AAAS Enhances Support for Science in Theological Education

AAAS, through its program of Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion (DoSER), is embarking on a new 5-year initiative that will offer a unique suite of activities designed to expand the role that science plays in US theological seminaries. The new Science for Seminaries Phase II project will be carried out in consultation with the Association of Theological Schools (ATS). It is geared towards the goal of broadening contact with science in theological education for the benefit of faculty and students, and ultimately providing the religious public with the leadership it needs to consider advances and implications of science, in the context of their faith communities. 

Phase II follows a very successful three-year pilot project that concluded in November 2016.  The project enabled 10 pilot seminaries to incorporate relevant science into their core curricula, enriching the experience of all students. As Joel Okamoto, professor of systematic theology at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, has said, “The relationships with scientists that the project has enabled have been surprising, enlightening, and rewarding—for them as much as for us.” Pilot seminaries augmented their courses with a wide range of science topics, from genetics to neuroscience to space exploration.

 This new iteration is designed to expand the reach of the original project by providing opportunities for additional seminaries to integrate science in their core curricula, leveraging the significant interest in the pilot project seen from nearly 40% of North American seminaries. 

DoSER will incorporate key lessons learned from the Science for Seminaries pilot project into this new iteration. The original ten pilot seminaries were awarded 3-year grants and were able to achieve a far higher level of outcomes than originally anticipated, mostly due to the creativity and dedication of the faculty leaders and their institutions. While the seminaries were each nominally asked to integrate science into two core courses and host one campus-wide event, the ambitious response of the seminaries resulted in over 100 courses touched by science and 85 science-themed events at seminary campuses to date.   The new Phase II seminaries will likewise be asked to integrate science into their core curricula and seminary-wide culture, through course revisions and campus-wide events.  

AAAS provides science resources to assist project seminaries, including an expanded series of short science-education videos appropriate for use in these courses. To support participating faculty, the AAAS project helps to recruit scientist-advisers from nearby science research institutions. The project was made possible through the support of AAAS and a grant from The John Templeton Foundation. For detailed information on the Science for Seminaries pilot project, please visit ScienceforSeminaries.org. Information on submitting a Letter of Interest can be found here

These AAAS projects, long-recommended by AAAS advisers, reflect the fact that "many people look to their religious leaders for guidance on issues relating to science and technology, even though clergy members may get little exposure to science in their training," said Jennifer Wiseman, director of the AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion (DoSER).  "We are pleased to see such enthusiastic interest in science, technology, and implications for society in these training institutions for the nation's religious leaders."

“The Association of Theological Schools is delighted to partner once again with AAAS in this important Science for Seminaries project,” according to Stephen Graham, ATS senior director of programs and services. “The program is a good fit for the ATS mission to enhance the work of theological schools for the benefit of communities of faith and the broader public. Religious leaders need a level of facility with science in order to address a whole range of issues engaging people in communities of faith, and the voices of theologically-trained and scientifically-aware leaders are needed in broader public conversations about a whole range of issues.”

Building on AAAS's long-standing commitment to relate scientific knowledge and technological development to the purposes and concerns of society at large, DoSER facilitates communication between scientific and religious communities.