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HPS���graduate program adds new hybrid track

by Katlyn Smith | Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Notre Dame’s History and Philosophy of Science (HPS) graduate program has added a new track in theology and science.

The addition marks the first time HPS has offered a new track since its inception in 1990.

HPS Director Don Howard said no other graduate program in the world produces Ph.D.s specializing in theology and science within the context of a history and philosophy of science program.

“We want the products of this program to be the leading thinkers internationally about issues of science and religion,” Howard said.

For Howard, the track speaks to Notre Dame’s Catholic intellectual mission.

“Some people like to think of Notre Dame as America’s leading Catholic research university,” Howard said. “Well, you put those two terms together — Catholic and research — that’s just another way of naming theology and science as a topic that we should be doing more to address here.”

Howard said the HPS program was “frustrated” when trying to appoint faculty members in the area of theology and science ten years ago.

“The idea to occurred to us that, well, if we’re having trouble making a really high-impact, stellar senior faculty appointment because the talent is so thin, maybe we are approaching this from the wrong direction,” Howard said.

The program instead focused on producing a new generation of experts working on theology and science. According to Howard, the job market for graduates of this track has improved. Howard said the Harvard Divinity School advertised an endowed chair specifically in theology and science.

“We started to notice more and more schools that would mention theology and science or science and religion in a job ad,” Howard said. “Our own faculty having matured and developed some additional strengths and our having realized that there are really job opportunities out there, we just decided that now is the time to do it.”

Howard said graduates of the track could also pursue positions at foundations like The Templeton Foundation, which funds research on theology and science issues around the world.

As a result, Howard said graduates would help shape understanding and debate on theology and science, especially when the public frequently misperceives religion as divorced from science.

“You often get this misleading impression that there’s a just science on one side and just religion on the other side, and that there’s no complexity in the debate,” Howard said.

One misleading impression involves the Catholic Church’s position on evolution. For decades, Howard said, the church has embraced evolution as the correct scientific understanding of human origins.

“The Catholic position has been that there has to be a place in that story for understanding the emergence of insouled human beings,” Howard said. “But again that’s not an impediment to the full embrace of evolution as the right scientific understanding of human origins.”

Howard said HPS modeled the track after the existing tracks in philosophy and history.

“This too is going to be an unusually intensive program,” Howard said. “It’s going to take tough and smart people to do well in this program, but we’re confident that we are going to attract those kinds of people into the program.”

Gregory Sterling, dean of the Graduate School, was “enthusiastic” about the new track, which should produce two or three graduates every year.

“More than an expansion of the total numbers, it will deepen the pool and help strengthen what is already a very fine program,” Sterling said.

The addition of the track comes at a time when the school has undergone other changes. Sterling said The Kroc Institute has added several tracks, including peace and theology, in the last couple of years.

According to Sterling, the school is determining the optimum size of every graduate program and whether they meet the needs of society.

“We are taking stock of our programs and asking how should we change our programs to address the needs of the larger world,” Sterling said.

While HPS will not offer courses in the track until the 2011 Fall Semester, Howard has already seen student interest.

“I was surprised at how quickly I started getting inbound e-mails asking detailed questions about the program, asking for career advice about what you would do with this degree,” Howard said. “That’s just further confirmation of our sense that the world was ready for something like this.”