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Ted Peters

Astrotheology is that branch of theology that provides a critical analysis of the contemporary space sciences combined with an explication of classic doctrines such as creation and Christology for the purpose of constructing a comprehensive and meaningful understanding of our human situation within an astonishingly immense cosmos. Within the growing field of Religion and Science, astrotheology and its sister subject, astroethics, represent critical responses to the excitement permeating the space sciences, especially astrobiology. The excitement arises because of new searches for microbial life within the solar system and the discovery of exoplanets elsewhere in the Milky Way, some of which may be homes for extraterrestrial intelligent civilizations.


Biology and Theology: Contemporary Issues  

Celia Deane-Drummond

Contemporary issues in biology and Christian theology are still dominated by the legacy of 19th-century biologist Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. Debates in evolutionary biology in relation to religious belief have been reinforced by historical myths that stress conflict over integration. More conservative branches of Christianity, often allied to particular Protestant traditions, argue for a form of popular theology that attempts to compete with science, namely, creationism. More sophisticated versions of this position may appear under the guise of intelligent design, though creationism and intelligent design are not synonymous. The mirror image of this position has developed among biologists who identify themselves as new atheists, adding further fuel to the fire of an existing controversy. Methodologically speaking, the engagement of biology and theology will depend on different philosophical presuppositions according to basic models of (a) conflict, (b) independence, (c) dialogue, and (d) integration. The biological sciences also have broader relevance to allied subject domains including, for example: (a) ecological, agricultural, animal, and environmental sciences; (b) anthropological, social, and political sciences; (c) medical sciences, including genetic science and embryo development; and (d) new technologies that include bioengineering. Theological engagement with the biological component of each of these domains is particularly intense where there are controversial ethical issues at stake that seem to challenge specific Christian beliefs about human nature or divine purpose. A more positive approach to the biological sciences that draws on research in the constructive systematic theological task, while avoiding historically naïve forms of natural theology, is starting to emerge in the literature. Within Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant Christian traditions, there is a spectrum of possible positions, such that the field of science and theology as a whole tends to be ecumenical in orientation rather than divided along denominational boundaries. The Catholic and Orthodox churches, however, give greater precedence to official statements by their respective churches that then influence public reception of controversial issues in biology and theology in particular ways.


Buddhism and Bioethics  

Jens Schlieter

In the wake of the globalization of modern Western biomedicine and bioethics, Buddhists felt the need for moral action-guides that provide orientation in ethical dilemmas posed by modern biomedicine. Thus, in the 1980s, Asian Buddhists began to develop distinct Buddhist moral action-guides on issues of selective abortion, stem cell research, genetic enhancement, brain death and organ transplantation from brain-dead donors, and physician-assisted suicide. From the 1990s onward, they were joined by a growing number of Western scholars. Buddhist ethicists emphasize the importance of starting from venture points considerably distinct from Western bioethics: Firstly, they are traditionally less concerned with human dignity and human rights. Instead, with a focus on salvific cultivation, karma, and nonviolence, they predominantly reflect the moral quality of the actor’s intentions, leading to additional suffering in this life or the next. Secondly, bioethics, in harmony with Buddhist ethics in general, is understood as moral cultivation, which puts less emphasis on justification of ethics than on the quality of actual actions. Thirdly, on the one hand Buddhist bioethical reasoning includes aspects such as the harmful “self-centeredness,” while on the other hand it declares compassion to be the core value, including an awareness of the universal interdependence of all forms of sentient existence. In the 1980s, pioneering scholars of Buddhist bioethics Shōyō Taniguchi and Pinit Ratanakul began to outline ethical foundations of Buddhist bioethics. While both suggested that Buddhist ethics are in principle capable of providing orientation in all forms of bioethical dilemmas, their approaches differed considerably, for example regarding the duty of doctors to disclose fatal diagnoses. Dissent on this duty, which is emphasized by Ratanakul but relativized by Taniguchi, reflects not only cultural differences but also the latter’s inclusion of Mahāyāna Buddhist ethics of the bodhisattva’s “skillful means.” Based on a famous Western approach, Ratanakul was the first to outline a system of four principles or duties of Buddhist bioethical reasoning: veracity, noninjury to life (ahiṃsā), justice, and compassion (karuṇā). However, it was a Western scholar, Damien Keown, who in 1995 presented the first book-length treatise to cover almost all major bioethical issues, from embryo research to euthanasia for the terminally ill. Keown argued for a neo-Aristotelian virtue-ethics approach and distilled three basic goods from Buddhist canonical texts. This helped to modernize and transform Buddhist ethics into an operational system of Buddhist bioethics. It is argued that there is an equivalent to human dignity in Buddhism, namely the infinite capacity to participate in goodness, or the potential to reach buddhahood. In this vein, the function of human rights lies in providing a suitable environment for individuals to gradually realize this potentiality. Well into the new millennium, more works on Buddhist ethics appeared in which Western scholars of Buddhism included Tibetan Mahāyāna ethical reasoning (Karma Lekshe Tsomo), reconstrued Buddhist ethics as consequentialism (Charles Goodman), or explored the global variety of Buddhist ethical reasoning (Peter Harvey). Probably the most important contemporary controversy in Buddhist bioethics pertains to the question whether killing out of compassion can in certain circumstances be justified. According to a traditional evaluation of cetanā (intention), it has been argued that the intention to kill cannot coexist with a compassionate intention, whereas others concluded that in regard to both embryonic life and the treatment of terminally ill patients there is room for ethically justifiable options. During the 2010s the global as well as Buddhist discourse on bioethics saw a certain consolidation, but will likely gain momentum again—for example, should genome-edited babies become common practice.


