Posts Tagged ‘science’

August 21st, 2013

Religion and the environment

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Climate change and the environment can be contentious issues, particularly in American politics. Despite political differences, weather events such as droughts, floods, hurricanes and wildfires in the United States have highlighted environmental issues for impacted communities, including various religious groups and faith traditions. In recent years religious individuals and organizations have become increasingly vocal about various environmental issues, and the following roundup presents some of the latest perspectives from different faiths.

April 13th, 2012

Neuroscience and free will

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Last month, The Chronicle of Higher Education posted a series of articles discussing “what science can and cannot tell us about free will.”

March 15th, 2012

Syposium on Derrida and religion

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“Of Miracles and Machines: A Symposium on Derrida and Religion” will take place Thursday, March 22, at Fordham University, New York, NY.

October 11th, 2011

The Feynman Series: scientific…and spiritual (?)

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This past February, the seven-part video series honoring Carl Sagan and his contributions to science was released, attracting the attention of scientists, spiritualists, and curious minds across the world. Now, Reid Gower, the maker of The Sagan Series, “has released a supplement…called The Feynman Series, featuring everyone’s favorite bongo-playing physicist,” Richard Feynman.

September 29th, 2011

The big bang

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Peter Manseau reviews Robert Bellah’s Religion in Human Evolution.

September 14th, 2011

Nothing is ever lost: An interview with Robert Bellah

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Both an influential scholar and a public intellectual, Robert Bellah is one of the foremost sociologists of his generation. His books and articles have set in motion lasting conversations about the role of religion in public life, both in the United States and around the world. Since retiring from thirty years of teaching at the University of California, Berkeley, Bellah has been at work on his most ambitious book yet, the recently released Religion in Human Evolution (Harvard University Press).

June 17th, 2011

War on drugs may be interfering with Americans’ spiritual awakening

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Kevin Drum, of Mother Jones, reports on a study conducted by the esteemed researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine that purports to demonstrate the positive, long-term personal and social effects of psilocybin mushrooms, including greater awareness of, and openness to, the spiritual and the sacred.

May 31st, 2011

Continuing controversy over Louisiana’s public school curriculum

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The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that efforts to repeal the 2008 Science Education Act have failed despite efforts by Louisiana Senator Karen Carter and affidavits from “43 Nobel laureates, faculty members and administrators from Louisiana State University and LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center, and a host of state and national organizations of scientists and educators.”

April 26th, 2011

Reading the paranormal writing us: An interview with Jeffrey Kripal

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Jeffrey Kripal, who chairs the Department of Religious Studies at Rice University, is an authority on the mysterious. His books include a wildly controversial study of Ramakrishna’s mysticism; a history of Esalen, an influential spiritual retreat center tucked away in the cliffs of Big Sur; and, now, a probing investigation of several very mysterious thinkers: Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred.

February 22nd, 2011

Figuring American Spirituality

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After attending a February 10th discussion with multimedia artist Laurie Anderson at Columbia University, Columbia Religion Professor Courtney Bender wrote a response that reflects on the roles of technology, spirituality, and religion in American society.

February 7th, 2011

Still in the province of philosophy

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Alva Noë criticizes The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow.

December 9th, 2010

Buddhism and science

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At 13.7: Cosmos and Culture, a blog sponsored by NPR, astrophysicist Adam Frank takes on the changing relationship between Buddhism and science. Early interest in Buddhism among scientists had to do with an assumed parallel between the principles of quantum physics and ancient truths of eastern religion. In Frank’s estimation, this 1970s discussion was “mostly silly.”

More recently, however, the discussion has shifted. Today, scientists take an interest in Buddhism in hopes of learning something about mind and consciousness.

November 15th, 2010

Is there a secular body?

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Is there a secular body? Or, in somewhat different terms, is there a particular configuration of the human sensorium—of sensibilities, affects, embodied dispositions—specific to secular subjects, and thus constitutive of what we mean by “secular society”? What intrigues me about this question is that, despite its apparent simplicity, the path toward an answer seems not at all clear. For example, are the scholarly sensibilities and the modes of affective attunement that find expression here elements of a secular habitus? What would be indicated by calling such expressive habits “secular”?

September 29th, 2010

Did wind part the Red Sea?

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A software engineer with the National Center for Atmospheric Research believes that the parting of the Red Sea recorded in Exodus may have been caused by a meteorological phenomenon known as “wind set-down,” reports NPR.

