Researchers pinpoint a connection between religion and health

A Vanderbilt University study found that people who attend services at a church, synagogue or mosque are less stressed and live longer.

The research included adult men and women ages 40-65 in examining the relationship between religiosity (i.e. church attendance) and the cause of mortality in middle-aged adults. Those who attended church or other houses of worship reduced their risk for death by 55%.

“Sometimes in health science we tend to look at those things that are always negative and say, ‘Don’t do this. Don’t do that,” said Marino Bruce, a social and behavioral scientist and associate director of the Center for Research on Men’s Health at Vanderbilt, in a university press release. Bruce is also a Baptist minister.

He added, “We’ve found that being in a place where you can flex those spiritual muscles is actually beneficial for your health.”

The study, “Church Attendance, Allostatic Load and Mortality in Middle-Aged Adults,” was published in May in PLOS ONE, a multidisciplinary open access journal, using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. The data are available to the public. Bruce is the main author of the study with Keith Norris, professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. There are nine other co-authors.

The researchers analyzed subjects’ attendance at worship services, mortality and allostatic load. Allostatic load is a physiological measurement of factors including cardiovascular (blood pressure, cholesterol-high density lipoprotein ratio and homocysteine), nutritional/inflammatory (albumin, C-reactive protein) and metabolic (waist-hip ratio, glycated hemoglobin) measures. The higher the allostatic load, the more stressed an individual was interpreted as being.

The team surveyed 5,449 people of all races and both sexes, of whom 64% were regular worshipers. Non-worshipers had significantly higher overall allostatic load scores and higher prevalence of high-risk values for three of the 10 markers of allostatic load than did church-goers and other worshipers.

The effects of attendance at worship services remained after education, poverty, health insurance and social support status were all taken into consideration. The study did not address the effects of frequency of worship.

Yale Divinity School unveils new ecology degree program for religion students

Yale Divinity School (YDS) will be accepting students this fall for a new concentrated ecology program of study in the Master of Arts in Religion (MAR) degree path.

The Religion and Ecology concentration draws on faculty resources across the theological disciplines, including biblical studies, ethics, liturgical studies, pastoral care, spirituality, theology and world religions and ecology. YDS officials added that the program spans the study of eco-theology; eco-spirituality; eco-feminism; environmental ethics; and cosmology.

The concentration builds upon the decades of work of senior lecturers Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim, who most recently collaborated with the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.

Religion and Ecology concentration students are also able to take “Introduction to Religion and Ecology,” a joint offering of YDS and Forestry taught by Tucker and Grim, as well as other cross-school courses including “A Communion of Subjects:  Law, Environment, and Religion” — a joint offering of Divinity, Forestry, and Yale Law School.

YDS Dean Greg Sterling described the new concentration as an expression of two of the major goals outlined in the School’s strategic plan: diversity and the effort to build a living-building residential complex.

“Some of our new faculty make the first possible, and widespread commitment of faculty to eco-theology make the second feasible,” Sterling said in a press release. “It is essential that we have a curriculum that aligns with our orientation and ambitions as a school.”

‘Artificial Intelligence and Apocalypse’ topic of two-day symposium in the UK

The Centre for the Critical Study of Apocalyptic and Millenarian Movements (CenSAMM) will hold a two-day symposium (April 6 and 7, 2018) on the topic of artificial intelligence (AI) and apocalypse and a call for academic papers is now underway.

Organizers point to the stunning defeat of elite players of the Chinese game ‘Go’ by AlphaGo, which is a Google/Deepmind program. This event was heralded by AI enthusiasts as critical proof of the strength of AI technologies. Topics that will likely be discussed at the 2018 conference include assumptions about the theistic inclinations of thinking machines, the impact of the non-human on our conception of the uniqueness of human life and consciousness, representations in popular culture and science fiction, and the moral boundary-work of secular technologists in relation to their construct, ‘religion’.

Abstracts for papers are due at the end of December. Papers may be in any disciplinary field including, but not limited to — religious studies, the arts, humanities and social sciences. Organizers say that approaches could include interdisciplinary scholarship, cross-cultural and inter-religious engagement in literature and theology, history, exegesis, anthropology, social sciences, cultural studies, political theory or theology.