Creation and Contingency  

Dirk Evers

Contingency is a term that occurs in philosophical discourse as well as in theology in a number of contexts and with a number of meanings. In its modern sense the English term contingency refers to events, processes, or properties that may occur, but are not certain to occur; or that have, but might not have, occurred, because they depend on factors beyond our knowledge or which themselves are contingent. Generally speaking, it refers to events, objects, and properties that could be otherwise, that do not have to be as they are, and that do not have to be at all, and for whose existence we cannot give a sufficient cause. Thus contingency covers a whole range of meanings, including “not necessary,” “by chance,” “random,” and “unpredictable.” In the discourse on science, the debate pivots on questions of determinism vs. indeterminism in physics (especially in quantum physics and in systems theory), on the contingent character of the cosmos and its fundamental physical laws, and on the question of whether the development of evolution and the actual forms of life that result from it are merely coincidental in biology. Some have referred to the first form of contingency as nomological and to the second as local contingency (Robert J. Russell, “Contingency in Physics and Cosmology: A Critique of the Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg,” Zygon 23.1 [1988]). The alternative is between physical determinism (all events necessarily follow from prior initial conditions, so that contingency only refers to a lack of knowledge) and indeterminism (some events are not determined by prior conditions, hence contingency is an ontological fact). In religion and theology, contingency often marks the fundamental difference between the Creator and creation. It is used in ontological and cosmological proofs of the existence of God in the sense that all created beings cannot account for their own existence, but—in their contingency—point to a Creator, who is not contingent, but the necessary ground of his or her own being. However, it is disputed whether such a conclusion is valid or itself contingent. Another divide is between those who argue for total divine predestination (God determines everything that happens; again contingency is only a human category regarding insufficient knowledge and insight) and those who argue that God leaves some things to chance or to being determined autonomously by created entities. A consequence of the latter view seems to be that God cannot have sufficient fore-knowledge with regard to the process of creation so that God’s omniscience and omnipotence seem in danger. On the other hand, the option of total predestination faces the problem that in its view the Creator seems to be responsible for everything, including all evil.