September 6th, 2010

Understanding disenchantment

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Jane Bennett’s sympathetic yet critical commentary on my essay “What is Enchantment?” (published in the volume Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age) describes the notion of disenchantment that I present as primarily addressing the theological displacements that emerged with the rise of the new science. Her own work, she says, offers a quite different focus, one of a mood or affect that “circulates between human bodies and the animal, vegetable, and mineral forces they encounter.”

I don’t doubt that this interesting focus is quite different from mine, though I think it would be wrong to represent my view as being focused on the theological. In my analysis, the theological had only a central genealogical role to play in the process of “disenchantment.”

August 27th, 2010

The sounds of science

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As previous posts about The New Metaphysicals have illustrated, Courtney Bender’s spiritual but not religious subjects pose a number of definitional problems for theories of secularization. On one hand, her interlocutors describe spiritual experiences in languages that we tend to call religious, even while the new metaphysicals might resist the label (although some do use the word religion). Thus, Cambridge spiritual seekers might demonstrate the persistence of religious belief. On the other hand, their disinclination to recognize legitimate religious institutions or identify themselves as members of binding moral communities might demonstrate trends that confirm theories of secularization. While Bender stresses that spiritual experiences are produced and interpreted within social and cultural networks, these networks do not seem to wield the institutional or social authority that would debunk a Durkheimian assessment that her book is evidence of American religious privatization.

July 22nd, 2010

A secular humanist reliquary?

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A curious, and fascinating, piece in today’s New York Times on the display of Galilean relics at Florence’s museum of the history of science.

June 24th, 2010

A Response to Susan Jacoby on the Oil Spill

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Susan Jacoby, author of The Age of American Unreason and a contributor to the On Faith column at The Washington Post, has recently argued that the oil spill (more like a leak in my opinion) is being headed by Unreason.

June 22nd, 2010

Grasping for authenticity

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The New Metaphysicals offers a peek into a world that I found at once pedestrian and strange, and the information that it gives us about so-called “spiritual but not religious” people is invaluable. The new agers, mystics, yoga instructors, and other metaphysicals whose words animate The New Metaphysicals seem quite foreign at first blush, and it’s to Professor Bender’s enormous credit that she theorizes the milieu without undermining the authenticity claims and struggles in which her subjects engage. At the same time, I found myself wanting more of a critical stance, a more thoroughgoing interrogation of the epistemologies that these subjects espoused.

June 21st, 2010

Religion, science, and the humanities: An interview with Barbara Herrnstein Smith

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Barbara Herrnstein Smith is a distinguished literary scholar at both Brown and Duke, who, since her undergraduate days, has had a special interest in the uses and misuses of scientific psychology. Her latest book, which stems from her 2006 Terry Lectures at Yale University, is Natural Reflections: Human Cognition at the Nexus of Science and Religion (Yale, 2010). It explores the ways in which contemporary cognitive science and evolutionary psychology are being called upon to, once and for all, explain religion. Also, don’t miss her contributions to The Immanent Frame’s discussion “A cognitive revolution?
June 14th, 2010

Quantum sociology and The New Metaphysicals

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At first glance, Courtney Bender’s The New Metaphysicals might appear narrow and idiosyncratic. After all, it’s an ethnography of spiritual practitioners in Cambridge, Massachusetts—a pairing of the sacred and the secular that can seem as incongruous as Buddhists at boxing matches. What do astral voyagers, shamanistic drummers, and OBEs (Out of Body Experiencers, not to be confused with the equally rarefied Order of the British Empire) have to do with a progressive community anchored by such bastions of rational knowledge as Harvard and MIT?

June 11th, 2010

Antihumanism and religion

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One of the things that intellectual historians show us, although often only implicitly, is the fluidity of the terms of debates that we take to be self-evident.  In An Atheism that Is Not Humanist Emerges in French Thought, Stefanos Geroulanos shows us this fluidity by focusing on the French history of objections to (and reformulations of) humanist discourse from 1929 to 1952, a history that suggests that the rigidity of the categories of “religion” and “humanism” in Anglophone discourse is exceptional and unnecessary.

June 4th, 2010

God, science and philanthropy

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Nathan Schneider profiles John Templeton and the Foundation he built, in The Nation.

June 3rd, 2010

Secularism, atheism, antihumanism

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In a 1956 text on ethics and literature, Emmanuel Levinas offered the following diagnosis of the philosophical trends of his time: “Contemporary thought holds the surprise for us of an atheism that is not humanist. The gods are dead or withdrawn from the world; concrete, even rational man does not contain the universe.” This atheism that is not humanist, the sense that certain strands of contemporary philosophy had abandoned secularism’s central ethical and political investment in humanism, poses the motivating question behind the book I am presenting for discussion here, An Atheism that Is Not Humanist Emerges in French Thought. In twentieth-century French thought, particularly in the period from the end of World War I through the late 1950s, a new form of atheism, and with it, a new conception of man, emerged and crystallized. What historians and critics of French thought, literature, and intellectual culture have, since the 1960s, called “antihumanism,” I argue, can be best understood in terms of this development, which is at once theological, epistemological, and political.

