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Theologian studies evolution

Tori Roeck | Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Theology professor Celia Deane-Drummond has spent 20 years of her career bridging the gap between science and theology.


Deane-Drummond will continue that mission this fall, leading a team of scientists, theologians, anthropologists, psychologists and others in a study called, “Inquiry on Evolution and Human Nature.”


The study, which strives to facilitate interdisciplinary dialogue, is sponsored by Center for Theological Inquiry (CTI) in Princeton, N.J., and will take place during the 2012-2013 academic year.


Deane-Drummond said the research team will address large theological questions from multiple angles.


“We’re going to [be] working out important questions, theological questions, about what it means to be human, but in the light of not just the internal, theological context but in the light of the understanding of science,” she said.


Deane-Drummond said the study will facilitate a cooperation between the two disciplines.


“The project itself is very exciting because there are questions also that scientists would not think of asking without the dialogue with the humanities,” she said. “I’m not suggesting that theology necessarily informs the message of science, but theology will certainly push science to ask questions in a different kind of way than they might otherwise have done.”


Deane-Drummond, along with co-leader Dominic Johnson of the University of Edinburgh, is reviewing research applications for eight research fellows and two post-doctoral fellows to participate in the study.  


“The first part of the process is getting the team together for the year,” she said. “There’s an application process, and it is in itself highly competitive.”

Each researcher will pursue his or her own individual monograph project, Deane-Drummond said.


“The point of this is to bring together …  a multidisciplinary team to contribute to sharing what they are researching in their own areas around this topic so that we feel … we are far better informed when we come to consider the crucial questions,” she said.


She said she would also like all the researchers to eventually produce a collaborative project.


“We will probably produce a book on evolution, human nature and religion, or something like that, which will show the fruits of our mutual conversation as well as our individual projects,” she said.


Deane-Drummond said she herself has a multi-disciplinary background, as she holds a doctorate in theology and another in plant physiology.

“In my previous major monograph on systematic theology, I looked at Christology and how we could envisage a Christology that made sense in the light of evolutionary theory,” Deane-Drummond said.


She said the study will pick up her research right where she left off.


“This particular [study] is looking at human nature in the light of other animals but also our own evolutionary origins,” she said. “I’ve moved from Christology to human nature, and the questions I began to ask at the end of my Christology book were about human nature. So this book follows on from that directly.”


She said that in today’s world, it is important to reconcile science and theology.


“I’m working on forms of theological thinking that make sense in a scientifically engaged culture,” she said.