Science and Religion

Course Description

The realms of science and religion are often assumed to be disparate, conflicting ways of knowing the world. This conflict is particularly enhanced in conversations about the origins and characteristics of “life” and “nature.” When we look closely at these discussions, however, the boundaries between science and religion are less rigid than presumed. Historically, the two spheres have collaborated and influenced one another in surprising ways.

This course brings historical and cultural context to the various relationships shared between science and religion since the so-called “Scientific Revolution.” Using tools from history and anthropology, it asks students to interrogate sources and engage with major questions concerning the relationship between science and religion across history. These include: How have the categories of “science” and “religion” changed over time? When have they come into conflict, and in what social and political contexts? In what ways have science and religion informed one another in understanding and acting in the world? In addition to the more popular cases that document religion (particularly, Western Christianity) as a contemporary driver for “anti-science” movements; this course will introduce students to other examples that mark more complicated political and dialectical engagements between science and religion. These cases include interactions between Hinduism and imperial science, the popularization of Lovelock and Margulis’ “Gaia hypothesis,” the narratives built around synthetic biology, and the use of Andean cosmology in Latin American environmental movements.

As we move through these cases, this course will provide students the opportunity to develop important skills expected of a historian of science, including how to write a book review and how to analyze primary source material for a small, original research paper. Students will also have the opportunity to explore how historians have used methods from other disciplines (particularly, anthropology) to answer research questions and narrate historical events not necessarily captured in the archive.

Featuring chapters from various books, including:

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