Religion: Biology and Political Spirituality


Popular accounts of warfare between science and religion cover over an older and deeper problem: how should we order our lives, on whose authority, and, according to which understandings of the human condition, human goods, and human salvation?

These questions of political spirituality have characterized interactions between religion and the life sciences, most obviously in polemics over stem cell research, cloning, evolution, and climate change. Less obvious are the formative effects of these interactions. Religious individuals and organizations have participated in the governance of the sciences through bioethics. Major denominations have articulated positions on questions of religion and biology as crucial and even defining. Biological advances in modifying and making living organisms with specified functions shape how we imagine ourselves and our world, and what kind of futures we hope for and invest in.

Research in this project area is formulated is oriented to the task and challenge of specifying the ways in which scientific and religious institutions in America are preserving and creating forms of life, assessing whether those forms of life are good, and what, if anything, should be done to change things. Work in this area can only proceed effectively by recognizing that current efforts to think about religion and sciences as matters of private opinion, legal dispute, or political polemics are insufficient. The on-the-ground reality of relations between science and religion in American life exceeds these delimitations. Characterizing the problem of political spirituality within these restricted domains thus limits the range of possible solutions that might otherwise be opened up.

Current Projects

  • Synthetic Biology and Religion: Opportunities and Challenges, Funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation

Key Research Questions

  • How are current framings of science and religion reifying and amplifying the differences and tensions between the two?
  • How are religious understandings of science brought into the world, formulated, and circulated? Likewise, how are secular interpretations of religion produced, reinforced, and circulated?
  • How do scientific advances get framed and elaborated as “salvational,” i.e. as uniquely capable of saving the economy, the environment, and human lives?
  • How do relations among science, religion, and governance create external constraints for scientific practice?
  • How have religious responses to scientific research been internalized by people of faith?
  • How has bioethics helped facilitate connections between science and religion as well as limit the range of possible interactions?
  • What do scientists need to know about what’s actually going on with religion today? And what do religious individuals need to know about what’s actually going on in science?