Cybernetics and Religion  

Noreen Herzfeld

Cybernetics is the study of systems of control and communication. While often used to refer to control systems in or by machines, such as computers, cybernetic theory can be applied to control and communication within a variety of areas, including human interaction and systems of production, distribution, or design, systems that may be comprised of humans, machines, or a combination of humans and machines. A cybernetic view of any system focuses on information and the flow of information, for that is what effects both control and communication. While cybernetics is a concept that can be used to describe any system through which information flows, today most human generated information flows through computers or computer controlled networks; thus in the popular mind, cybernetics is frequently used as a referent to anything pertaining to computer design, use, and human-computer interaction. A cybernetic view of the human person finds each person’s identity in the information comprising our memories, feelings, emotions, and thoughts. Human beings are considered in this view to be biological machines, each of whose unique identity is found in the patterns stored in the neuronal structures of the brain. In such an anthropology, there is no soul. Each of us is merely a vast and ever-changing collection of information. However, there is the possibility of a form of immortality effected by uploading the human brain to a computer. Cybernetics is, historically, closely associated with the field of artificial intelligence. Though experiencing initial successes in fields such as game playing or mathematics, producing a full, human-like intelligence has so far been limited by the difficult problems of giving a robot a body similar to ours, in order to experience the world as we do, and the necessity of emotion for true cognition and autonomous decision making. We have come closer to realizing the dreams of cybernetics by using the computer to mediate human-to-human relationships, especially through social media, such as Facebook and Twitter. This has implications for religion, in that the widespread dissemination of a variety of religious materials and discussions has led to increased contact with other religions, increased conversions, and an increase in fundamentalism. Cybernetic theories can also be used to describe the origin of religion and the development of ethical systems. In general, a cybernetic view of the development of religion focuses on religion as an adaptive mechanism for the survival of groups as they evolve and change in an atmosphere of physical and social competition.


God and Chance: Christian Perspectives  

David J. Bartholomew

In many quarters God and chance are still seen as mutually exclusive alternatives. It is common to hear that ascribing anything to “chance” rules out God’s action. Recent scientific developments have tended to reinforce that distinction. Quantum theory introduced an irreducible uncertainty at the atomic level by requiring that certain microscopic physical events were unpredictable in principle. This was followed by the biologists’ claim that mutations, on which evolution depends, were effectively random and hence that evolutionary development was undirected. The problem this posed to Christian apologists was put most forcibly by Jacques Monod when he asserted “Pure chance,… at the root of the stupendous edifice of evolution alone is the source of every innovation.” Several attempts have been made to include chance within a theistic account. One, advocated by the intelligent design movement, is to contend that some biological structures are too complex to have originated in the way that evolutionary theory supposes and therefore that they must be attributed to God. Another is to suppose that God acts in an undetectable way at the quantum level without destroying the random appearance of what goes on there. A third approach is to contend that chance is real and hence is a means by which God works. A key step in this argument is the recognition that chance and order are not mutually exclusive. Reality operates at a number of different levels of aggregation so that what is attributable to chance at one level emerges as near certainty at a higher level. Further arguments, based on what is known as the anthropic principle, are also used to judge whether or not chance is sufficient to account for existence. These are critically evaluated.


Islamic Bioethics: Abortion  

Gilla K. Shapiro and Jonathan K. Crane

Religion plays a significant role in the bioethical decisions of abortion, which is the procedure for terminating a pregnancy before the fetus reaches viability. The bioethical discussion of abortion in Islam has great significance for health policy, significantly affecting how women seek out abortions and the rates of unsafe abortions and national maternal mortality. Guiding texts of Islamic religious authority, the Quran and the Sunnah, do not directly address abortion, but the Quran does include the prohibition of infanticide and mistreatment of unwanted children. It details how abortions are justified on varying grounds, such as the endangerment of the woman’s life.


Islamic Bioethics: Animal Research  

Magfirah Dahlan-Taylor

The current debate on the permissibility of animal research from an Islamic perspective stems from different assumptions on the status of animals. The view that begins with the assumption that humans are vicegerents of the rest of the living world and have the rights to use animals to the benefit of humans would find animal research to be permissible in general. Those on the other side of the debate emphasize the similarities between humans and other animals. It is expected that advances in genetic engineering will further problematize and blur this distinction, bringing up new ethical questions in turn.


Islamic Bioethics: Biobanking  

Mamoun Ahram and Khalid Bani Ahmad

Biobanks are biomedical research facilities that aim to collect biological specimens and relevant information for future research initiatives. Examples of biospecimens include blood, saliva, and urine, as well as tissue biopsies. Biobanks collate information that includes the personal and clinical data of individuals and provide researchers with high-quality samples in order, for example, to discover causes of diseases and identify the various factors that are associated with certain diseases. It can be argued that biobanks are permissible in Islam, but they should be under strict control by qualified authorities. In addition, since the effects of biobanks go beyond the domain of medicine and since they can influence society as a whole, their governance must be regulated by an independent body comprising experts in different fields, including Islamic jurisprudents.


