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Equipping Tomorrow’s Clergy to Engage with Science


Jennifer Wiseman

Welcome to the DoSER Director’s Corner! Here Jennifer Wiseman will share her reflections on public dialogue at the interface of science, ethics, and religion and how DoSER is working to support constructive exchange and understanding between these communities.

Equipping Tomorrow’s Clergy to Engage with Science

Dear DoSER Friends,

How is science discussed in churches, synagogues, and other religious settings? What are the prevailing social perceptions of how science and faith interact? Science and technology affect nearly every aspect of our modern lives, and many citizens seek guidance on such issues from a trusted religious leader. Many pastors and religious leaders, however, don’t feel prepared to discuss science because their own experience with it has been limited. They may not have encountered science in their theological education, nor do they have reliable sources for current scientific information scoped for their needs.

Here’s where scientists can help. The Association of Theological Schools (ATS), an accrediting body of more than 200 North American seminaries, is partnering with the AAAS in seeking practical ways of including relevant science into the “core” curriculum for future clergy. This could include everything from the study of biblical interpretation, church history, and theological doctrine to the more applied themes of ethics and pastoral care. These 2 to 3-year graduate programs offer fertile ground for exploring numerous subjects and worldviews, but presently students encounter little science in their course work. With improved communication tools and relationships between scientific institutions and seminaries, scientists can provide information and insights on forefront discoveries. Similarly, seminaries can convey to scientists relevant societal questions regarding science and the scientific enterprise.

AAAS is committed to the idea that scientific advancements must benefit society, and we believe that integrating modern scientific advancements into seminary education will benefit professors, students, and ultimately those in the pews who often appreciate and struggle with the discoveries and implications of science. While clergy need not become professional scientists, a study on the Book of Genesis, for example, could be enhanced by conversations on our incredible evolving universe, the findings and accuracy of radiometric dating and genome mapping, and responsible earth stewardship in light of climate change realities. As scientists continue to investigate the complexities of the human brain and genetic programming, religious communities must grapple with what this information says about our origins, consciousness, behavior, and free will. Mood-altering drugs and surgeries for personality disorders are becoming more pervasive, compelling people to explore who they are and who they are meant to be. And complex ethical choices regarding personal medical care or even national policy call on the wise counsel of trusted and well-informed religious leaders. By integrating science into the core training of these leaders, AAAS and its partnering schools are enabling seminaries and religious congregations to build atmospheres that promote informed dialogue and a positive understanding of science.

Our DoSER program is already forging forward in this effort with its recent pilot workshop for seminary professors, scientists, and clergy in the Washington DC area (more info here and here). In coming weeks we will be hosting a similar workshop in conjunction with the ATS at the American Academy of Religion (AAR) and Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) meeting in San Francisco. We’re excited to bring scientists and seminary professors together to create helpful resources and forge enduring relationships that will impact a significant portion of society through tomorrow’s clergy.

What ideas do you have about incorporating science into theological education? How do you think the science and religion dialogue would change if more clergy felt comfortable discussing science? On the flip side, are there some ways in which seminaries could contribute to scientific communities? We welcome your thoughts and ideas via form below!

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