Dr. Beth Singler is the conference advisor for AI and Apocalypse. She is a research associate on the Human Identity in an age of Nearly-Human Machines project. She is working with Professor John Wyatt and Professor Peter Robinson to explore the social and religious implications of technological advances in AI and robotics at the Faraday Institute for Religion and Science. She is also an associate fellow at the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence.

More information on the conference can be found at www.censamm.org.

Gallup poll finds percentage of Americans with creationist views is declining

The percentage of U.S. adults who believe that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years has hit a new low: 38%.

This is the lowest percentage in 35 years, but interestingly, roughly the same percentage say humans evolved, but that God guided the process. Pollsters also said that less-educated Americans are more likely to believe in creationism. The early May poll found that over 57% believe in some form of evolution — either guided by God or not — saying that man developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life.

Approximately three-quarters of Americans believe God was involved in man’s creation — whether that be the creationist view or the view of God as guiding the evolutionary process. Since 1982, Gallup says agreement with the secular view point that humans evolved from lower life forms without divine intervention has doubled.

“Most Americans believe that God had a role in creating human beings, whether in their present form or as part of an evolutionary process over millions of years,” the Gallup report reads. “But fewer Americans today hold strict creationist views of the origins of humans than at any point in Gallup’s trend on the question, and it is no longer the single most popular of the three explanations.”

There has some minor fluctuation over the years. In 2014, the Gallup organization found that more than four in 10 Americans (42%) believed that God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago. That percentage, which is measured annually by pollsters, was down from  46% in 2012, but up from 40% in 2011. Half of Americans believe humans evolved with the majority saying that God guided the evolutionary process. The percentage who say God was involved, however, is not rising and stood at 32% in 2014 (down from 40% in 2000).

Faith and science workshop on human germ-line editing coming up in October

Scientists, theologians and ethicists plan to host a unique workshop on human germ-line editing on October 6 and 7 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The event, “God and Human Suffering: Conversations on 21st Century Genetics and Our Shared Future”, is sponsored by the University of Utah: Department of Pediatrics, Division of Medical Genetics and UCEER Center for Excellence in Ethical, Legal and Social Implications; the Rocky Mountain Synod and its Utah Conference of the ELCA, Mount Tabor Lutheran Church of Salt Lake; and the Episcopal Diocese of Utah.

Questions event leaders will be pondering include: What is our shared mission as people of science, ethics, and faith? What is the role of recent dialogue regarding germ-line editing of human embryos and in the development of regulations that both promote the alleviation of suffering and protect the inherent diversity of our planet?

Speakers include: R. Alta Charo, JD, University of Wisconsin; David Grunwald, PhD, University of Utah; Ted Peters, PhD, Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA; and the Very Rev. Mark Richardson, PhD. the Church Divinity School of the Pacific and Graduate Theological Union; C. Matthew Peterson, MD, University of Utah, Janet L. Williams, MD, LGC, Geisinger Health System (Danville, Pennsylvania), Hava Tirosh-Samuelson, PhD, Arizona State University.

Registration information can be found at http://godandhumangenetics-slc2017.org.

Chicago area seminary students to discuss ‘an evolutionary theology of cancer’

The Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago will be offering a new course this fall for Chicago area theological students called “Chance, Necessity, Love: An Evolutionary Theology of Cancer” that will be chaired by Dr. Lea Schweitz and Dr. Leonard Hummel.

The course offering is open to 12 area theological schools and the University of Chicago Divinity School and is part of the Zygon Center for Religion and Science’s Advanced Seminar course. According to the Zygon Center, the class will consider “the phenomenon of cancer as a case study to explore enduring issues in science and religion including race, racism, sexism, evolution, creationism, neo-Darwinism, epigenetics, free-will and determinism”.

Schweitz, a member of the steering committee for the Lutheran Alliance for Faith, Science and Technology, is assistant professor of systematic theology/religion and science at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and director of the Zygon Center for Religion and Science. Hummel currently is visiting scholar at the Zygon Center. Hummel’s academic work has been in the field of pastoral theology and prior to joining the faculty at Gettysburg he taught at the Divinity School of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. An ordained member of the ELCA, he also holds a PhD in pastoral psychology. He also brings extensive experience in medical and mental health clinical settings.

