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Living in the Midst of Death: Theological Reflections on Aging and Technology

April 9, 2021 @ 3:30 pm - 4:30 pm EDT

Being human in our technological age requires not merely technical skills but—more importantly—intellectual capacity to navigate a rapidly changing philosophical milieu. Join us this winter for our online lecture series, Human Flourishing in a Technological Age, to learn from leading scholars about key aspects of what it means to be human in a technological age: personhood, embodied cognition, leisure, transhumanism and more.

Please join us on Friday, April 9 as we welcome Dr. Michael Mawson who will give the lecture “Living in the Midst of Death: Theological Reflections on Aging and Technology.”

Dr. Mawson will draw upon the Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Austrian born philosopher Jean Améry to reflect upon the phenomenon of human ageing. In particular, he will explore how Bonhoeffer and Améry might help us to better understand and attend to the ambiguities and complexities of our experiences of ageing. In the first part, Dr. Mawson will engage Bonhoeffer’s theological account of the human being as situated between life and death. In his 1933 Creation and Fall, Bonhoeffer presents human beings as existing between the two conflicting promises of the opening chapters of Genesis: God’s promise to Adam in the garden (‘if you eat from this tree you will surely die’) and the Serpent’s promise to Eve (‘you will not die at all’). These two promises together encapsulate and disclose the situation of the humanity: ‘After the fall, all human beings are suspended between these two conflicting statements—living towards death, living as those already dead.’ In the second part of this lecture, Dr. Mawson will turn to Améry’s phenomenological reflections in On Ageing: Revolution and Revolt (1968), wherein he provides an account of ageing as ‘death in the midst of life’. In aging, as Améry reflects, “we become more alienated from ourselves and more familiar with ourselves…Day and night cancel each other out in twilight.” Améry’s rich descriptions thus draw attention to ambiguities and tensions that are present in all experiences of aging. Dr. Mawson will conclude by demonstrating how Bonhoeffer and Améry can assist with contesting the kinds of utopianism and idealism prevalent in many standard approaches to aging. In particular, Bonhoeffer and Amery help us to recognise the limitations of medical and technological responses to aging. Such responses fail to address our actual human experience because they promote life as the opposite of death, and in so doing they fail to attend to the nature of aging as dying.
Dr. Michael Mawson is Senior Lecturer in Systematic Theology & Ethics and Research Fellow in the Public and Contextual Theology Research Centre at Charles Sturt University, Australia. He holds a doctorate from the University of Notre Dame and teaches theology and ethics at the United Theological College of Charles Sturt University in Sydney Australia. He has particular interests in modern German theology and ethics, bioethics, phenomenology, and the writing of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He has completed a monograph on Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology and is at the beginning of a new project on ethics and aging. He has co-edited four books including the Oxford Handbook of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Dr Mawson’s work has also appeared in The Scottish Journal of Theology, The International Journal of Systematic Theology, and The Journal of Religion, Disability and Health.


April 9, 2021
3:30 pm - 4:30 pm EDT
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