CTI held a remarkable symposium on science and religion last October with support from the John Templeton Foundation. The occasion was the centenary of the birth of Sir John Templeton, a founding and emeritus trustee of the Center of Theological Inquiry. The idea of spiritual progress was central to Sir John’s philanthropic vision but remains controversial in the academy and religious communities today. As a research center dedicated to open and free inquiry, CTI brought together over twenty leading thinkers to discuss this idea of spiritual and scientific progress in a three-day conversation at the American Philosophical Society and National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.
A highlight of this event was the recording of an interview by Krista Tippett with the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Marilynne Robinson and the theoretical physicist Marcelo Gleiser on “the mystery we are.”
Krista Tippett is a pioneering broadcaster on public radio. Her show, On Being with Krista Tippett, winner of the prestigious Peabody Award, explores questions of religion, ethics and meaning in hour-long, in-depth conversations with remarkable people who are changing our world. On Being is broadcast by over two hundred public radio stations across the United States and can be heard online around the world. Her CTI conversation with Marilynne Robinson and Marcelo Gleiser, entitled The Mystery We Are, was broadcast last November. You can listen to it now at the On Being website: Listen Here
The Symposium was launched by Professor David Fergusson, FRSE, University of Edinburgh, with an opening lecture on "The Idea of Spiritual Progress from John Baillie to John Templeton". You can listen to his address here.
You can also listen to highlights of the symposium conversation in a series of podcasts with the authors of four major books on science and religion:
Robert Bellah, sociologist, in conversation with theologians Niels Henrik Gregersen and Jayakiran Sebastian, and evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson, on Bellah’s book, Religion in Human Evolution. Listen Here:
David Fergusson, theologian, in conversation with physicist Marcelo Gleiser and theologians Wentzel van Huyssteen and William Werpehowski, on Fergusson’s book, Faith and Its Critics. Listen Here:
Marilynne Robinson, writer, in conversation with neuroscientist William Hurlbut and theologians Douglas Ottati and Darlene Fozard Weaver, on Robinson’s book, Absence of Mind. Listen Here:
Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, in conversation with Jewish scholar Peter Ochs and theologians Friederike Nüssel and Stephen Pope, on The Great Partnership
. Listen Here:
The Center of Theological Inquiry is an environment for fresh thinking across the borders of academic disciplines, religious traditions, and global cultures. This fresh thinking across borders was evident in the conversations CTI convened in Philadelphia but is so rare in today’s academy and public life. The distinguished sociologist Robert Bellah commented on this in his closing remarks at the symposium on spiritual progress:
I want to conclude by talking about progress a little bit more in the context of this group. And again to say that I don’t remember ever being at a conference where the general level of discussion was so extraordinarily high and where I learned something from every speaker, but they were all from such different fields. The academy is divided into a whole series of iron cages … It’s bad enough to have disciplinary boundaries, but to have sub-disciplinary boundaries, all that is just smashed through by this conference, and the effort of the Princeton Center and the Templeton Foundation along these lines, it seems to me, is extraordinarily noble and the degree to which they have achieved it is remarkable.
The Center of Theological Inquiry is honored by this affirmation of its work by one of America’s most distinguished scholars, recipient of the National Humanities Medal in 2000. CTI also records its gratitude to the John Templeton Foundation for supporting this “extraordinarily noble and remarkable” symposium to honor Sir John Templeton.