Yesterday, on a beautiful autumn afternoon, a distinguished group of scientists, scholars in other disciplines, representatives of diverse religious traditions (and of spiritual orientations pointedly unaffiliated with any religious tradition), and interested onlookers met in Harvard's Memorial Church. The occasion was the opening session of Science and the Spiritual Quest II, a three-day program (October 21-23) under the auspices of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences and funded by the Templeton Foundation. In addition, the conference is part of the ongoing Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
There's a potent symbolism to this event. Harvard represents the pinnacle of learning in the Western world. Founded as an institution deeply rooted in the particular traditions and truth claims of Christianity, Harvard has become one of the supreme exemplars of the pluralistic secularism of Western elites, and the Memorial Church nicely suggests the marginalized status of Christianity in the modern university.
But of course it is not only Christianity that is marginalized. In the second edition of his World Christian Encyclopedia, published earlier this year, David Barrett reports that more than five billion of the world's six billion people are "religionists," that is, believers in one of the great world religions or in one of the manifold indigenous faiths to be found everywhere human beings have settled. What about the confident assertion, emanating from academic precincts for much of the twentieth century, that religion was about to wither away? Clearly that prediction was laughably wrong. And the stubborn persistence of religion, the brute fact ...
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