Submit a Manuscript to the Journal

Practical Theology

For a Special Issue on

Artificial Intelligence in Theological Perspective

Abstract deadline
15 April 2024

Manuscript deadline
01 September 2024

Cover image - Practical Theology

Special Issue Editor(s)

Revd Dr Sabrina Müller, Professor of Practical Theology, University of Bonn, Germany
[email protected]

Revd Dr Peter Phillips, Director of the Centre for Digital Theology, Spurgeons College, London and Honorary Research Fellow at Durham University
[email protected]

Dr Stephen Garner, Senior Research Fellow at Laidlaw College, Auckland, New Zealand
[email protected]

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Artificial Intelligence in Theological Perspective

Engaging Practical Theology in the Age of Artificial Intelligence: Contemporary Reflections on Narratives of Apprehension, Anxiety, Wonder, and Hope

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is transforming our world, prompting profound questions about the impact on human life, society, and spirituality. While AI and related technologies have been under development and use for over 50 years, the past few years have significantly raised its public profile in the everyday world. Ongoing development of this technology permeates various facets of our existence, reshaping how we work, communicate, understand and control the world around us, and think about ourselves and others. Integrating AI technologies in daily life brings both challenges and opportunities, raising ethical considerations and opening new frontiers for exploration.

In human life, AI's presence is increasingly evident in all manner of human activities from healthcare, education, science, business, media, government, through to personal interactions. From medical diagnostics to personalised learning experiences, AI contributes to developments that redefine our well-being and intellectual growth, and to evolving relationships between humans and AI technologies which prompt us to reconsider our roles, responsibilities, and ethical boundaries. The societal implications of AI also extend beyond these individual experiences, impacting economies, governance, and social structures. The advent of automation and intelligent technologies reshapes industries, challenging traditional employment models and prompting discussions about economic equality. It is, therefore, not surprising that AI also affects people's lives of faith and (practical) theology. AI's role in decision-making processes, including those in healthcare, education, governance, law and religion, raises questions about accountability, transparency, and the ethical considerations embedded in these systems.

The rapid advancement of AI raises critical concerns about privacy, algorithmic bias, and the potential amplification of societal inequalities, particularly along lines of wealth, race and gender. As AI technologies become integral in decision-making processes, especially in governance and law, there is a pressing need for scholars to scrutinize the ethical considerations surrounding accountability and fairness, with a keen awareness of how these technologies may disproportionately affect marginalized communities. Moreover, the ethical implications of AI extend beyond questions of autonomy, reaching into the very fabric of human agency and control. Issues surrounding the impact of intelligent systems on individual freedoms and the potential reinforcement of existing power dynamics cannot be ignored. Indeed, working with AI/making use of AI in academic life during this development period continues to pose considerable difficulties, including ethical problems over the abuse of copyright and permission-giving in compiling learning archives, “hallucinations” where large language models (LLMs) provide erroneous information because of a gap in the learning background, and potential problems of inadvertent (?) plagiarism when the LLM makes use of a non-accredited third party material in its own text construction.

In this mixed context, practical theology is also being challenged to respond, analyze, and reflect on the changes. Practical theology is concerned with the life of the people of God as it seeks to live, witness, and serve faithfully within the community of faith and within the wider world. As such, practical theology is very much needed as individuals and communities of faith grapple with the challenges and opportunities posed by AI, seeking to articulate how human flourishing is ensured in the face of technological change. A number of products are already being developed to take material developed for church use and to amplify that product into further AI-developed “spin-offs”. So, a sermon can be uploaded to one model and the minister is provided with devotional texts for a week, or snippets of the sermon for social media use. AI has long been used in prayer minister, in advertising, in engagement with the wider community through social media. Moreover, the use of AI in computer-based administration/research and in contact management processes means that AI is already an increasing part of the praxis of both institutional and local churches, not least at the very intersection between public and ecclesial engagement.

Within this critical examination, religion and spirituality also engage with these concerns adding theological considerations, including inquiries into the nature of God and transcendence. Spirituality and religion, intricately linked to inquiries and assertions about meaning, purpose, and interconnectedness, is also undergoing shifts in responses to AI as its influence begins to affect worship, engagement with sacred texts, devotional practices, and other aspects of faith and life The ongoing negotiation of using all manner of technologies in spiritual practices and communities of faith prompts an evaluation of the intersection between faith and AI. Exploring the ethical dimensions of AI, its influence on religious narratives, and its capacity to foster or hinder spiritual connections becomes essential for thoughtful contemplation and faithful practice. These developments challenge established norms, inviting a deeper examination of how technology, religion and spirituality can coexist faithfully and fruitfully in a rapidly changing world.

This special issue invites scholars, with a pronounced emphasis on practical theology, to explore the complex interplay between AI, religious practice, theological perspectives, race, gender and societal structures. By fostering a nuanced understanding of AI's impact within the realm of practical theology, we aim to illuminate the multifaceted dimensions of these challenges and pave the way for thoughtful, inclusive discourse.

Furthermore, we invite performative pieces within each theme that rigorously integrate practical theology into the exploration of AI. Contributions should critically examine AI's implications for the praxis of the people of God, incorporating contextual theologies from various religious traditions. We particularly welcome scholars focusing on genders, sexuality, and class to provide a comprehensive understanding of the impact of AI on diverse communities.

Possible Papers

We invite papers that explore the nuanced intersections between AI and practical theology. Additionally, creative works, including poetry, short stories, and visual art, are encouraged to engage theologically with artificial intelligence.

  • AI in Light of Christian Hope and Eschatology: Reflections on the theological implications of AI within Christian frameworks.
  • Global and Local Perspectives – Non-Western Insights: Consideration of non-Western perspectives on AI and its religious implications.
  • Gender, Sexuality, and Identity: How AI might both challenge and reinforce existing notions of gender, sexuality, and identity. What possibilities might it open up for discourse on those topics.
  • Implications for Marginalized Societies: Analysis of how AI affects those (sometimes perceived to be) on the margins of societies.
  • AI and the Life of the Church – Worship, Discipleship, Mission, and Education: Understanding the role of AI in various facets of church life and activities.
  • Theological Reflection on AI's Statistical Nature: Exploration of the challenges and possibilities of AI engaging in theological reflection.
  • Human Beings Seeking Intelligence in AI Systems: Interrogation of the theological implications of treating humans like AI entities.
  • Ethical and theological Treatment of AI Systems: Examining ethical and theological considerations in treating AI entities.
  • Existential Threats from Artificial Intelligence: How AI poses existential challenges to the core tenets of practical theology. AI and environmental impact/cost of processing. AI’s misuse of data. AI creators creating weapons of math destruction.
  • Our Creations Transgressing into Uniquely Human Domains: Exploration of AI encroaching upon aspects that define human uniqueness.
  • A "Golden Age" Ushered in by Artificial Intelligence: Examination of narratives envisioning a utopian era facilitated by AI.
  • Disruption in Everyday Lives and Creative Sectors: Analysis of the impact of AI on daily life and livelihoods, particularly in creative fields.
  • Transformative Impact on Education: Understanding the potential revolution in education due to AI.
  • AI, Surveillance Culture, and Warfare: Critical exploration of the ethical dimensions in AI applications, especially in surveillance and warfare.

Submission Instructions

Please submit a 150-250 word abstract to Associate Editor Calida Chu before 15 April at: [email protected]. We will notify you around end April for our decision to invite you to submit the full paper (6000-8000 words) to our editorial system before 1 September for further peer review, to be published in our special issue in early 2025. For informal enquires, please contact Calida as well.

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