Interpreting gene myths in a globalized world
Keywords:technology, globalization, myth, Eurobarometer, survey, gene science debate, Peter Beyer, hermeneutics, cultural analysis
This essay critically examines Peter Beyer’s system-theoretical definition of religion, his concept of the function of religion in global society, and his definition of global core values. The empirical examples used for this critique illustrate how religion serves as a resource in public debate, and how academics use religion to explain public opinions and attitudes. They focus on genetic science and technology, noting references to myths and religious heritage The concept of myth as an analytical tool in analyses of the European barometer surveys is also examined, while tracing the history of ideas behind public opinion on genetic science and gene technology in Europe and the USA. In contrast to Beyer’s analysis, the core values at stake are not the (neo-)liberal values which he claims represent global society, i.e. equality, progress, justice, but rather sustainability, the relation between past, present and future life, and concerns about the undisputable framework of life and death, which overlap with classical theological projects. When references to myth and religion are made, they appear useful in the context of modern genetic science and gene technology because they are not about belief. Instead, such references appear closely tied to memories of recent history, to modern wartime science and modern big science failure. Since the empirical examples represent interpretative processes, system theories are unsuited to my analysis. To understand how references to religious texts and heritage work I use a classical hermeneutical stance rooted in philosophy and religious studies. My methodological conclusion is that hermeneutics offers a relevant perspective for the analysis of how religion works in discussions of science and new technology in the globalized world.
This paper is a contribution to the collection that originated in the IAHR Special Conference “Religions, Science and Technology in Cultural Contexts: Dynamics of Change”, held at The Norwegian University of Science and Technology on March 1–2, 2012. For an overall introduction to this collection see the article by Ulrika Mårtensson, also published here.
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