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Press release: Faith-based events address the big questions at the Cambridge Festival

What does the advance of artificial intelligence mean for religion? What can religion tell us about how we respond to major global challenges like pandemics and climate change? Does religion cause terrorism?

These are just some of the big questions tackled by a series of religious-themed events at the Cambridge Festival.

The Cambridge Festival, which runs from 26th March to 4th April, brings together the hugely popular Cambridge Science Festival and the Cambridge Festival of Ideas to host an extensive programme of over 350 events that tackle many critical global challenges affecting us all. Coordinated by the University of Cambridge, the Festival features hundreds of prominent figures and experts in the world of science, current affairs and the arts, and has four key themes: health, environment, society and explore.

The events investigate the role of religion in major global challenges, from pandemics to climate change and terrorism.

Plagues and pandemics: perspectives from science and faith presents new evidence from The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion on the ways in which faith groups contribute to how we address disasters. It is based on a project which aims to address how faith and religious communities have often been ignored in disaster studies or regarded as ‘backwards’. It looks at everything from their role in disaster response, recovery and risk reduction initiatives to post-traumatic growth. In this session, Reverend Dr Roger Abbott and Professor Bob White will discuss the current pandemic against the backdrop of the history of plagues and pandemics in times when people were more aware of the fragility of life. They will look at how people in high-income countries have developed the hubris of thinking we can control the world, that we are in charge, meaning that when something like the Covid-19 pandemic hits us, there is almost nothing we can do except isolate themselves. That has been a shock to our whole way of thinking, to our individualistic lifestyles and it exposes the inequalities and injustices in our world.  March 26th. 2-3pm 

A series of Quick Bites lunchtime talks explore everything from the impact of artificial intelligence on theology and religion to why religious groups have not been included in work towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

Dr Beth Singler will ask how artificial intelligence might change our understanding of religion and how AI might impact on religion, ethics, society and our ideas of the future. This is followed the next day by Ryan Haecker on what we mean by artificial intelligence, how machines might imitate the human mind and how theology can influence our understanding of machines, computers and artificial intelligence.  30th and 31st March 1pm 

In Keeping Faith in 2030: Religions and the Sustainable Development Goals, Dr Jörg Haustein will show why the UN has failed to local mobilise religious communities and faith actors around the SDGs in Ethiopia and India, where he has conducted a series of workshops and interviews with local and global faith-based organisations, and what must change to include them in a real grassroots approach to sustainable development. 1pm 1st April 

Also on the theme of religion and climate change activism, Dr Joseph Webster will talk about his research on the Exclusive Brethren fishing community in northeast Scotland who believe that the world is about to be destroyed by fire from the heaven rather than floods caused by humans. In Religion and Climate Change Denial: Anthropological Perspectives, he explains how religiously-motivated climate change denial needs to be understood in its theological context and how the vision and the apocalyptic language in which it is described has much in common with the claims of some environmental activists, although religious sceptics and green activists differ about the source of the problem. This could provide the basis for shared conversations, Dr Webster argues.  3rd April 1pm 

Theologies of the Anthropocene: ecological thinking in a post-secular age explores the connection between environmentalism and spirituality. Dr Simone Kotva will explore the work of Belgian philosopher Isabelle Stengers and her concept of "slow attention" as a form of engagement distinct from capitalist attention-economies and discusses slow attention's relation to animism and Indigenous forms of life. 4th April 1pm

Other Quick Bites sessions include:

Does religion cause terrorism? in which Dr Justin Meggitt from the Faculty of Divinity at Cambridge University will examine the phenomenon of religious terrorism. He will ask whether it is accurate to say that religion 'causes' terrorism and whether there is something about 'religion' that makes its adherents especially prone to carry out acts of terror. 26th March 1pm 

The Festival will also see the launch of new materials for young people exploring religion. 

Cambridge in your classroom: theology, religion, philosophy and ethics for teenagers is a Q & A between teenagers and theological scholars and will launch a new series of videos. It will address questions such as: Have you ever wondered whether it is possible to prove God’s existence? Or wondered how the creation story in Genesis might relate to evolution? Or considered if God might actually have a body, as some parts of the Bible suggest? Or thought about how different religions might influence our interactions with nature or if it is possible to ever be truly close to a natural world? Throughout the Festival 

Other religion-based events include:

An interfaith picture is worth 1,000 words: This experimental panel engages some emerging academic questions on interfaith environments through visual research. All of the participants in the audience will be invited to analyse each image for a minute and write up to seven words of association on the virtual whiteboard. These words will form seven different ‘chain poems’, to be used as prompts for the proceeding Q&A with the researchers.  2-3.30pm 30th March 

Charity and activism in Shiism: This event brings together Shi’a Muslim activists and thinkers to speak about how their faith inspires them to give back and what kinds of lessons might Shi’a forms of charitable activism be able to teach wider society in our hyper-connected and globalised modern world. Speakers include members of global social justice network Who is Hussain?, and Dr Rebecca Masterton, author of Shi’i Spirituality for the Twenty-first Century. 10.30-12pm 30th March 

In Women and slaves in the Bible: Do Christian scriptures encourage discrimination? Dr Julia Snyder of the Faculty of Divinity will highlight passages about women and slaves in the New Testament and explore how they have been used by Christians over the centuries to argue for particular visions of society and family relationships and whether these are compatible with modern understandings of justice and equal rights. 1pm 2nd April. This is part of the Quick Bites short talks series. 

Minority questions: This panel brings together researchers from different disciplinary backgrounds to discuss how Muslims address the question of the “minority” in different contexts. How did Muslims in India, for example, conceive of their place within the nation during the intellectual ferment of the colonial period? How did minorities within Islam, such as the Twelver Shi‘a or the Ismai‘ili, cultivate their own shifting subjectivities? 2-3.30 27th March 

New perspectives on justice: Layli Miller-Muro explores the revolutionary Baha'i concept of justice. She is CEO of the Tahirih Justice Center, which provides free legal and social services and engages in advocacy on behalf of immigrant women and girls fleeing human rights abuses. 7.30-8.30pm 31st March 

View the full programme via from 22nd February. Many events require pre-booking, please check the events listings on the Festival website.

Keep up to date with the Festival on social media:

Instagram: @Camunifestivals | Facebook: @CambridgeFestival | Twitter: @Cambridge_Fest

The Festival sponsors and partners are AstraZeneca and RAND Europe. The Festival media partners are BBC Radio Cambridgeshire and Cambridge Independent.

If you are interested in viewing an event after the published time and date, please check the event page on the Festival website, as many are on demand, or get in touch with the Festival team via

For more information, contact Mandy Garner on 07789 106435 or email