American Academy of Religion annual conference to features science topics

A panel at the 2016 American Academy of Religion conference (Credit: Casey Flynn/Scholar Monk)

Ecology, cognitive science, transhumanism, CRISPR and even science fiction are on the agenda at this year’s American Academy of Religion conference at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston.

The 2017 annual meeting of the group will be held on November 18 through 21 and is the world’s largest gathering of scholars interested in the study of religion. There will be numerous academic sessions, workshops and more than 130 publishers exhibiting.

Roughly 14 various meetings and sessions are related to religion and science topics.

According to the AAR agenda book, there are three sessions as part of the Science, Technology and Religion unit of the conference that include topics such as religion and science as political theology and the future of science and religion. Speakers include: Philip Clayton of Claremont School of Theology; Ted Peters, Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary; Curtis Baxter of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; and Ahmed Ragab of Harvard University.

Other high-profile speakers are Yale University professors Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim, who are presiding over a religion and ecology workshop on “Integrating Ecology and Justice.”

Meanwhile, the International Society for Science and Religion (ISSR) is hosting two sessions. The first one is on “Attending to Symbiosis: Theology and the Connectedness of Nature.” This panel is related to recent developments in biology in the area of mutually beneficial symbiosis, such as a hair on a sloth that is adapted for growing algae that then forms an important source of calories for its host in return, according to the conference book. Speakers include Wesley Wildman of Boston University and Katherine Sonderegger of Virginia Theological Seminary.

A second ISSR session is on CRISPR/Cas and the prospect of human germline gene editing. Running as a mini-conference, the discussion will address the perspectives of religion, bioethics and public engagement. Richard Hynes, the Daniel K. Ludwig Professor for Cancer Research at MIT, a Fellow of the Royal Society, and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, will comment on the state of the technical advances and what they suggest for future uses human germline modification. Respondents to Hynes include Ron Cole-Turner, vice president of the ISSR and editor Design and Destiny: Jewish and Christian Perspectives on Human Germline Modification and Laurie Zoloth, dean of the University of Chicago Divinity School and president of the AAR in 2014.

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