Connecting Historical Antagonists: Science and Religion
By Yash Bhatnagar, published in our 2014-15 issue
On March 29th, 2014 the Duke-UNC Religion & Science Symposium was held at the Mary Duke Biddle Trent Seman’s Center for Health Education. The purpose of the conference was to consider the intersection of the two fields, and to promote collaboration between the respective Departments of Religion at Duke and UNC Chapel Hill. Funded through the Kenan-Biddle grant, the event was a joint initiative between undergraduate students at Duke and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
It is no secret that religion and science sit on two opposite sides of the spectrum as ways to explain observable phenomena. Therefore, the attempt to bridge the two fields of thought may seem futile. However, significant progress has been made by theologians and medical doctors alike to reconcile differences between them. Dr. Raymond Barfield, the Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Christian Philosophy at Duke’s Divinity School, was the opening speaker at the conference. A key aspect of Dr. Barfield’s research lies in exploring the mechanism by which the human life ends. According to Dr. Barfield, technology and medicine cannot give a full understanding of the human experience of death. Furthermore, he argues that patients that receive end of life discussions or religious support have better outcomes than patients without the support, as the decisions made by patients in those situations are often based around religious beliefs.
The keynote speaker of the event was Dr. Randall Styers, the chair of the Department of Religious Studies at UNC. Dr. Styers focuses his research on religion in modern Western culture, and is currently working on a book that explores the politics of religious studies in modern universities. Dr. Styers has also published research on how the concept of “magic” has played a role in defining religion, and setting the boundaries between the relationship between science and religion. Overall, Dr. Styers provided a unique view on the historical basis that links religion and science. In addition to hosting guest speakers, the symposium included a dinner and panel discussion meant to facilitate audience interaction.
The Religion & Science Symposium was an important event because it highlighted an issue that, more often than not, is discounted by both scientists and religious figures. Rather than focusing exclusively on evolution and religion, a conflict often used to characterize the relationship between science and faith, the symposium explored many more aspects and was able to open the doors to more extensive connections between the two disciplines. Furthermore, the culmination of the conference marked the beginning of a collaboration between Duke and UNC, which will undoubtedly pay dividends in the years to come.