Two Bethany Theological Seminary faculty members are exploring and expanding educational opportunities at the intersection of theology and science through grant funds awarded earlier this year. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) awarded Bethany a $75,000 grant through Science for Seminaries, an initiative of its Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion (DoSER) program.
Bethany is one of the first seven seminaries to receive this grant in Phase II of the Science for Seminaries initiative. The goal of this initiative is to support seminaries as they integrate science into theological education and demonstrate its relevance to the life of religious communities. Grant recipients commit to incorporating scientific topics and themes into their core curricula and to hold at least one campus-wide event. Carried out in consultation with the Association of Theological Schools, Phase II is a five-year expansion of a successful pilot program.
Bethany’s new grant-funded program is entitled Binocular Vision: Seeing Life through Eyes of Faith and Science. Faculty members Russell Haitch, professor of theology and human science, and Nate Inglis, assistant professor of theological studies, prepared the grant proposal and are overseeing the program’s components. Inglis learned about the grant in the summer of 2016 when he was selected to attend an AAAS Science for Seminaries Faculty Enrichment Retreat in Maine.
“When I first heard about this grant, I knew that it would be a great opportunity for Bethany and that our seminary would be a great candidate,” says Inglis. “Our students are already always seeking ways to integrate their faith, their ministry, and their sense of service with the cultural issues of our time. A scientific worldview and a society that is increasingly integrated with technology characterize the world in which our students are called to serve. In this setting, a basic science literacy and critical reflection on how new technology impacts our lives are topics that need to become essential parts of seminary education.”
In keeping with the Science for Seminaries initiative parameters, Haitch and Inglis are each revising one of their courses to give scientific themes greater presence. Ministry across Generations, taught by Haitch, has utilized psychology in preparing students to minister to people at various stages of life but will subsequently give more emphasis to neuroscience in the course content. In Introduction to Theological Reflection, Inglis will enhance student learning with comparison and contrast of theological and scientific methods and with the integration of relevant scientific fields.
Bethany will also offer a public conference on the meeting of faith and science entitled Looking at Life, to be held April 25-27, 2019, at the Seminary. Different perspectives on the development of life in the universe, in terms of the human species, and early human development will be explored. Scholars and speakers from theological and scientific genres will provide leadership through presentations, panel and attendee discussions, and small groups. Scientists at Earlham College and Indiana University East are serving as consultants for event content.
Haitch is leading the planning for the conference. “We wanted to do a conference that would, yes, deal with evolution but also go beyond the tired talking points and acrimony. I ask myself: How can we bring a biblical understanding and Christian frame of mind to questions of origins? So, let’s look at the start of the universe and the start of humanity but also at human development. There are new reproductive technologies. There are new discoveries in epigenetics—ways that children inherit traits not just from DNA. . . . These areas concern people in ministry.”
Information on the Looking at Life conference will be forthcoming through print and digital media and a new web presence.
To build institutional interest and engagement in the Binocular Vision grant components, Haitch and Inglis have led guided discussions with Bethany employees and the combined Bethany and Earlham School of Religion faculties. Bethany teaching faculty have helped brainstorm ways to integrate theology and science within the educational experience, including topics for the Looking at Life conference and naming theology and science as the theme for the Seminary’s fall 2018 chapel preaching series. (Video recordings of all chapels are available at bethanyseminary.edu/video.) Bethany faculty are also able to utilize the grant resources to incorporate scientific content into their own courses.
Apart from the grant-funded programs, Bethany faculty have also developed a graduate-level Certificate in Theology and Science, offered for the first time during the 2018-19 academic year. Requiring just five courses, the certificate can be completed in one to two years and is available for CEUs. For more information, visit bethanyseminary.edu/certificates.
The Science for Seminaries project was made possible through the support of AAAS and a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. The American Association for the Advancement of Science is the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the Science (www.sciencemag.org) family of journals. AAAS was founded in 1848 and includes 261 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals. Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world, with an estimated total readership of 1 million. The nonprofit AAAS (www.aaas.org) is open to all and fulfills its mission to “advance science and serve society” through initiatives in science policy, international programs, science education, public engagement, and more. For the latest research news, log onto EurekAlert! at www.eurekalert.org, the premier science-news website, a service of AAAS.