Islamic Bioethics: Bioethics in Egypt  

Baudouin Dupret and Zaynab El Bernoussi

Continuous technical developments in medicine prompt different actors to think about morality, biology, and the legitimacy of scientific progress in different societies. In Muslim-majority countries, religious institutions provide a trusted source of guidance on bioethical issues for believers. Meanwhile, in Egypt, the Napoleonic colonial legacy has granted more authority to the state in ruling over the individual’s body. There are increasing demands for pluralism within Muslim-majority countries and the notion of pan-Muslim events as important venues to discuss pressing bioethics issues, such as contraception, abortion, and population control.


Islamic Bioethics: Codes of Medical Ethics  

Aisha Malik

The evolution of Islamic medical ethics codes and treatises began with the akhlāq and adab treatises, followed by the codes developed by the Islamic Organization for Medical Sciences (IOMS). Akhlāq and adab approximate the meaning of ethics. Akhlāq refers to one’s character, while adab literally means civility or etiquette and refers to norms of right conduct, which are often understood as “one’s disposition as formed by habit.” Though an official code of ethics was absent in the early years of Islam, a small group of conscientious physicians, concerned with the quality of medical care and the reputation of their profession, provided guidelines for individual physicians’ professional behavior. These include Adab–al Ţabīb (The Practical Ethics of the Physician), the Akhlāq -al-Ţabīb (Medical Ethics), and al-Qānūn Fi’l-Tibb (Canon of Medicine). Other important ethics codes include the Islamic Code of Medical Ethics, the International Islamic Code for Medical and Health Ethics, and the Islamic Code of Medical and Health Ethics.


Islamic Theological Views on Darwinian Evolution  

Nidhal Guessoum

The various positions that Muslim scholars have adopted vis-à-vis Darwin’s theory of evolution since its inception in 1859 are here reviewed with an eye on the theological arguments that are embraced, whether explicitly or implicitly. A large spectrum of views and arguments are thus found, ranging from total rejection to total acceptance, including “human exceptionalism” (evolution is applicable to all organisms and animals but not to humans). The two main theological arguments that are thus extracted from Muslim scholars’ discussions of evolution are: 1) Is God excluded by the evolutionary paradigm or does the term “Creator” acquire a new definition? 2) Does Adam still exist in the human evolution scenario, and how to include his Qur’anic story in the scientific scenario? Additional, but less crucial issues are sometimes raised in Islamic discussions of evolution: a) Does the extinction of innumerable species during the history of life on earth conflict with the traditional view of God’s creation? b) Is theodicy (“the problem of evil”) exacerbated or explained by evolution? c) Are “species” well-defined and important biological entities in the Islamic worldview? d) Can the randomness that seems inherent in the evolutionary process be reconciled with a divine creation plan? These questions are here reviewed through the writings and arguments of Muslim scholars, and general conclusions are drawn about why rejectionists find it impossible to address those issues in a manner that is consistent with their religious principles and methods, and why more progressive, less literalistic scholars are able to fold those issues within a less rigid conception of God and the world.


Magic and the Occult in Martin Luther’s World  

Kathryn A. Edwards

In the 15th- and early-16th-century German-speaking lands, reports circulated of spirits shaking the walls of houses, comets presaging imminent doom, and dwarves warning miners to leave their tunnels. Widely accepted, such accounts point to a worldview in which the natural was believed to encompass a far broader swath of beings and activities than modern definitions of the term. Humans were enmeshed in a world where forces beyond human experience and, at times understanding, were active; they accepted their place in it and manipulated it, if necessary. When studying such attitudes and the practices surrounding them, scholars of late medieval and early modern religious movements must move beyond truisms about “magical” or “enchanted” worlds to understand the impulses driving both reformers and those they wished to reform. Certainly 15th- and 16th-century Germans accepted that the divine permeated all creation, as creation was a product of God, and they saw divine manifestations throughout their world. Based on this truism, scholars have debated the extent to which pre-modern Europe was an enchanted world for approximately a century. Yet the powers imbuing that world had a more complex relationship to divinity than the somewhat romantic connotations of “enchanted” found in various modern works. Magicians, witches, devils, and other entities were all created beings who could access powers beyond the normal ken but were certainly not divine, despite any claims they might make to the contrary. Because such powers were imbued into nature itself, they were accessible to ordinary humans as well. And access them humans did! They were invoked to protect a village, cure ill children, and ward off injuries to livestock. They could also be used for evil, and archival and print documents attest to the practice of maleficent or demonic magic by learned clergy and illiterate peasants alike. When Protestant reformers demanded recognition of God’s omnipotence, they implicitly condemned this applied, occult magic and, in the process, practices that reflected a complete cosmology, that is, an understanding of how this world and the heavens operated. In this circumstance, it is not surprising that even the early reformers themselves could seem reluctant to abandon this immanent occultism.


