Sky Gross: Reconsidering Science, Technology, and Religion – Objectionable Objects and Chimeric Authorities in a Debate over Brain-Death in Israel

The Graduate Programme in Medicine, Culture and Society, and the Centre for Medical Science and Technology Studies invite you to a seminar with Sky Gross.

Date: 12th November, 2014
Time: 15:00 – 16:30
Venue: CSS 1.1.18, Øster Farimagsgade 5, Copenhagen

This paper follows the rejection of the conflict narrative of science and religion, and challenges the accepted demarcation thesis by closely analyzing one particular case-study: the religious acceptance of Brain-Death in Israel by a technologically-savvy group of rabbis whose religious doctrine and form of reasoning are used to support the truth claims of the scientific community (brain death is death) but challenge the ways in which they are made credible. Brain-Death as “true” death is made religiously viable with the very use of technological apparatus and scientific rhetorics that stand at the heart of the scientific ethos, disentangling actors from their assigned monothetic associations with homogeneous sets of epistemologies, methodologies, and regimes of truth. Two conceptualizations are offered: “objectionable objects” as objects that are –inherently or otherwise- associated with deep controversy (here, brain-death); And “chimeric authority” as a particular form of resolution (or attempt at resolution) that involves the webbing of several sources of authoritativeness to either thwart the adoption of the objectionable object or smoothen its acceptance. In this case, tradition and technology – with each its own aesthetics, discursive qualities, and assigned authority – are shown to play critical roles, both in the particular and the more generalizable sense.


Sky Gross is a lecturer in medical ethics and humanities at the Tel-Aviv University School of Medicine and of bioethics and society at the Biotechnology department of the School of Engineers. As a medical anthropologist, Sky’s research foci and background include several lanes, among which are subjects of prenatal testing in the ultraorthodox Jewish community, social microdynamics in postnatal diagnosis of Down syndrome, inclusion of complementary medicine in the delivery room, and epistemological and symbolic boundaries between biomedical and complementary practitioners in the hospital setting.

In her more recent work she considers issues associated with both philosophical and anthropological understandings of the brain and its relation to conceptualisations of the ‘mind’. With this intention, she uses historical analysis to approach the ethical debate surrounding the practice of frontal lobotomy, and a cultural reading of the scientific and popular discourses on ‘mirror neurons’. In her latest published paper, she brings an extensive fieldwork in a neuro-oncology clinic to shed light on complex expert and lay constructions of brain tumors as objects for diagnosis.