Faith-science interface goes local

By UWE SIEMON-NETTO, UPI Religion Editor  |  April 1, 2003 at 6:41 PM
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WASHINGTON, April 1 (UPI) -- The ever-expanding global interface between science and theology is now going local, scholars told United Press International Tuesday.

For seven years, leading thinkers of both disciplines dialogued on a worldwide level in the Science and Spiritual Quest project funded by the John Templeton Foundation. Last year, they founded the International Society for Science and Religion.

Now, dozens of regional societies with similar goals have formed around the world, according to Philip Clayton, a California theologian who was a pivotal figure in the SSQ venture.

"To enhance the discussion between science and theology, the Templeton Foundation gives $15,000 in grants to local societies who have to match that sum," he said.

"We have discovered an amazing interest in this topic," related Alan Padgett, a professor of systematic theology and of science and religion at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn.

Hence, in some congregations, people are studying and discussing works on science and faith once a month in a manner similar to Bible study, Padgett told UPI. On an academic level, highbrow encounters between theologians and scientists are being organized at seminaries and universities on a quarterly basis.

As in the global SSQ forums, much of the regional initiatives are driven by the curiosity of scientists, he added. This marks the end of a long era during which "theologians turned up their noses at science, and scientists considered religion as something for the weak-minded. Scientists now have a spiritual thirst. This adds a new dimension to their lives."

This has taken on such dimensions that the Minnesota Consortium of Theological Schools has created a network of academic institutions across the upper Midwest to satisfy the "thirst" Padgett was referring to.

The consortium includes schools primarily located in or near the Twin Cities, for example, Bethel Seminary (Baptist), Luther Seminary (Lutheran), St. John's School of Theology in Collegeville, Minn., which is associated with the largest Benedictine Abbey in the United States, the University of St. Thomas/St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity (Catholic), and the United Theological Seminary (mainline Protestant).

While Lutherans and Catholics dominate this consortium, according to Padgett, other denominations take the lead in different parts of the world. "In California, the Methodists are the driving force," Clayton said.

But in all cases, theologians and scientists observe what Padgett called a new cultural phenomenon:

"People are tired of the artificial separation between science and religion, which is typical of the Enlightenment. We are post-Enlightenment now. We are undoing some of Enlightenment's prejudices."

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