As the AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion (DoSER) program's largest individual donor, Leslie Sternlieb is committed to supporting DoSER’s mission to facilitate communication between scientific and religious communities at a time when anti-vaxxers and climate change deniers seem to have found a home in religious communities. Sternlieb thinks there might be an opportunity to change hearts and minds. “DoSER’s outreach work into religious communities is done with the utmost respect and is nonjudgmental,” she says. “I’d like to see the current level of dialogue foster enough trust so that it may go wider and deeper and touch more faith communities.”
Besides being a serious student of the Torah, Sternlieb, who is Jewish, regularly participates in Zoom meetings in her religious practice with study partners and different rabbis. Sternlieb focuses her understanding of the Eternal (always subject to review, she admits) along the lines of Spinoza, a 17th-century Dutch philosopher, who centered divinity in the natural world. Sternlieb offers a middle ground, using her life as an example of how to reach a consensus between two worlds that have unfortunately become polarized.
“You can be a person of faith and a person of science. It’s not exclusive. Much attention is paid to those in science who profess atheism. I can tell you there are many of us who embrace the power of faith and the veracity of science without conflict,” she says.
Sternlieb, who earned an undergraduate journalism degree from Boston University, began her professional life in South Florida, working in communications in the performing arts, as a magazine editor, as publications director for a design museum in Miami Beach, and finally as a freelance writer and editor, before retiring. Photography has long been her avocation.
In October 2010, she moved to New York City, and later added a home in Rhinebeck, so her dog could have his own yard, she says with a laugh. Living in a rural area has enabled her to establish a deeper connection with the natural world, she says, and has increased her commitment to being a changemaker in the climate crisis. She has dedicated funding to DoSER to further the conversation in faith communities about this subject. She stresses its urgency, given the limited time we have to mitigate CO2 emissions and other contributing factors.
Five years ago, Leslie decided to give entrepreneurship a shot and she started her own company Exquisite Eons an online boutique that exhorts people to “Be Positively Prehistoric” and “celebrate your inner dinosaur.” “Be in the moment, don’t let a device run your life, and embrace old school values,” she adds. “There’s nothing wrong with being a dinosaur. They were successful for millions of years! It wasn’t their fault that an asteroid came along!” Exquisite Eons sells a “prehistoric” lifestyle, complete with dinosaur mementos like a Righteous T. Rex brooch, Top-flight Pteranodon desk ornament, paper goods, and T-shirts, where she not only shares a portion of the proceeds with AAAS, but is also determined to preserve the communication skills and common courtesies that marked the predigital era.
“I am not a Luddite. I love technology, but it’s a tool. We’ve allowed it to hijack our lives. My company is about sending a message. When you wear a dinosaur brooch, or write a note or in a journal, you demonstrate your commitment to preserving a way of life that shouldn’t go extinct. Be Positively Prehistoric and put pen to paper!”
When she was small, Sternlieb aspired to be a paleontologist. Though science ultimately wasn’t her career path, her commitment to science is rock solid and remains unwavering.
“We are obligated to support the scientific endeavor, if not for ourselves then for future generations,” she says. When the AAAS Member peers into the future, she sees the loss of habitat for endangered species, rising sea levels and humanitarian crises. Florida, her home state, worries her most. “The Florida Everglades has a very special place in my heart. I just love the peace, the flatness and the open skies,” she says. “The Biscayne Aquifer will suffer from salt intrusion. The ecological consequences from climate change will be catastrophic to the Everglades, and it could even cease to exist. Imagining that breaks my heart.”