Title page for ETD etd-12162008-184319

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Cathcart, Timothy John
Author's Email Address cathcart@vt.edu
URN etd-12162008-184319
Title Touching the Face of God: Religion, Technology, and the United States Air Force
Degree PhD
Department Science and Technology Studies
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Brown, Shannon A. Committee Chair
Abbate, Janet E. Committee Member
Reeves, Barbara J. Committee Member
Zwanziger, Lee L. Committee Member
  • social construction of technology
  • military culture
  • military technology
  • religion
  • united states air force
Date of Defense 2008-12-03
Availability unrestricted
The goal of my project is a detailed analysis of the technological culture of the United States Air Force from a Science and Technology Studies (STS) perspective. In particular, using the metaphor of the Air Force as religion helps in understanding a culture built on matters of life-and-death. This religious narrative—with the organizational roles of actors such as priests, prophets, and laity, and the institutional connotations of theological terms such as sacredness—is a unique approach to the Air Force. An analysis of how the Air Force interacts with technology—the very thing that gives it meaning—from the social construction of technology approach will provide a broader understanding of this relationship.

Mitcham’s dichotomy of the engineering philosophy of technology (EPT) and the humanities philosophy of technology (HPT) perspectives provides a methodology for analyzing Air Force decisions and priorities. I examine the overarching discourse and metaphor—consisting of techniques, technologies, experiences, language, and religion—in a range of historical case studies describing the sociological and philosophical issues of the Air Force.

As the Air Force is the offspring of the U.S. Army, these examples begin with the Civil War era and the invention of the Gatling gun before moving to the interwar period’s Air Corps Tactical School and its seminal organizational thinking about the aircraft. Moving to the more modern times after the birth of the Air Force, I describe and compare the Advanced Airlift Tactics Training Center and the Air Mobility Warfare Center, two organizations interacting with technology from different organizational archetypes. The final example is the Department of Defense Readiness Reporting System, an information technology application at the focal point of cultural change affecting not just the Air Force but the entire Department of Defense. Finally, I will conclude with a chapter on policy considerations and recommendations for the Air Force based on the Air Force religion, a balance of both people and technology, and with an eye toward the future of U.S. military operations.

The primary goal is to answer three questions: is the U.S. Air Force truly a religion? If so, how should that affect its approach to technology and technological change? With an eye toward consciously building the future, how has the Air Force religion shaped the organization in the past?

[The attached document is cleared by the Department of Defense for public release (OSR Case 09-S-0496).]

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