Summer Research Examines Material World and Beyond

June 04, 2015

Alex Abbott & Dr. Mark HightHistory and philosophy major, Alex Abbott '17, and Dr. Marc Hight, Elliott Professor of Philosophy, are collaborating on a summer research project in the humanities.

The two have been working to relate the idea of immaterialism, as presented by George Berkeley, 18th century Irish philosopher and divine, and religious dogma from the incarnation of Christ to the re-inhabitance of bodies in an afterlife. They are also attempting to find sources that trace ideas of the Holy Trinity across centuries.

They are conducting research to project the relationship between ontological views (what people believe is fundamentally real) and religious beliefs. The hypothesis is that immaterialism, or the view that there is no such thing as material substance, is a better fit with Christianity than any view which admits the existence of matter.

Dr. Hight explains, "The basic idea is to analyze the core Christian mysteries (the Incarnation, miracles, the promise of bodily resurrection, the location and nature of heaven and hell, and now the Trinity) to see whether those views can be credible mysteries. By that we mean that a Christian mystery should inspire faith without producing incredulity by entailing a contradiction."

"Much ink has been spilled on the topic for nearly two millennia. The Trinity in particular has been the source of many unorthodoxies and heresies, no doubt in part because the doctrine is conceptually difficult. Our goal is to test the conceptual relations between the doctrine (in various formulations) and ontological views."

While Alex is assisting in research for Dr. Hight's upcoming book, he is also constructing his own project which he will present in the fall. His focus is on the nature of the term person and its use throughout history, especially as it applies to the concept of the Holy Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity roughly indicates that God is three distinct persons (hypostases) that have one nature and the Godhead is thus a unity. Alex is working on an understanding of the concept of person that avoids the heresies of tri-theism (that the Trinity entails that there are in fact three gods and not one) and modalism (that the persons of the Godhead are just aspects or modes of the one divinity). His hypothesis is that materialism has corrupted our understanding of the concept of person, which in turn has led to a clouding of the doctrine of the Trinity. The hope is to uncover an understanding of this core Christian mystery through philosophical reflection that makes the doctrine more accessible.

As a part of his summer research, he will deliver a pair of speeches, one for the Honors Council and one for the philosophy department.

"My experience to this point has been overwhelmingly positive. While the work can be slow-going or stressful at times, I have a very good working relationship with Dr. Hight, who is constantly pushing me to become a better student and researcher. As my mentor, he has provided me with a few sources to examine and is always prepared to listen to my struggles or give advice, and I'm thankful for the strong connection this work is allowing me to establish with him."