Martin Luther’s Influence on the Rise of the Natural Sciences  

Duane H. Larson

Were Luther to have lived another two decades, he might have been surprised even so early on to be informed that he positively influenced the rise of natural science. One can readily cite many Luther quotes that would cast him as anti-science; decontextualized quoting readily constructs such caricatures. But the truth of the matter is quite otherwise. Consideration of Luther and Luther’s protégés and their philosophical-historical contexts reveals their positive regard for science. This is explicit in Luther’s immediate heirs like Melanchthon and Andreas Osiander. Though they differed in their opinions about the work of Copernicus, both respected him and the discipline he practiced. Luther’s influence carried beyond his immediate disciples through Johannes Kepler into the 17th century. The Irish-Anglican chemist and theologian Robert Boyle, for example, was significantly influenced by the Reformation principle of God’s sovereignty. In turn, Boyle strongly influenced Isaac Newton. But Lutheran support for the natural sciences had one major qualification. When “freed science” appeared to speculate more on God’s action than describe the visible character of natural phenomena, Luther saw overreaching ambition. Such are the outlines of a historical approach of Luther’s influence on the beginning of the scientific revolution. Other Lutheran theological themes contributed to natural science’s robustness. In addition to a focus on God’s sovereignty—and so the doctrine of justification by grace through faith—these themes include (1) the nature of biblical authority, (2) the “realistic” epistemology of the theology of the cross, and (3) sacramentology.


Multiverse Theories: Philosophical and Religious Perspectives  

Gerald Cleaver

The term multiverse is derived from multiple universes. A multiverse is a theoretical concept denoting a collection of universes that are causally disconnected and whatever may exist beyond or between the boundaries of these universes. In essence, it is the totality of physical reality, whatever form that may take. An equivalent term is megaverse. The physically distinct universes composing a multiverse are often referred to as alternative, alternate, quantum, parallel, or bubble universes. The American philosopher William James invented the specific term multiverse in 1895, not in a cosmological context but in reference to his view of the natural world. In the 20th century the application of the term was broadened from James’s original intent to a range of areas including cosmology, religion, philosophy, and psychology. More recently, David Lewis (1941–2001) considered philosophical implications of a multiverse from his modal realism perspective. In fact, the concept of a cosmological multiverse and its philosophical and religious implications were actually considered more than a millennium prior throughout various societies and religions. The scientific implications have predominantly been analyzed since the early 20th century. In efforts to answer fundamental questions about the origin and properties of our universe, many cosmologists have converged on a scientific concept of a multiverse of one form or another. Multiverses with vastly different properties have been developed. To organize the collection of multiverses in a consistent way, in 2003, MIT cosmologist Max Tegmark proposed a multiverse taxonomy. Tegmark argued that all multiverses can be fit into four classes, which he designated as Levels 1 through 4. A given higher level multiverse contains a set or sets of lower level multiverses. In 2007, string theorist Brian Greene of Columbia University refined Tegmark’s classification system. Each of Greene’s nine classes fit within one of Tegmark’s four Levels. While theoretical multiverses take many forms, common to most all of them is the idea that a vast number of universes exists outside the limits of our observable region. Given that a multiverse beyond our universe is not currently (and perhaps never will be) empirically testable or detectable, the multiverse concept is very controversial. This is especially so within and among the science, philosophy, and religion communities. There is disagreement regarding the question of the existence of the multiverse and whether the multiverse is a proper subject of scientific inquiry. Some argue that a multiverse is a philosophical concept, rather than a scientific one. Alternatively, some scientists believe that most or all multiverse proposals present a deconstructionist science that avoids providing answers grounded in meaningful science. In contrast, many theoretical physicists (especially cosmologists) and some philosophers affirm that a multiverse offers a more likely and more robust resolution to fundamental cosmological issues that a sole (even infinite) universe cannot answer.


