Wentzel van Huyssteen, Human Origins and the Emergence of a Distinctive Human Imagination


Wentzel van HuyssteenWentzel van Huyssteen

One of the most remarkable traits of our species is our defining ability to think symbolically and perform symbolic actions. At the heart of this lies our remarkable ability for imagination, even religious imagination. We have always known that humans across the globe act religiously even as we disagree about religious doctrine, deities, practices, or the nature of religious experiences. This lecture will explore evolutionary or historical answers to where this distinctive ability comes from. Can the emergence of religion and the human propensity for the religious in the long process of human evolution in any way be seen as a natural, normal occurrence?


Wentzel van Huyssteen is the James I. McCord Professor of Theology and Science Emeritus at Princeton Theological Seminary and Honorary Professor at the University of Stellenbosch. He has research degrees in philosophy (M.A., Stellenbosch) and philosophical theology (Ph.D., Free University of Amsterdam). He was named professor and chair of religious studies at South Africa’s University of Port Elizabeth in 1972, a post he held until going to PTS in 1992 as the first occupant of the McCord chair. The persistent theme of his work has been an exploration of the multi-faceted relationship between religious faith and scientific culture. Focusing on religious and scientific epistemology, his interdisciplinary method of doing theology has been an effort to respond to the challenges and opportunities posed by science and the philosophy of science. More recently his focus has shifted to paleoanthropology and how Darwinian evolution might inform theological anthropology and its answer to the question of what it means to be human. Reflecting this development, in April 2004 he delivered the Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh – the first South African to do so. These were later published as Alone in the World? Human Uniqueness in Science and Theology (2006). He served as the editor-in-chief of the Macmillan Encyclopedia for Science and Religion (2003) and as co-editor of the Ashgate Science and Religion series (with Roger Trigg). The author of some eighty papers published in academic journals and volumes of collected works, he is the editor of Rethinking Theology and Science (with Niels Henrik Gregersen, 1998); In Search of Self: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Personhood (with Erik P. Wiebe, 2011); and The Templeton Science and Religion Reader (with Khalil Chamcham, 2012). He is the author of Theology and the Justification of Faith: Constructing Theories in Systematic Theology (1989), Essays in Postfoundational Theology (1997), and The Shaping of Rationality: Towards Interdisciplinarity in Theology and Science (1999). In 2006, Eerdmans published The Evolution of Rationality: Interdisciplinary Essays in honor of J. Wentzel van Huyssteen.


Jennifer FrenchJennifer French

Dr. Jennifer French is a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow at the UCL Institute of Archaeology. She holds a degrees in Archaeology from Durham University and the University of Cambridge. Prior to joining UCL, she was a Research Fellow in Archaeology and Anthropology at Peterhouse, University of Cambridge. French is an anthropological archaeologist whose work focuses on the relationships between demographic, cultural, and environmental change in prehistoric populations, with a specific focus on the European Palaeolithic. Her research examines the proxy data we have for understanding the demography and interactions of both Pleistocene Homo sapiens and earlier hominins, tackling such questions as why the Neanderthals went extinct and what factors prevented sustained population growth in this early period of human prehistory. She is working on a book manuscript on the demographic and social prehistory of Palaeolithic Europe.

Free and open to the public. Registration through Eventbrite required. 


University of Notre Dame (U.S.A.) in England
1-4 Suffolk Street
London, SW1Y 4HG

This event is part of the Human Distinctiveness: Wisdom's Deep Evolution conference. It is made possible by support from the John Templeton Foundation and the Henkels Lecture Fund, Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts, College of Arts and Letters, University of Notre Dame.