Qur’anic cosmology the theme for next year’s Goshen Religion and Science Conference

The speaker for the 2018 Goshen Religion and Science Conference at Goshen College is Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal, founder and president of the Center for Islamic Sciences in Canada.

Dates for the annual conference have yet to be set, but the event is held annually in the spring. Born in Lahore, Pakistan, Dr. Iqbal has lived in Canada since 1979. He received his Ph.D. in chemistry in 1983 from the University of Saskatchewan. He then left the field of experimental science to fully devote himself to the study of Islam and its spiritual, intellectual and scientific traditions. In 2001, he was program director (for the Muslim World) for the Science-Religion Course Program of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (CTNS), in Berkeley.   

Iqbal says that he plans to “build a cohesive view of Qur’anic cosmology” with his Goshen lectures.  

This year the theme at Goshen was the concept of the Cosmic Christ, with Niels Henrik Gregersen of the University of Copenhagen giving lectures on “The Cosmic Christ: God in a World of Mass, Energy and Information;” “Christ and Biology: Creativity and Suffering in a World of Biological Agency;” and “Christ and Culture: The Jesus Story and the Cultivation of Commitment”.

First held in 2001, the Goshen conference has hosted well-known religion and science scholars, including Philip Clayton, George Ellis, John Haught, Nancey Murphy and Phil Hefner.

Film looking at religion’s role in healthcare publicized at the National Press Club

A recently released film by National Press Club members and father/son team Gerald and Adam Krell was screened at a National Press Club event with the aim of showing the positive relationship between religion and well-being.

Dr. Harold Koenig, director of the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health at Duke University, asserts at the beginning of the film that religious beliefs and practices are good for one’s health. Koenig is well known for his research into the impact of incorporating a patient’s religious beliefs with cognitive-behavioral therapy for chronically-ill patients with major depression. He published a study on the topic in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease in 2015.

The film, “Your Health: A Sacred Matter,” cites studies showing the positive relationship between religion and well-being. Specifically, it examines the controversy over whether the appropriate place for religion and spirituality belongs with the clergy and not in the doctor’s office. The film explores the experiences of patients, family members, doctors and chaplains from a wide variety of backgrounds.

“We had to represent a lot of faith communities,” said Adam Krell, producer and director of photography in a press release. “We tried to do justice to people’s stories.”

The film won the International Award of Excellence in the documentary category at the International Film Festival for Spirituality – Religion – Visionary in Jakarta, Indonesia. The film examines how the medical profession is looking to reintegrate religion into the healing process and includes interviews with chaplains as well as researchers and doctors.

Here’s the trailer:

Local faith/science speakers line up for Los Alamos Faith and Science Forum in New Mexico

This summer the Los Alamos Faith and Science Forum returns for a series of talks by local speakers. The theme is “Hope: Science, Religion and the Future.”

The Los Alamos Faith and Science Forum is a nonprofit organization with a mission to “invite people to join in exploring together with the mysteries of faith and science by looking deeply into both.” Some members are scientists, while others are clergy. This year’s talks are being held at the Unitarian Church in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Local speakers include Bob Reinovsky, program manager at Los Alamos National Laboratory; Dan Winske of Los Alamos National Laboratory; and Chick Keller, director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory Institute for Geophysics and Planetary Physics from 1980 to 1990.

These Wednesday evening meetings will be on June 14 and 28 as well as July 12, 19, and 26. The format is a light supper at 6pm and a talk at 6:30pm, followed by questions for the speaker and then table discussions. As part of the summer program the group has also invited theologian John Haught of Georgetown University to give two talks on June 22 and June 23. His lecture titles are “Science, Religion and Cosmic Purpose” and “Evolution and Faith: What is at Stake.”

More information can be found on the group’s website.

This is the fourth year for the series. In 2015, the Forum series used the book Origins by physics professors Loren and Deborah Haarsma. Then in the winter of that year, the group hosted a monthly video lecture series on the topic “What Makes Us Human?”

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