This week, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) awarded grants totaling $1.5 million to 10 Christian seminaries for pilot programs integrating science into core theological curricula. Curricula with integrated science for at least two core theological courses (such as those in systematic theology, biblical studies, church history, and pastoral theology) will be developed by each school and implemented over the next two years. This integrated approach will bring science into the core of seminary theological education, impacting individual seminaries as well as the ministries in which graduates serve. Science-focused, campus-wide activities will complement these courses, and resources from the project will be made available to interested seminaries as the project unfolds.
“This opportunity helps restore the lost legacy of Dr. James Woodrow, professor of chemistry and uncle of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, who served at Columbia Theological Seminary as the Perkins Professor of Natural Science in Connection with Revelation starting in 1861,” said William Brown, William Marcellus McPheeters Professor of Old Testament. “Dr. Woodrow was forced to resign in 1884 because of the perceived threat of Darwinism to the Christian faith. Now Columbia is able build upon that precedent set over a century and a half ago by bringing together the worlds of science and theology into mutually beneficial dialogue, furthering the work of ‘faith seeking understanding.’”
With the help of the AAAS Science for Seminaries program, Columbia Theological Seminary will launch a bold, new program to integrate science into its core curriculum, strengthening its goal of “educating imaginative, resilient leaders for God’s changing world.” AAAS will provide additional science resources, including a series of short science-education videos appropriate for use in these courses. To support participating faculty, the project will help to recruit scientist-advisors from nearby science research institutions and faculty mentors with experience integrating science into seminary classes. Specifically, this funded program will help Columbia Seminary integrate the findings of science broadly into its curriculum, including the teaching of Bible, systematic theology, pastoral care, and Christian ethics. Top scientists in various fields will help students explore the intersections between, for example, biblical creation and modern cosmology, theological anthropology and human evolution, Christian ethics and neuroscience, eschatology and astrophysics.
Located near Atlanta, Columbia Seminary is strategically located to build bridges between scientists and people of faith who may find science unimportant, incompatible, or even threatening. Columbia’s proximity to great institutions of scientific learning and research, such as Emory University and Georgia Tech was one of many considerations. In addition to the high quality of the proposed projects, the selected group of schools includes geographic, denominational, and demographic diversity, including groups that are significantly underrepresented in the current science-religion dialogue.
The AAAS project, long-recommended by AAAS advisers and carried out in consultation with the Association of Theological Schools (ATS), reflects the fact that “many people look to their religious leaders for guidance on issues relating to science and technology, even though clergy members may get little exposure to science in their training,” said Jennifer Wiseman, director of the AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion (DoSER).
A joint 2013 survey conducted by AAAS and sociologists at Rice University found that some Christians (particularly Evangelicals) are more likely than the general public to consult a religious leader or fellow congregant if they have a question about science. “The Science for Seminaries project aims to equip religious leaders with a solid scientific foundation from which to address congregant questions,” Wiseman said.
The project was officially launched in 2013 when the ATS invited its network of seminaries to submit Letters of Interest for potential pilot programs. Twenty-eight LOIs arrived from throughout the United States and Canada, representing the breadth of the ATS ecclesial families (Mainline Protestant, Conservative Protestant, and Catholic/Orthodox), and indicating broad interest in the program.
Science for Seminaries will also organize conferences for Catholic, Mainline Protestant, and Conservative/Evangelical Protestant seminaries to further the reach of the project by disseminating the resources and experience gained through its pilot programs. Science resources will also be archived online at www.ScienceforSeminaries.org.
“Through strategic engagement with theological schools, faculties, and students, Science for Seminaries should have a positive impact not only on theological education, but on the broader publics served by the schools and their graduates,” said Stephen R. Graham, senior director of programs and services at the Association of Theological Schools.
Building on AAAS’s long-standing commitment to relate scientific knowledge and technological development to the purposes and concerns of society at large, DoSER facilitates communication between scientific and religious communities.
This project was made possible through the support of AAAS and a grant from The John Templeton Foundation. The other institutions receiving “Science for Seminaries” grants include:
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the journal Science (www.sciencemag.org) as well as Science Translational Medicine (www.sciencetranslationalmedicine.org) and Science Signaling (www.sciencesignaling.org). 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!, www.eurekalert.org, the premier science-news Web site, a service of AAAS.
Columbia Theological Seminary is a community of theological inquiry and formation for ministry in the service of the Church of Jesus Christ and an educational institution of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Columbia Seminary offers six graduate degree programs and dozens of courses and events as a resource for church professionals and lay people through the Center for Lifelong Learning. For more information, please visit www.ctsnet.edu.
Christine Scheller, 202-326-7075 firstname.lastname@example.org
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William Marcellus McPheeters Professor of Old Testament
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