Nature and Religion in America  

Brett Grainger

One of the most complex words in the English language, “nature” (sometimes personified as “Nature” or “Mother Nature”) has been central to developments in American religions. Despite their different origins, the three cosmologies present on the North American continent during the early modern “age of contact”—Native American, African American, and Euro-American—shared a number of similarities, including the belief in an enchanted or animate cosmos, the ambivalence of sacred presences manifested in nature, and the use of myth and ritual to manage these ambivalent presences in ways that secured material and spiritual benefits for individuals or communities. Through encounters on colonial borderlands and through developments in society and culture (in science, economics, politics, etc.), these cosmologies have been adapted, developed, and combined in creative ways to produce new forms of religious life. These developments have been characterized by a series of recurrent tensions, including the notion of divine or spiritual realities as being transcendent or immanent, organicism or mechanism, and of the natural world as including or excluding human beings. Organicist and animist cosmologies, severely challenged by the early modern scientific revolution, were resurgent in the antebellum period, fueling a series of new religious developments, from Transcendentalism and revivalism to Mormonism and the early environmentalist movement. These generative tensions continue to reverberate into the modern day, in part as an outworking of the environmental crisis of the 1960s, which saw a purported “greening” of established religions as well as the rise of new forms of nature spirituality.


Niche Construction and Religious Evolution  

Agustín Fuentes

In an evolutionary context neither religion nor religiosity can appear full-blown, and thus it is valuable to search for the kinds of structures, behaviors, and cognitive processes that might facilitate the appearance of such patterns in human beings. The quest for understanding the human propensity for religious behavior is aided by investigating the core role of the evolutionary processes related to the emergence of humanity. However, the majority of approaches in the field of the evolution of religious behavior, and religions themselves, rely heavily on overly reductionistic neo-Darwinian models. They seek to explain faith, religious institutions, and ritual practice primarily in terms of their relation to natural selection and their potential roles as adaptations. The niche construction approach to religious evolution provides an alternative to the primarily functionalist and reductive approach. This way of approaching the human niche, and human evolution, lays a groundwork for modeling the development of the structures (cognitive and behavioral) that can facilitate a more comprehensive, and less reductive, understanding of the human propensity for imagination, faith, and ritual. This approach suggests that a distinctively human imagination, and a uniquely human metaphysics, is a core part of being human and thus part of the explanation for human evolutionary success.


Science and Religion in America  

Paul J. Croce

Science and religion provide alternative ways to understand the world. In American history, they have each commanded authority at different times and for different people and groups based on the varying appeal of knowledge and belief, of inquiry and conviction, and of liberal and traditionalist values. Science and religion have interacted with each other in many ways ranging from widespread harmony between them until the late 19th century to a spectrum of interactions that have included conflict, separation, integration of their insights, and spiritual kinship. Colonial American science was dominated by religion, both in the concentration of ministers practicing what was then called natural philosophy and in the conviction that such inquiries would inevitably support religious truths. Common Sense philosophy articulated this calm confidence and buttressed the assurance of harmony between science and religion that dominated until the 1860s. However, even during this period, the tremendous growth in scientific information strained the harmonious relations of science and religion. Darwinism presented the most significant challenge to traditional religion by inaugurating a new approach to science: it was a theory supported by probabilistic plausibility rather than deterministic proof; Darwinian theory served as a synthetic framework for organizing natural facts and ongoing research, and its investigations did not require religious assumptions. Since the late 19th century, science began to grow still more rapidly with greater professional organization and specialized investigations into a vast amount of information about the natural world, while religion became more pluralistic and more private on the American scene. With their distinct social and intellectual paths, science and religion could no longer operate with assumed harmony. Some advocates of each field took this as a reason to understand them in sharp conflict, however many more sought to renew their harmony, but on new, more intricate and diverse terms. The simplest ground for harmony, consideration of each domain in separate spheres, was suggested by their very distinct practices. However, when the very inquiries and reflections of these fields spilled beyond each of their own domains, other practitioners and observers in science and religion comprehended them in relation, with science adapting to religious questions or religion adopting scientific answers. For those who sought still deeper integration, inquiry about the relation of science and religion took them beyond the mainstreams in both fields for embrace of their spiritual kinship. The varied methods and insights championed by science and religion have provided Americans with their deepest guideposts for being and doing: these fields supply varied paths of inquiry and conviction for comprehending the deepest character of the world and for choosing ways of living.