June 1st, 2010

Spirituality, entangled: An interview with Courtney Bender

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Courtney Bender is an associate professor of sociology at Columbia University and co-chair of the SSRC’s Working Group on Spirituality, Political Engagement, and Public Life. As a sociologist of religion, she pioneers novel ways of studying religion as it is lived and articulated in contemporary American culture. Her latest book, The New Metaphysicals: Spirituality and the American Religious Imagination (University of Chicago Press, forthcoming in June), emerged from her research in Cambridge, Massachusetts among people whose “spiritual but not religious” practices and outlooks have been unaccounted for by conventional methods used to identify and study communities of belief.

May 17th, 2010


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The bulk of the debates on religion and science today focus on ethical issues regarding advances in medical science and technology, such as cloning and stem-cell research, while far less attention has been paid to the potentials of computing and artificial intelligence (though this very topic was the subject of early cyberneticist Norbert Wiener’s God and Golem, Inc.).

Oxford University Press, however, has just published Apocalyptic AI: Visions of Heaven in Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, and Virtual Reality, by Robert Geraci, which attempts to articulate what the author calls a “cyber-theology.”

May 17th, 2010

Religions and rights: An interview with Richard Amesbury

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Though currently on sabbatical at the University of Zürich, Richard Amesbury teaches religious and philosophical ethics at the Claremont School of Theology, where he is is involved in establishing a new School of Ethics, Politics, and Society. He is the author of Morality and Social Criticism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005) and Faith and Human Rights (Fortress, 2008), as well as  numerous articles. His interests reach across many themes and fields in which the concept of “religion” is constructed and mobilized, from human rights law to civil religion to the New Atheism.

April 1st, 2010

The science of morality

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Sam Harris, author and vehement secularist, argues that science can create a moral code as effectively as religion can.

March 15th, 2010

Templeton and journalistic integrity

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The Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellowships have been a source of fierce controversy among science writers, particularly since John Horgan’s ambivalent 2006 debrief essay suggested that the program is keyed toward promoting a religious agenda. The announcement of this year’s fellows has already aroused controversy, particularly surrounding science writer Chris Mooney, author of The Republican War on Science. Biologist Jerry Coyne went on the offensive.

March 15th, 2010

Philosophers rethink Darwin

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At The Chronicle of Higher Education, Michael Ruse surveys a number of contemporary philosophers—including some you might not expect, and some you might—who are raising critical questions about Darwinism.

March 9th, 2010

A new twist in the Texas textbook case

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Justin Elliot of Talking Points Memo reports that Don McLeroy, the “top conservative activist on the powerful Texas Board of Education, who rejects evolution and has pushed for a revisionist right-wing U.S. history curriculum,” has gotten the boot.

March 4th, 2010

Global warming and evolution deniers unite

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The New York Times reports today that, in several states around the U.S., global warming deniers have found common cause with creationists in a way that may prove beneficial for both causes.

March 2nd, 2010

John Haught’s theology of evolution

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At the excellent evolution/creationism-junkie blog The Sensuous Curmudgeon, there’s an announcement about Making Sense of Evolution, the new book by John Haught, a Catholic theologian who has become an outspoken advocate of welcoming evolutionary biology into Christian theology.

February 25th, 2010

Faith from the NIH

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When Francis Collins was appointed director of the National Institutes of Health last year, he stepped down from leading the BioLogos Foundation, which “explores, celebrates, and promotes the harmony of modern science and the Christian faith.” But the position won’t stop him from releasing a new book with HarperOne next month, entitled Belief: Readings on the Reason for Faith.

February 22nd, 2010

Taking stock of intelligent design

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Physicist Stephen Barr, at First Things, looks back on the “intelligent design” movement and asks if it has done any good for either science or religion.

February 15th, 2010

Transcendence in the brain

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The current issue of Nature includes a report on a new study in Italy about the connections between certain brain regions and religious experience.

February 11th, 2010

Awe and wonder

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At Trans/Missions, Diane Winston comments on an unusual and interesting new study, which finds that the most popular New York Times pieces tend to be “articles that elicit an emotional sense of awe.”

