5th – 7th May 2016

University of California, San Diego

This cross-disciplinary networking conference explored the social, psychological and cultural factors that have historically driven, and are currently driving, public debates or attitudes concerning the relationship between religion, spirituality or belief and the perceptions, acceptance or practice of science. A copy of the full conference programme can be found here and abstracts for the papers here. 

The conference featured about 40 to 45 researchers from a range of disciplines, including sociology, social and experimental psychology and history. The papers presented focussed on the contemporary era back to the mid-nineteenth century and discussed work related to themes including:

Science and Religion in the Public sphere

  • What are the intersecting processes at play between knowledge production, knowledge consumption and the mass media?
  • How do these processes relate to wider questions about the role of religion and/or science in society?
  • How do different faith groups and non-believers engage with STEM in general?
  • What role does this engagement have in identity formation or group processes?
  • How does this relate to broader concerns with science communication for example issues relating to ‘publics’ trust in science or scientists?

Public perceptions of the relationship between evolutionary science and religious or spiritual belief

  • How widespread is the perception that it is irreconcilable to accept or practice evolutionary science and hold religious beliefs, and how has this belief developed?
  • What cultural, social and psychological processes might lead one to hold, or conversely disagree with, the view that there is an inevitable clash between evolution and faith, science and religion, or rationalism and belief?
  • Is the idea that there is a necessary clash between acceptance of evolutionary science and holding personal belief a majority or minority worldview? Does public domain discussion of this subject represent people’s real lived experience of the relationship between personal faith and acceptance of evolution?

Integrating humanities, psychological and social science approaches to science and religion debates

  • If we move beyond epistemic aspects of debates surrounding ‘science and religion’ how might we build a better understanding of publics lived experience and perceptions of these debates?
  • How might we integrate methodologies and epistemologies across social sciences, psychology and social history?
  • What impact have scholarly debates concerning the secularization thesis and the so called ‘culture wars’ had on the representation of the relationship between science and religion both within the academy and in public space discourse?

This conference was part of a larger scale 3 year research project ‘Science and Religion: Exploring the spectrum’ that employs four intersecting approaches: qualitative social science field research; oral history, historical and media discourse analysis; social psychology experimental research; and a large scale quantitative survey of public perceptions, attitudes and identity formation.

One aim of the project is to continue to develop a field of research into the social and cultural contexts of contemporary perceptions of the relationship between science and religion. We will therefore be looking to build a longer term network and field of research that brings together researchers from the social sciences and humanities, initially in the US, UK and Canada, as well as media and science communication professionals, to revisit the assumptions that have previously been made about the intersection between science and faith in the public space.

This event was funded by the Templeton Religion Trust, and run in partnership between the Department of Sociology, UC San Diego and the Science and Religion: Exploring the Spectrum project based at Newman University UK, University of Kent UK, and York University, Canada.
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