Catholic appreciation of Maori knowledge and science

Catholics have a lot to contribute in the public discussion on mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) and science, said University of Auckland lecturer and historian Dr Rowan Light. 

“We’ve been critiquing science for many, many years . . . For hundreds of years, we’ve had an engagement with what science is as a form of knowledge, and its limits, and how, in fact, it can do quite awful things if it’s detached from . . . faith,” he said. 

Dr Light was reacting to a recent controversy involving seven University of Auckland professors who wrote a letter entitled “In Defence of Science” in response to proposed changes to the Māori school curriculum, which puts mātauranga Māori on par with science.  

The letter was published in the NZ Listener’s Letters to the Editor section. 

In the letter, the professors wrote that “to accept it [mātauranga Māori] as the equivalent of science is to patronise and fail indigenous populations; better to ensure that everyone participates in the world’s scientific enterprises. Indigenous knowledge may indeed help advance scientific knowledge in some ways, but it is not science.” 

Dr Light said it is important to listen to everyone involved in the discussion because there is a danger that “public discussions like this become like, it’s either science or it’s mātauranga. It’s either you’re racist or you’re not”.  

“Catholics can provide the third way. There are different ways of thinking about this, and we can bring a very different perspective because we understand reason and we understand faith,” he said. 

Dr Light said mātauranga is knowledge shaped by values and practices, and Catholics are comfortable with this idea. 

“We’ve always believed that we’re not just brains producing facts. We understand that our beliefs, what we know, should shape what we do,” he explained.  

“The Church teaches that we worship as we pray as we live. All those things should be brought into alignment. And mātauranga Māori is an attempt to express that in a Māori way, that we know the world in a certain way and that should shape who we are and how we react and how we relate to each other.” 

 

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Rowena Orejana

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