Scientific Approaches to Mysticism  

Stephen Kaplan

The title “Scientific Approaches to Mysticism” reveals half the task and belies the other half—namely, which of the sciences and whose mysticism are to be considered. Is it Capra’s tao of physics, Bohm’s holomovement of undivided wholeness, or Saver/Rabin’s limbic correlates of mystical ecstasy? Is it Freud’s psychoanalytic oneness of nursing at the breast, or Goodall’s evolutionary biology of mystical wonder? Numerous mystics have presented us with a cornucopia of mystical experiences, and many sciences have been employed to analyze mysticism. Any effort to create a singular scientific approach to an “imagined singular mysticism” is doomed to vagueness. Specifics matter, and they matter in the scientific approaches to mysticism. A scientific study of mysticism must first clarify what mysticism means—namely, a conscious experience in which one feels that the normal subject-object boundaries manifest in waking consciousness are altered, presenting a state of unity, union, or interrelationship. This definition of mysticism is broad enough to encompass nature mysticism, theistic I–Thou mysticism, and various forms of non-dualistic mysticisms ranging from experiences of the oneness of Being to the awareness of the emptiness of becoming. Each of these broad categories of mysticism must be refined by examining the particular tradition in which it manifests. As such, the scientific study of mysticism cannot assume, for example, that all Christian mystics, proclaiming the ultimacy of a personal communion with the Trinitarian god, are uttering the same thing, nor that non-dualistic mystics from different traditions, such as Christianity and Hinduism, are saying different things. The scientific study of mysticism must immediately confront the threat of reductionism, in which “mystical experience” is reduced to some elemental explanation such as, “it is only one’s brain.” This threat of scientific reductionism has long been elicited by the knowledge, for example, that the intake of drugs is correlated with mystical experience; more recently, this threat of reductionism has been intensified by the knowledge that we have machines that measure the neural patterns associated with individuals having mystical experiences, and we have machines that can allegedly induce mystical experiences. Stepping beyond the psychological, cognitive, and neuropsychological approaches to mysticism, the connections between mystical experience and physics have also been drawn. Relativity and quantum theories have become the hermeneutical tools to analyze and interpret the declarations of all sorts of mystical experiences. These studies of mysticism tend to present parallel explanations of the world. Evolutionary theory and biology also offer different angles of approach to the study of mysticism proposing explanations, for example, which relate mystical experience to the evolutionary chain of being or to techniques for transcending present limitations.


Technology and Religion in Ancient Greece and Rome  

Tatiana Bur

Coupling together “technology” and “religion” might, to the modern mind, sound rather antithetical. The former, as we know it, is based in scientific knowledge and produces tangible results; the latter is phenomenological and spiritual. Yet this does not do justice to the full character of ancient science, or of ancient religion. Technologies in Greco-Roman antiquity could, and did, help create and sustain a sense of the divine, whether this was in the context of sanctuary space, or as part of religious occasions or rituals, for example. The kinds of evidence available to unearth the realities of the relation between technology and religion in ancient Greece and Rome span literature, material culture, and, importantly, ancient technical manuals. This final genre tends not to be as familiar to students of the Greco-Roman world in general and especially to students of ancient religion. Yet by combining these dry, and at times abstruse, texts with anecdotal evidence, technical realities and issues of viewership which surround the use of technology in ancient religious contexts can be better understood. One of the more familiar instances of religious technologies from ancient Greece is that of the theatrical crane (mēchanē). There, epiphanies of gods were fabricated using a conspicuous mechanical construction which speaks to the fundamentally mediated nature of ancient epiphany. The sense of sacred presence within ancient temples in the Greco-Roman world was enhanced using various technical methods including catoptrics—the science of reflection. Religious processions in antiquity involved parading a vast array of objects through the cityscape and technologies of automation began, in the Hellenistic period onward, to feature as part of this conspicuous display of the marvelous. Various other rituals which formed the very basis of Greek religious life, such as divination and dedication, relied on technical, including mechanical, expertise to create, enhance, or authenticate connection with the divine. Traces of the intersection between religion and technology in Greco-Roman antiquity can be found not only from the Classical institution of the theater but even earlier, including in the Homeric epics. Yet the formalization of the discipline of mechanics in the Hellenistic period gave new shape and vigor to the relation between religion and technology. Subsequently, the Roman period saw increased meta-discourse on the phenomenon, especially thanks to the culturally vibrant “Second Sophistic,” as well as the rise of Christianity, where the word (logos) of god was privileged above anything material.