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Research seminars

The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion Research Seminars are held at 1.00 p.m. on alternate Tuesdays in the Garden Room, Library Building, St. Edmundís College. A free light buffet lunch and drinks are served from 12.30 p.m. onwards. All are welcome.

The Garden Room is on the ground floor of the Library Building which is located in the far left-hand corner as you enter the College grounds. The free buffet lunch is served there.

Lent term

Appropriating Religion for Science in Brian Cox's "Wonders"

Dr Felicity Mellor

Tuesday March 3, 2015

Garden Room, Library Building
St Edmund's College
Mount Pleasant
Cambridge
CB3 0BN

Abstract

The 2011 BBC series Wonders of the Universe, presented by celebrity physicist Professor Brian Cox, reached a UK audience almost as large as those of popular soap operas. As the title of the series makes clear, the show drew on a discourse of wonder and the evocation of the sublime. Yet in attempting to engage a mass audience, the series also sought to construe the cosmos on a human scale. To do so, it made explicit reference to religion, both in terms of repeatedly depicting sites of religious practice and in terms of reconfiguring concepts normally assigned to religious or spiritual discourse as matters addressed by science. Ironically, the desire for spectacular images resulted in a visual preoccupation with earthly scenes, and the wish to draw cosmology into the human realm resulted in recourse to the spiritual realm. Writing in the 1980s, scholar of rhetoric Thomas Lessl argued that Carl Sagan’s television series Cosmos presented science as a “holy movement”. In this talk I will revisit Lessl’s argument to compare Wonders and Cosmos. I will argue that whilst Wonders similarly appropriated a religious register, it did so in a way that lacked the impassioned politics of Sagan’s Cosmos. Where Sagan stressed values, Cox devalued. As a consequence, Wonders’ appropriation of religion in the name of science served to reduce both to empty spectacle.


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