (2013). Her most recent book is Thinking Nature and the Nature of Thinking: From Eriugena to Emerson (2020).

John Novembre is Professor of Human Genetics at the University of Chicago. He holds a BA from Colorado College and a PhD from the University of California at Berkeley. Prior to joining the faculty of the University of Chicago, he was affiliated with the University of California at Los Angeles (2008–2013) and was a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow in bioinformatics at the University of Chicago (2006–2008). In 2015 he was named a MacArthur Fellow for his work on evuolutionary history and genetic diversity of human populations. His articles have appeared in such journals as Science, Nature, Nature Genetics, the American Journal of Human Genetics, and Bioinformatics, among others.

Paul Scherz is Associate Professor of Moral Theology/Ethics in the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America. He holds a BA from UC Berkeley, a PhD in Genetics from Harvard, and an MTS and PhD in Moral Theology from the University of Notre Dame. Dr. Scherz researches the moral theology of biotechnology and medical practice. He uses the work of Alasdair MacIntyre and Michel Foucault to examine how the daily use of biomedical technologies shapes the way researchers, doctors, and patients see and manipulate the world and their bodies. His scholarly interests also include Stoicism’s more general influences on Christian ethics, especially in the ars moriendi tradition and end-of- life ethics, and understandings of risk in contemporary society as they relate to emerging genetic technologies. He has published widely in academic journals, and is currently working on his first monograph: Science as a Vocation in an Entrepreneurial Age: Truth, Community and Spiritual Exercises.