Special Divine Action, 2014 IRC Conference, Oxford, 13-16 July




– Willem Drees
– Susan Eastman
– Lenn Goodman
– Peter Harrison
– Craig Keener
– Christine Madsen
– Colin McGinn
– Alister McGrath
– Timothy McGrew
– Andrew Pinsent
– Robert Russell
– Roger Scruton
– Richard Swinburne
– Raymond Tallis
– Graham Twelftree


Is there special divine action in the world, beyond the purported effects of a divine first cause? Beliefs about particular kinds of special divine action (such as incarnation, inspirations, grace, miracles, providence, and resurrection) have had an incalculable impact on civilisation, including art, ethics, institutions, music, literature, philosophy, theology, the perception of nature, and what human beings can and should hope for. But if there is special divine action, what is such action like and how would we know? Are there particular ways of thinking about the world that make such actions probable, possible or impossible? How does contemporary research in philosophy, theology, and science bear on these questions? What tools of scholarship can and should be used? Are there advantages and disadvantages, from the point of view of knowledge and human flourishing, of taking a stance for or against the possibility of special divine action? Might there be advantages and disadvantages to various modes of special divine action from a divine perspective?

This conference aims to address these questions anew from a wide range of perspectives, especially in the light of recent developments in science, philosophy and theology. Besides plenary speakers and panel discussions, there will be up to fifty short papers presented. The conference will begin at 4pm on Sun 13 July (registration from 2pm) at St Anne’s College, Oxford, and finish with dinner on Wed 16 July, with final departures after breakfast on Thu 17 July 2014.

For further details, please contact the Ian Ramsey Centre administrator: irc.admin@theology.ox.ac.uk



Short papers are invited on topics relevant to the conference themes (example questions are listed below), to be delivered in parallel sessions of 30 minutes duration (20 minutes for the paper, 10 minutes for discussion).

Those wishing to contribute a paper should submit a title, a 200 word abstract, and institutional affiliation, by email to the Ian Ramsey Centre administrator:


with the subject line “SDA conference abstract”

Closing Date for Abstract submissions: Monday 24rd March, 2014

Notification of accepted papers will take place by Monday 31st March 2014.

Following the conference, the authors of a selection of presentations that seem especially promising for the philosophy of religion or analytic theology will be invited to offer papers for review and inclusion in a special edition of the European Journal for Philosophy of Religion, currently planned for June 2015. Other appropriate opportunities for promising publications, such as in Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, will also be suggested and recommended.



All those wishing to attend the conference are invited to register as soon as possible via:

Oxford University online shop:

The basic registration fee includes a simple lunch, tea and coffee for each day; there are also options to purchase accommodation and meals at St Anne's College.


There are two options, available when you register online:

(1) Book a room at St Anne’s College, Oxford, arriving Sun 13 July, departing Thu 17 July in the morning. This option includes the cost of all the dinners during the conference.

(2) Purchase individual dinners only, without accommodation.



Applicants are free to select topics for short papers that address SDA across a broad range of possibilities. The following list of sample questions is intended to be strictly illustrative and is not in any way exhaustive:

  • A prominent classical conception of SDA is an intervention model. What analyses of causation fit best with such a model? What problems need to be addressed on this model?
  • Besides the intervention model, what other models of SDA might be viable? Are they compatible with an intervention model, so that there might be multiple types of SDA, or not? What benefits or drawbacks might there be to working with one of these alternative models?
  • What are the theological ramifications of adopting a non-interventionist model vis-à-vis those of adopting an interventionist model? Does this choice require rethinking other classical theological categories? Why or why not?
  • Is SDA compatible with a strictly physicalist conception of nature? If so, how is it to be distinguished from instances of natural causation? If not, why not?
  • What resources might a dualist analysis of human mind-body interactions afford for the analysis of SDA? Are there problems for a dualist analysis that carry over to certain construals of SDA? This question could be pursued with respect to various versions of dualism (Thomistic, Cartesian, etc.).
  • Is rareness a prerequisite for the religious significance of special divine action? Why or why not? How would the idea that such instances are rare affect the Humean argument against reported miracles from the observed uniformity of nature?
  • What is the proper analysis of special providences – events that, though describable wholly in natural terms, seem to exhibit a timing that is preternaturally auspicious? Is this a form of SDA, or should it be analysed in some other fashion?
  • What is the proper analysis of prophecy? Is this (as Hume suggests) simply another way for the laws of nature to be violated, or is it something else? Under what conditions would it count as SDA? How would the epistemic questions of its evaluation differ from those for (say) turning water into wine or raising someone from the dead?

This conference is part of the Special Divine Action Project

Additional Information

Date 13-16 July 2014
Time 14:00
Speakers 2014 IRC Conference Speakers
Place St Anne's College, Oxford

Special Divine Action, 2014 IRC Conference, Oxford, 13-16 July