Science and Religion

Course Description: 

The course studies the relationship between science and religion from the late medieval to modern period. Are they incompatible, independent, compatible, or cooperative? How have they come to be seen as metaphysically distinct? We will survey various scholarly theses about this issue and examine the senses in which "science" could encompass the overlapping concerns of theology and natural philosophy in centuries past, and then turn our attention to the ways that science has become a form of knowledge that occasionally challenges religious precepts and has motivated shifts in both the modes of theology and the functions of church institutions in the modern period. How did individuals of diverse scholarly communities and confessions read and write scientific texts and produce scientific knowledge? Did modern scientific institutions displace earlier scholarly practices entirely, or do they retain certain aspects? What were the specifically disciplinary challenges to religious belief as the concepts and institutions of science expanded? We will investigate these questions primarily with respect to Western Christianity (Catholic and eventually Protestant), but with occasional comparisons to Eastern Orthodoxy and Islam, as well as consideration of the relevance of unbelief. For the nineteenth and twentieth centuries increasing efforts will be made to incorporate Central and East European moments of engagement in these debates, not least in response to specific student interests.

Learning Outcomes: 

Students will gain familiarity with medieval and modern conceptions of science and religion, with the evolving bounds of knowledge in medieval, early modern and modern science, and with the methods, sources, leading figures, and institutional contexts that have informed the science-religion relationship. 


The grade is based on one class presentation [15%], two times serving as discussion leader [10% + 10%], an annotated bibliography in preparation for a research paper [10%], a research paper [40%], and general class participation [15%].