by Dr Paul Tyson, Director, Emmanuel Centre for the Study of Science, Religion and Society
In this presentation, Dr Chris Dalton explored our relationship with the Australian landscape and some aspects of the mining industry via the lens of public theology. Dr Dalton’s background in mathematics and his role in policy regarding the privatisation of state monopoly telecommunications would lead one to expect a very objective, number crunching approach, but this was not what we got. Perhaps because Dr Dalton has developed a keen awareness of the limitations of a strongly pragmatic political and business outlook, he sought to bring us to the nature of our relationship with the land via art, poetry, and spirituality. Clearly, his recently deceased wife’s commitment to environmental theology as a Uniting Church Minister was also a key feature of his engagement with the land. Lines normally separating out the personal from the artistic, from the spiritual, and from the practical, were all crossed in this remarkable and challenging address. It seems that this sort of rich integrative engagement is what Dr Dalton understands as ‘public theology.’ You can read his address here and view his presentation slides here.
Dr Dalton’s theology of nature is both rich and controversial. He points out that our tacit conception of ruling over nature on the premise that we are in some sense above nature and that nature is simply there for us to use as we see fit is itself deeply embedded in western culture’s Christian theological heritage. That is, theology is integral to public concerns, whether we are aware of it or not. Thinking through a Christian theology of nature in the context of the needs of the global human population and the threat to the sustainable and complex balances of nature is a very demanding task, and Dr Dalton’s work, with its distinctive focus on the Australian landscape, is a valuable stimulus to further work in this area.