Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions with William McMillan

 

 

1. Tell us a bit about the project you are working on at UCHI.

My project leverages my research on a theologically conservative but culturally flexible church in Manhattan to think through the limits, tension points, challenges, and opportunities for evangelical Christianity (in conversation with other religious traditions) in the contemporary era of advanced modernity.

 

2. What drew you to this topic and what exciting developments are you anticipating?

The training that I received in a particular theological tradition before transitioning to sociology actually helped broaden my perspective and provided me with greater flexibility and nuance in appropriating a particular set of religious commitments as an analytic or grid through which to make sense of the world. This paradox of pursuing a more robust set of convictions and arriving at a more capacious view of the world intrigued me and set me on the path to think through the adaptability and flexibility that is often entailed in a given religious tradition. One exciting development that I am anticipating is clarifying and substantiating ways that evangelical Christianity and other religious traditions are conversing with and/or positively articulating more immanent conceptual frames in response to today’s increasingly secular cultural climate.

 

3. What are you looking forward to in regard to this year at UCHI?

I am looking forward to rich conversations with other scholars, as well as genuine interdisciplinary exchange. It is a privilege to be part of such a talented and diverse academic community and to think through and dialogue about such weighty, relevant, and important issues.

 

4. Many people wonder what value the humanities and humanities research has in today’s world. What are your thoughts on what humanities scholarship “brings to the table?”

Humanities scholarship brings to the fore questions of meaning, purpose, aspiration, value, and telos. Answers to these questions are existentially unavoidable, though they are sadly and far too frequently ignored. The power and promise of various technologies and societal changes are touted, as science elaborates more and more a detached description of the world—the world of things. While all well and good, these tools and descriptions only go so far. Important questions inevitably emerge, such as: How can one discern between better and worse uses of a given technology? Is bigger, faster, and more efficient always the best course of action when it comes to human beings? How might the tools and techniques of science help human communities over the long term? Such questions fall in the sweet spot of humanities research, which at the end of the day concerns wisdom and deep reflection on what it means to live a noble, honorable, and worthwhile human life.