Science and Religion in Public Life


The return of religion to the public sphere in politics and the academy is one of the great surprises of the twenty-first century. It has given rise to new local, national and global politics, and interacts with rapidly advancing science that expands knowledge and human life. This leads to rethinking of the boundaries of science and religion and their possible collaboration. In this FOCUS cluster, we inquire how the biblical tradition, and the great books of the Abrahamic religions, inspire, challenge, and shape political and scientific institutions. At the same time, we look at pioneering lab experiments and new scientific approaches to addiction and rehabilitation, and ask what role religion may play in rehabilitation. Using historical, literary and scientific approaches, students gain familiarity with both religious traditions and experimental science, and explore their psychological and social impact. How do the sacred texts of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity relate to each other and shape the social and political world of religious communities? How do religious traditions respond to scientific challenges and help science accomplish it social mission? Answering these questions personally and professionally, students will get a head start toward a richly diverse career.


History 190FS/ Religion 190FS/Jewish Studies 190FS - Great Books of the Abrahamic Traditions (CCI, EI, CZ)

Malachi Hacohen
Peter Casarella

Malachi Hacohen, Professor of History; Professor of Religion; Professor of German Studies

Peter Casarella, Professor of Theology

Recent decades have seen radical reshaping of the relationships of the three Abrahamic religions. We have witnessed new conflicts among their proponents, but also renewed efforts at interreligious dialogue and unprecedented solidarity. Yet, do Christians, Jews and Muslims really know each other? The Abrahamic religions are all based in sacred texts, containing revealed truth, and have legal and interpretive traditions elucidating them. Do we know these texts? Do we know how they each read them? This team-taught course brings together scholars with expertise in Christian, Jewish, and Islamic texts and traditions to explore each other’s intellectual universe. We will seek to understand the texts on their own terms, within their contexts of origin and transmission, and explore their social and political working throughout history. By the end of the semester, participants will have acquired basic literacy in the three religions and habits of reflection that will prepare them for engagement with the religious world of the other.

Religion 190FS/ Jewish Studies 190FS - The Bible in America (CCI, EI, CZ)


Marc Zvi Brettler, Bernice and Morton Lerner Distinguished Professor in Judaic Studies

Is America a biblical country?  Was it founded using biblical models?  How did biblical ideals inform the earliest European setters, the founders, and future generations through today?  How has the Bible been used, and misused, in such political issues as slavery, abortion, the place of women in society, war, capital punishment, and environmentalism?  What is the role of the Bible in film and popular song?  How does the Bible function in contemporary political debate?  How do different religious communities view the Bible differently?  How should the Bible be used in the public square?  This Focus seminar will explore this range of issues.

Global Health 189FS/ Science & Society 189FS — Global Health and Progress: “To Boldly Go!” Global Health and the Ethics of Engagement (CCI, EI, STS, CZ)

Amy Laura Hall

Amy Laura Hall, Associate Professor of Christian Ethics; Associate Professor in the Program of Gender, Sexuality & Feminist Studies

This course examines assumptions and language of Global Health in the US and ethical challenges of cross-cultural engagement. The title comes from Roddenberry's Star Trek (1966); course uses the series to think about technology, exploration, and encounter. We will use texts that examine how culture and power in the US have framed interactions with and control of people inside the US and in other countries, from people carrying contagious disease to women whose bodies represent a threat to a proposed social order. Students will analyze historical documents and images from popular culture and write close analyses identifying the underlying ethical and cultural frameworks in these documents.

Psychology 197FS — Addiction and Substance Abuse (NS, SS, EI)


Amir H. Rezvani, Professor Emeritus in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

Addiction is a treatable brain disease. As the third leading cause of death in the U.S., substance abuse is ranked behind cardiovascular disease and cancer in total mortality. Between 25% and 40% of all general hospital beds are occupied by patients having complications related to alcoholism and substance abuse. When undetected, alcohol and substance abuse lead to major medical and social problems such as pancreatitis, cirrhosis, cardiovascular diseases, cancer and contribute to the occurrence of hypertension, diabetes, GI problems, psychiatric symptoms, violence and fetal anomalies. Alcohol and other drugs of abuse have far reaching and devastating effects on children, families, and society, including domestic violence, child abuse, sexual abuse, crime, and workplace injuries. The cost to the society is astronomical.

The major goal of the course is to develop scientific, clinical as well as social perspectives on the issue of addiction and substance abuse.  Furthermore, students will be able to develop a scientific perspective on the etiology of addiction. This course will cover neuropharmacology of addiction particularly alcoholism. Students will be presented with the current disease concept of addiction, several models of addiction and appropriate and intervention and treatment strategies relevant to each model. Students will also visit the Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers (TROSA) in Durham, a unique therapeutic community (TC) which is based on principles of self-help and will get to interact with recovering residents and interview them. Furthermore, students will be given the opportunity to hear from several recovering drug addicts coming from different socio-economic and genetic backgrounds. Students will also get involved in self-designed individual and group projects to better understand the nature of drug addiction and the process of behavioral changes. Possible contribution of factors, such as environment, genetics, religion and beliefs, and socioeconomic status, in initiation, prevention and treatment of substance abuse and addiction will be discussed.

Overall, these activities will help students to better understand the problem of drug abuse and addiction in our society and to choose more efficient approaches for prevention, diagnosis, intervention and treatment as well as policy making.

Classes will be comprised of lectures, debates, discussion, a possible field trip, projects presentations, gust speakers and patient presentations.  Students are required and strongly encouraged to play an active role in all activities.  Students are strongly encouraged and should feel totally safe and comfortable to share their observations and personal experiences as they relate to substance abuse and any form of addiction. I consider my classroom, as a learning place, the most sacred place in the world. Confidentiality and absolutely total respect from all students for all students are demanded and required when personal issues are shared and discussed for learning.