February 3rd, 2010

Being with Animals

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Anthropologist Barbara J. King, whose previous book Evolving God explored the roots of religion among non-human animals, has a new book, called Being with Animals, about how and why humans relate to other species.

February 1st, 2010

$4.4 million for free will

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In line with its professed 2010 funding priority of “Finding Free Will,” the John Templeton Foundation has just awarded $4.4 million for a new project, to be led by Alfred Mele at Florida State University, for “empirical and philosophical explorations” into “Free Will: Human and Divine.”

January 7th, 2010

A more holistic approach to faith and health

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In an opinion piece at The Christian Science Monitor, sociologist Wendy Cadge shares findings from her research (with Elaine Howard Ecklund) on how physicians learn about and deal with their patients’ spiritual and religious beliefs. She concludes that a “holistic approach to medicine requires physicians to understand the complex role of spirituality and religion in compassionate patient care. The best prescription: Integrate these topics throughout medical education.”

January 5th, 2010

Sacred disorder

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At the visually striking Triple Canopy, Nathan Schneider discourses on the devolution of theology into—and, some might say, its eventual eclipse by—a pure science or order, or “planning.”

January 4th, 2010

The study of special experiences: An interview with Ann Taves

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Ann TavesAnn Taves is a professor of religious studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara and, this year, is serving as president of the American Academy of Religion. After distinguishing herself as a historian, she has recently turned her attention to theoretical reflection. Her latest book, Religious Experience Reconsidered: A Building-Block Approach to the Study of Religion and Other Special Things, proposes a framework for scholars interested in using both humanistic and scientific approaches to study the experiential side of religion.

December 27th, 2009

The evolutionary theory of religion

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In today’s New York Times, Judith Shulevitz reviews The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures by Nicholas Wade.

December 21st, 2009

The Faith Instinct

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The Economist reviews evolutionary biologist Nicholas Wade’s The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why it Endures.

December 8th, 2009

Scientists who believe in god

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David Masci writes about a recent Pew poll, in which scientists registered their views of god.

October 9th, 2008

Always put one in the brain

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Let me assure you. Ongoing neurological studies will not dramatically change religious belief or practice. As Robert Bellah notes in a recent comment, brain research does not have a direct effect on what people believe. Or as Christopher White thoughtfully writes in this forum, there is no wholesale transformation of religion on the horizon. I agree with both. But rather than maintain a defensive posture at this juncture in history, I believe that a more aggressive stance may be called for. […]

July 8th, 2008

The aesthetics of neural Buddhism

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The first three postings in this series remind us how complex the individual topics of cognitive science, Buddhism, and religious experience can be. Certainly there are many interpretations of each—many more than an entire monograph could account for, let alone a column in the New York Times—and reminders of the density of such topics are valuable and need to be repeated. But the cultural phenomenon that David Brooks’s column describes is its own topic altogether. Just what this phenomenon is will probably take a while for historians to describe and for critical scholars to assess. My preliminary suggestion is that we are witnessing an aesthetic urge, in which scientists and Buddhists find common cause in their pursuit of a beautiful—albeit potentially dangerous— “theory of everything.” […]

June 23rd, 2008

Naturalism, otherwise

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The past fifteen years or so have been a period of extraordinary activity in pursuit of what are called “cognitive” and/or “evolutionary” explanations of religion. These include, in addition to Pascal Boyer’s Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought (the focus of my previous post), a number of other self-consciously innovative books with titles like How Religion Works: Towards a New Cognitive Science of Religion, In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion, and Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. What unites these works and distinguishes them from the broader naturalistic tradition in religious studies is, first, the centrality for their approach of methods and theories drawn from evolutionary psychology and the rather sprawling field of “cognitive science” and, second, the more or less strenuous identification of their efforts with “science,” itself rather monolithically and sometimes triumphalistically conceived. In these two respects, these and related works constitute what could be called the New Naturalism in religious studies. […]

June 16th, 2008

Cognitive machinery and explanatory ambitions

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One of the most influential works among recent “cognitive” and/or “evolutionary” studies of religion is a book by French anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist Pascal Boyer. It is titled, with imposing finality, Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought. […]

February 23rd, 2008

Beyond The God Delusion

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The university classroom has become a battleground in the science and religion wars. In a controversial 2005 state of the university address Cornell University President Hunter Rawlings stated, “Religiously-based opposition to evolution . . . raises profound questions about . . . what we teach in universities and it has a profound effect on public policy.” The growing controversy over the role of religion in higher education led me to ask how top university scientists think they ought to respond to religiously based challenges to science. […]