AAAS has selected a new director for its Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion (DoSER) program: Katharine “Katy” Hinman, who has served as the program’s associate director since 2019.
Hinman succeeds Jennifer Wiseman, who is now the director emeritus after 12 years of leading DoSER.
“Voices from the faith community can be so important in how we use and apply science, how we ethically do science, and how we make policy around these issues,” said Hinman. “I’m excited to continue to be part of a scientific organization taking these issues seriously, having an active role in creating space for dialogue and seeing the value of involving people of faith in science engagement.”
DoSER Connects Communities
DoSER was launched in 1995 as AAAS leadership recognized the importance of connecting scientists, ethicists, and communities of faith, Wiseman said. Most people in the United States identify as religious, spiritual, or having a cultural identity related to a faith tradition. The values and worldviews shaped in these contexts guide how people view the value and roles of science and technology in society. Many faith traditions hold strong commitments to serving others, and they strive to incorporate the best science in their congregational life and in global ministries of education, health care, environmental stewardship, and more. Thus, for over 25 years, DoSER has “developed connections between scientists and faith communities through the excitement of scientific discovery and the promise it holds for helping our society,” said Wiseman.
Scientific advances hold great promises to help society, but they can also bring ethical questions and challenges that need to be considered beyond scientific circles, she noted. Therefore, to best serve society, AAAS seeks to ensure scientists cultivate strong and positive engagement with the broader public including religious communities.
DoSER fosters conversations and strengthens these bonds through a range of activities. Public events include symposia at the AAAS Annual Meeting and a longstanding popular annual holiday lecture, which was renamed December Dialogues in 2021 to reflect a focus on conversation and participation. Workshops offered by DoSER prepare scientists for positive science engagement with people of faith in their classrooms and spheres of influence.
DoSER has also created and showcased a wealth of resources available online. Videos include the popular “Science: The Wide Angle” series, a new series called “Who is Science” focused on what it means to be human and do science and a two-part series on homo sapiens’ survival called “Becoming Human.” A new profile series shares the real-life experience and wisdom of diverse scientists and science communicators in their engagement with faith communities.
In its earliest days, DoSER focused mostly on human origins and evolution, but today its events and projects touch upon such diverse topics as space exploration, neuroscience, artificial intelligence, genetic engineering and environmental stewardship – all areas with strong potential for rich conversation informed by participants’ religious values, ethical concerns and scientific understanding.
The joy of curiosity and discovery is also a common thread in DoSER engagement. “All people love contemplating the universe and our place in it,” said Wiseman, who is also an astronomer and a senior scientist at the Goddard Space Flight Center. “I have found that a great entry point to conversations about science and how science fits into the broader picture of human values is the shared sense of curiosity, wonder and awe that explorations of nature evoke.”
One flagship project for DoSER is Science for Seminaries. In partnership with the Association of Theological Schools, DoSER supports a wide range of Christian and Jewish seminaries across the United States and Canada as they work to incorporate science into their coursework and campus life. Science for Seminaries seeks to cultivate a positive understanding of science among future religious leaders and encourage dialogue on scientific topics among religious communities.
Hinman Brings Experience at the Intersection of Science and Faith
If anyone knows the importance of faith leaders having a solid grounding in scientific concepts and impacts to inform their conversations with congregants, it is DoSER’s new director. Prior to joining DoSER, Hinman was the pastor at College Park First United Methodist Church in College Park, Georgia. People seek advice and counsel from their spiritual leaders on a range of topics touched by science and ethics, such as work and health, she said. The COVID-19 pandemic, in particular, has made clear that faith leaders also serve as “science influencers,” Hinman said.
Beyond her pastoral work, Hinman will also draw upon a range of career experiences at the intersection of science and faith in her new role at the helm of DoSER. She holds a Ph.D. in ecology and evolution from the State University of New York at Stony Brook – her dissertation research focused on bat pollination of agave plants in southeastern Arizona. She also received an M.Div. from Candler School of Theology at Emory University and served as executive director for Georgia Interfaith Power & Light, a nonprofit that works with faith communities on environmental issues.
She joined AAAS in 2019, and since then she has focused on strategic planning for DoSER, co-creation of resources for a broad range of audiences and expanding engagement with diverse faith communities.
As director, she is excited for the opportunity to engage further with new audiences, particularly with communities that may have been marginalized in the sciences or in past dialogues at the intersection of science and religion. All voices need to be part of the conversation, she said – a lesson that she relates to her doctoral research studying plant-pollinator relationships. Healthy functioning ecosystems are interdependent, and each member has a role to play, she said.
“We miss out on so much when we don’t have a diversity of voices,” Hinman said.
Learn more about DoSER and its programs by visiting their website and signing up for their newsletter.