Institute on Religion in an Age of Science: Naturalism–as Religion, within Religions, or without Religion?

June 26, 2021 to July 3, 2021

Please note: this year’s IRAS conference has been postponed from June 27, 2020 to June 26, 2021​

The natural sciences have enabled humans to develop mind-boggling technologies. But to many, the sciences offer still more: an encompassing and coherent understanding of reality. If the sciences shape one’s view of the world, one might speak of science-inspired naturalism. What are the consequences of science-inspired naturalism for religion? In this conference, we will explore and evaluate options available to those who take science seriously. Briefly, these could be characterized as replacement, reform, and rejection. – Replacement: Religious naturalism is an orientation grounded in the sciences and relevant for our time, embedded in narratives of cosmic and biological evolution and emergence. Might one opt for “religious naturalism,” seeking to articulate a global religious orientation grounded in the sciences that stands in awe of and sacralizes nature, without invoking a supreme being? Would this appeal to those who understand themselves as spiritual but not religious? – Reform: Seek ways to develop and thereby enliven a religious tradition in ways consistent with a scientific view of reality, e.g. a ‘naturalistic Christianity’ that envisages reality as scientifically understood as God’s creation, or a naturalistic Buddhism. What are the prospects for naturalistic strands within religious traditions? – Rejection: Abandon religious discourse. A secular humanism informed by science might be a sufficiently adequate orientation to live by. If a naturalist opts for a non-religious orientation, what would be gained and what might be lost?

Theme Speaker

Owen Flanagan, Duke University Marcelo Gleiser, Dartmouth College Ursula Goodenough, Washington University Sarah Lane Ritchie, Edinburgh University Carol Wayne White, Bucknell University

Minister of the Week

Janet Newton, First Parish Church, Berlin, MA


For program questions: Abigail Fuller, For registration and room/board questions: Marion Griswold,