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                Scales and Hierarchies: Implications for Science and Religion

Project Directors | Statement of Purpose | Full Project Proposal | Project Fellows | Graduate Research Fellows |
Projects | Past Events

“Science and religion are both still close to their beginnings,
with no ends in sight. Science and religion are both destined to grow and change in the millennia that lie ahead of us, perhaps solving some old mysteries, certainly discovering new mysteries of which we
yet have no inkling.”

Freeman Dyson, “Science and Religion: No Ends in Sight,” New York Review of Books, Vol. 49, No. 5 (2002)


Project Directors
Volney Gay, Professor & Chair of Religious Studies; Director, Center for the Study of Religion and Culture; Professor of Psychiatry; and Professor of Anthropology

View Dr. Gay's 18-minute video, Progress in the Humanities:
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View Dr. Gay's film, Neuroscience and Religion, produced by Nashville Public Television and sponsored by the Metanexus Institute:
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Richard Haglund, Professor of Physics and Astronomy

Statement of Purpose
This three-year research seminar includes Vanderbilt scientists, social scientists, humanists, and theologians committed to a sustained dialogue between science and religion. To help traverse disciplinary boundaries and to examine scientific and religious discourses about their proper objects we use the model of the hierarchy of nature. This heuristic device lets us examine the problem of scale, extending from the very smallest to the very largest. We do not presume that any given discipline, scientific or humanistic, is superior to another. On the contrary, our intuition is that intellectual inquiry and the examined life, including its spiritual dimensions, are not subject to a single set of propositions, no matter what their source. We view the dialogue between science and religion as continuous and ongoing. What we begin as a three-year project we hope to grow into a permanent feature of intellectual life at Vanderbilt University.

Science and Religion Full Project Proposal (pdf)

Project Fellows
Robert Barsky, Professor of French and Comparative Literature
Carissa Cascio, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry
Ronald Cowan, M.D., Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Radiology & Radiological Sciences
S. Victoria Greene, Associate Professor of Physics
Thomas Gregor, Professor of Anthropology and Religion and Chair of Anthropology
Gary Jensen, Professor and Chair of Sociology
John McCarthy, Professor of German and Comparative Literature and Co-Director of German Studies
Sohee Park, Associate Professor of Psychology and an affiliate of the Center for Integrative and Cognitive Neuroscience (CICN)
Norbert Ross, Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Psychology

Jeffrey Schall, E. Bronson Ingram Professor of Neuroscience and Director of the Center for Integrative and Cognitive Neuroscience and the Vanderbilt Vision Center
Michael Stone, Professor of Chemistry
David Weintraub, Associate Professor of Astronomy

Graduate Research Fellows
Brandon J. Simonson, Divinity (2007-2008)
Leah Payne, Graduate Department of Religion (2006-2007)
Ipsita Chatterjea, Graduate Department of Religion (2005-2006)
James Newell, Graduate Department of Religion (2005-2007)

Past Events

The Causes of Religion: The 2007-2008 Templeton Research Lectures featured Dan Sperber, Research Professor at the French Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in Paris, France. The first lecture, "Asking the Right Questions," was held on April 7 at 4:10 in the Moore Room of the Law School building. The second lecture, "Beliefs and Values," was held on April 8, and the third lecture, "Rituals and Institutions," was held on April 10, both at the same time and venue as the first.

The Problem of Consciousness in Philosophy, Religion and Science: The 2006-2007 Templeton Research Lectures featured Christof Koch, Lois and Victor Troendle Professor of Cognitive and Behavioral Biology at the California Institute of Technology. The first two in a series of three lectures were held on March 19 and 20 at 6:00 p.m. in Flynn Auditorium. They were preceded by receptions at 5:00 p.m. Professor Koch's March 19 lecture was titled "The Problem of Consciousness in Philosophy, Religion and Science." The March 20 lecture was "What Do We Know about Consciousness and the Brain?"

Consciousness, Free Will, and God: The final 2006-2007 Templeton Research Lecture by Christof Koch, Lois and Victor Troendle Professor of Cognitive and Behavioral Biology at the California Institute of Technology, wasgiven May 4 at 3 p.m. in Flynn Auditorium. A reception followed.

Critical Inquiry and Religious Belief: Science, Religion, and the Mission of Higher Education (pdf) Rev. Edward A. Malloy, Douglas Knight, CSRC Director, John McCarthy, Lenn Goodman, and Senta V. Greene, CSRC Fellows, and Wallace LeStourgeon participated in a panel discussion on Science and Religion on Thursday, October 27, 2005, 4:00-5:30 p.m. in 123 Buttrick Hall. The panel addressed the current wars over evolution in the periodic press prompted by advocates of intelligent design. For written comments by panelists about intelligent design, click on the following name: Douglas Knight, John McCarthy, Wallace LeStourgeon. This event was sponsored by the Vanderbilt University Faculty Senate, the CSRC Project in Religion and Science, and The Metanexus Templeton Research Lectures in Religion and Science program at Vanderbilt University. Link to podcast.

80 Years after the Monkey Trial - Why It Still Matters: Volney Gay, a participant in a Panel Discussion on the Scopes Trial (October 19, 2005) addressed Intelligent Design Theory (pdf). Link to podcast.

Neglect and Dedication: The Dynamics of Ancient Religious Markets: Rodney Stark presented a series of four lectures, for the 2005-2006 Templeton Research Lectures on February 14, February 28, March 14, and March 28, 2006. The Templeton Research Lectures at Vanderbilt University are funded by a grant from the Metanexus Institute and hosted at Vanderbilt by the Center for the Study of Religion and Culture.  The Templeton Research Lectures promote engagement and original research between the physical, biological, and human sciences and modes of inquiry and understanding found in theology, religious studies, and philosophy. Link to podcasts: Introduction: The Market Approach to Understanding Religion, Subsidized Religions: 6000 Years of Negligence and Laxity, Christian Establishments and the Neglect of Faith. Complete details about these lectures and the CSRC's Templeton Project can be found on our TRL website.


On the Order of Things: Hierarchy in Science and Religion is an ambitious project in science and religion funded by the Metanexus Institute and coordinated locally by Vanderbilt's Center for the Study of Religion and Culture (CSRC) (overview). The Metanexus Institute works to advance research, education and outreach on the constructive engagement of science and religion through a broad range of funding and programmatic initiatives. The project also features a Research Seminar based on the work of the CSRC research group, Scales and Hierarchies: Implications for Science and Religion.