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Faculty Forge New Paths for Science in Seminary Education at AAAS Retreat

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Participants in the Science in the Curriculum Faculty Enrichment Retreat engage during a boat tour of the Chesapeake Bay Oyster Restoration Project | AAAS/Se Kim

Faculty leaders from 17 seminaries across the country, along with scientific and theological experts, gathered near the Maryland Chesapeake Bay for the Science in the Curriculum Faculty Enrichment Retreat August 6-9. The retreat, organized by the AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion (DoSER) program in partnership with the Association of Theological Schools (ATS), provided an opportunity for seminary professors to engage across denominations, discuss and reflect on a variety of science topics, acquire pedagogical skills and strategies for science integration into their curricula, and build networks and relationships with the theological and scientific communities.   

This four-day retreat brought together faculty from across the country who are interested in integrating science into their curricula. Participants included representatives from institutions that are active in the AAAS DoSER Science for Seminaries project, as well as from other institutions interested in enhancing science in their courses. Attendees were immersed in conversations at the nexus of science and religion, affording them the opportunity to delve deeper and reflect on ways to integrate science. A range of topics were explored, including astronomy and cosmology; neuroscience; anthropology; health, medicine, healing, and ministry; evolution and biology; environmental stewardship; and the theology, sociology, history, and philosophy of science. The retreat included a mix of panels and presentations, small group discussions, and formal and informal conversations between new faculty and current project advisors. Participants were encouraged to ask questions about the science and share insights on how it connects with their theology, community, and classrooms. Discussions ranged from what makes humans unique (and what traits humans share with plants and non-human animals) to the ways science can be used to inspire awe and wonder. The sessions provided opportunities to explore big questions about the relationship between various scientific and religious topics. As one attendee stated, “I loved the scientific presentations, even where it seemed to challenge my faith tradition or personal views.”

On the second day, retreat participants took a boat tour of the Chesapeake Bay and learned about the Oyster Restoration Project that has been rebuilding the region’s oyster population for decades. The retreatants learned about the history of the bay and its oyster population, the economic and environmental importance of these mollusks, and the effects of depletion and rehabilitation on surrounding communities. They were able to watch closely as oysters, clams, and crabs were hauled into shore, and learned about the painstaking process of rehabilitating the local marine wildlife.

The main focus of the retreat was to enable fruitful connections between seminary faculty and scientists, equipping seminaries to provide better science exposure to future clergy.  But the experience also brought people together from across a broad spectrum of ATS “ecclesial families” to have a robust discussion about common concerns and unique issues that each denomination encounters when engaging in dialogue at the intersection of religion and science. Attendees included representatives from Roman Catholic, Evangelical/Conservative Protestant, and Mainline Protestant seminaries. Working across denominations was, for some attendees, just as eye-opening as discussing certain science topics with professional scientists. As one participant shared, “having the full diversity of [Christian] ecclesial families together was extremely valuable, allowing for very rich interactions.” As another attendee summarized, “the feeling that ‘I am not alone’ is enormously encouraging and helps to keep me motivated in the work.”

The Faculty Enrichment Retreat was the first of four that will occur during Phase II of the Science for Seminaries Project. The project builds on AAAS’ long-standing commitment to relate scientific knowledge and technological development to the purposes and concerns of society at large and DoSER’s mission to facilitate communication between scientific and religious communities. According to a 2013 poll conducted by AAAS and Rice University, many people consult their religious leaders for guidance on issues relating to science and technology, even though these clergy members may not have had much exposure to science in their educational experience. The Science for Seminaries project supports competitively selected seminaries that want to integrate science into their core curricula by providing resources and connecting seminary faculty with expert scientists. The project also invites representatives from other interested seminaries to the annual Faculty Enrichment Retreat, where the attendees can connect with and ask questions of current and former project participant schools, interact with expert scientists, and get a taste of what science resources are provided for seminaries in the program.

More information about the project can be found at www.scienceforseminaries.org.

Authors

Lilah Sloane

Program Associate

Lilah Sloane

Program Associate