Monday, January 04, 2010

Adam Smith as Theologian?

James Otteson, joint professor of philosophy and economics at Yeshiva University in New York, posts on his blog HERE news of a new book from Routledge, under the title: Adam Smith as Theologian, which is edited by Paul Oslington, professor in economics and theology at the Australian Catholic University, Sydney

Worth a Look: "Adam Smith as Theologian"

"Routledge is bringing out a fascinating collection of articles (disclosure: one of them is mine) on the theological underpinnings of Adam Smith's work. Entitled Adam Smith as Theologian, it is edited by Paul Oslington, who is joint chair in economics and theology at Australian Catholic University. The essays were written for an enormously stimulating conference sponsored by the Templeton Foundation that was held in January of 2009 at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland.

James Otteson writes; “One might be surprised to hear that Smith even had a theology, let alone that a series of penetrating essays could be written on the subject. (Perhaps only a conference on "David Hume as Theologian" could be more surprising!
)” I concur with James’ last statement teasing about David Hume.

Last January I was invited to attend a session of the conference – dinner actually, and very nice it was too – and gave a 15-minute talk on "Adam Smith in Edinburgh" to the conference diners in the side-room of a lovely restaurant.

Earlier that day I had accompanied Paul Oslington – a young academic of impeccable manners – in a short tour of Edinburgh’s High Street/Royal mile between the castle and the Holyrood palace. We started at the new Adam Smith statue, just beyond the Mercat Cross and opposite what is now Edinburgh City Chambers (a splendid local government building, where Adam Smith worked from 1778-90 as a Scottish Commissioner of Customs and the Salt Duty) and walked down towards the palace, past John Knox’s house (a formidable firebrand protestant preacher), to Smith’s grave in the Canongate Churchyard), looking a lot better since it was tidied up from a donation from Canada.

Unfortunately, I did not have the keys then to Panmure House,* where Smith lived with his mother, his cousin Janet and his nephew and heir. We walked round it instead.

I look forward to reading the conference papers. Clearly, the contributors take a different stance on the subject of Smith’s Theology – the title is as provocative as you can get (in the nicest possible way, of course). Next month, 11 February, to be confirmed, I am to attend a seminar at the Australian Catholic University, Sydney, at the invitation of Paul Oslington, to which I look forward, where no doubt we shall discuss themes around Smith’s alleged theology.

For those interested, my paper, written before (but NOT for!) the Edinburgh Templeton Foundation conference, “The Hidden Adam Smith in his Alleged Theology” is available on request from me (gavin aT negweb. DoT com).

For those curious about Paul Oslington’s edited volume, here is the list of papers in it:

Smith in Context 1. The Influence of Religious Thinking on the Smithian Revolution Benjamin Friedman 2. Smith and Natural Law John Haldane 3. Smith and Augustine Eric Gregory 4. Christian Freedom in Political Economy: The Legacy of John Calvin in Adam Smith Joe Blosser 5.Providence and Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand Paul Oslington Part II: Analysis and Assessment of Adam Smith’s Theology 6. Economics as Theology: Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations Anthony Waterman 7. Adam Smith, Natural Theology, and the Natural Sciences Peter Harrison 8. God and Smith’s Impartial Spectator James Otteson 9. Adam Smith’s Theodicy Brendan Long 10. A Divine Economy? Assessing Adam Smith’s Theology Adrian Pabst 11. Man and Society in Adam Smith’s Natural Morality: The Impartial Spectator, the Man of System, and the Invisible Hand Ross B. Emmett Part III: Contemporary Reflections 12. The Contemporary Relevance of Adam Smith Arjo Klamer 13. The Moral Basis of Capitalism: Reflections on Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments Paul S. Williams.

It’s available in 2010 (the publishers say on 1 November: ISBN 978-0-415-88071-8)

[*] Panmure House is now owned by Edinburgh Business School (my former day job) and History of Economics Society members visiting Edinburgh who contact me may get access, assuming I am available, and reconstruction work permits.

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