A Berkeley seminary was awarded more than $100,000 to integrate science modules into its curriculum.
Perched blocks away from UC Berkeley’s Soda Hall, Santa Clara Jesuit School of Theology was one of 10 seminaries awarded $1.5 million in grant money by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The program pushes the schools to include science topics in the core curriculum.
“Science and technology really intersect with every aspect of modern life,” said Jennifer Wiseman, the association’s director of dialogue on science, ethics and religion. “That means it’s also integral to people in religious communities, from contemplating what it means to be human to practical aspects like serving the community. Many churches are keenly aware of this but don’t have the architecture to include science in their programs. So that’s what we’re here for.”
Santa Clara Jesuit School Dean Thomas Massaro acknowledged that “almost none” of the student body have a background in science, saying the new science program would have to be “remedial” in nature. The Jesuit School of Theology currently teaches topics ranging from biblical studies and ethics to history.
“I haven’t taken any courses with science in my time here,” said Brent Otto, a fourth-year student. “I certainly would have benefited from more science.”
Students at the school graduate with master’s degrees in theology, enabling them to work in a number of church capacities such as hospital chaplain, college minister and pulpit priests. Wiseman said delivering science resources to this population was intentional.
“For years, we’ve known the best ways to disseminate science to the broader general public is to help religious leaders to become better versed in science,” she said. “The fruit of this will take years to become manifest, but the hope is that we’ll leave a positive experience of science on the student that will translate to a positive experience of science for their future communities.”
Massaro said clergy well versed in mainstream science could mediate controversial community and national issues, primarily in fields such as bioethics.
He said expanding the school’s relationship with UC Berkeley faculty would be a huge step in increasing seminary students’ exposure to current science research.
“With this grant, we’re looking to host public events where UC Berkeley scientists would come and dialogue with theologians about the nature of science and religion,” he said. “The scientific literacy of any given person who’s not a scientist could use improvement, but for those of us reconciling science with religion, it’s especially important.”
Massaro said this grant is one of the first of its kind to promote interaction between theological and science academic faculties.
“I’ve been in theological education for 20 years,” he said. “This is the best thing I’ve ever seen to to break down barriers between the fields.”