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                Religion and Genetics

Project Directors | Statement of Purpose | Project Fellows | Graduate Research Fellows | Religion and Genetics Events

Project Directors

Larry R. Churchill Ph.D., Anne Geddes Stahlman Professor of Medical Ethics, Professor of Philosophy, Professor of Religion
Ellen Wright Clayton, M.D., J.D., Rosalind E. Franklin Professor of Genetics and Health Policy, Professor of Pediatrics, Professor of Law

Statement of Purpose

Genetic knowledge will become increasingly powerful over the next decades and will continue to alter our understanding of who we are as human beings, both individually and communally, how we are related to others, what constitutes normality, health and illness, what human "improvement" means, how we think about notions of personal responsibility, and what humans can and should aim for in their social and political life. These are all questions with religious meaning. But equally important, the models, metaphors and imagery of genetics will exercise wide influence on our self-perceptions, even if these images are unfounded in science, and even in the absence of any useful genetic knowledge. We are convinced that genetics has and will continue to shape religious understandings, and in turn be shaped by them in a reciprocal social interaction. Thus, there is a need for both conceptual and empirical inquiries into not only the uses of genetic information, but also into the prevailing popular models and metaphors for genetics, as held by both physician-scientists and by the public, as these interact with religious sensibilities.

Over the course of three years [2005-2008], the "Religion and Genetics" research group will support a data-gathering, empirical project in conjunction with an on-going theoretical and conceptual investigation. The data gathering will focus on attitudes about genetics testing and the influence of religious beliefs and practices on prenatal and other genetic testing. The complementary theoretical arm of the project will be a systematic review and analysis of the literature that connects religion and genetics, with an eye toward the models and metaphors offered by each and their mutual influence as idioms for understanding what it means to be human. A chief goal will be to keep the scholarly theoretical domain of ideas and concepts in constant conversation with the attitudes and lived experiences of local people as this takes shape through the empirical side of the project. The result will be a combined theoretical-and-empirical effort that is much needed but seldom undertaken. It will have lasting value to researchers and clinicians, but also, we believe, to the larger community.

Project Fellows

Mark J. Bliton, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Medicine (Philosophy)
Tene Hamilton Franklin, M.S., Genetic Counselor, Meharry Sickle Cell Center
Connie Graves, M.D., Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology
Vickie Hannig, M.S., C.G.C, Pediatrics (Genetics Counseling)
Elizabeth Heitman, Ph.D., Department of Medicine (Religion)
Rolanda Johnson, Ph.D., School of Nursing
John Phillips, M.D., Department of Pediatrics
Trudy Stringer, M.Div., Divinity School
Misti Williams, Genetic Counselor, Assistant in Pediatrics, School of Medicine
Joshua E. Perry, J.D., M.T.S., Fellow, Center for Genetics and Health Policy

Graduate Research Fellows

Joseph Fanning, Graduate Department of Religion
Kyle Galbraith, Graduate Department of Religion
Virginia Green-Bartlett, Graduate Department of Religion
Rachel Kwee, Vanderbilt Divinity School

Dan Morrison, Graduate School, Sociology
Derek Spires, Graduate School, English

Religion and Genetics Events

April 11, Lecture: Audrey Chapman, Joseph M. Healey, Jr. Chair in Medical Humanities and Bioethics at the University of Connecticut. Dr. Chapman is the author, co-author, or editor of 14 books and numerous articles and monographs related to human rights and religious ethics. Her areas of expertise include health and human rights, transitional justice research, and the ethical and religious issues related to genetic science.