Durham University’s St John’s College secured £3.4 million to help Christian leaders engage with the latest scientific developments and ideas shaping society, in a project backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The major new grant, from the Templeton Religion Trust, will fund a new, expanded three-year phase of the successful Equipping Christian Leaders in an Age of Science (ECLAS) project.
The project will focus on:
- Academic research into how Christian churches best engage with science;
- Conferences for senior church leaders and clergy on cutting-edge scientific issues;
- A Scientists in Congregations initiative, to support professional scientists in helping churches engage with science – particularly focusing on Cathedrals and larger churches to pioneer projects that can be replicated by other churches;
- A Science for Seminaries programme, to support and encourage science-engaged theology in UK theology colleges and courses; and
- Policy and communications work, with the Mission and Public Affairs Division of the Church of England.
Reverend Professor David Wilkinson, a leading theologian and astrophysicist, Principal of St John’s College, Durham University, and Chief Project Director, said:
“Receiving this grant is wonderful news. Science is all around us and influences so much of how we think and act as a society whether we consider ourselves scientific or not.
“It’s crucial that Christians engage with the latest scientific developments and ideas, so that we as churches understand how society is thinking and changing, and indeed we can understand more of God.”
Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who studied at St John’s, said: “I am delighted that this project is continuing to build on its considerable achievement in promoting the significance of healthy and informed engagement with science to church leaders of all levels, together with resourcing them in this increasingly demanding and important task.
“This new stage of the project with its combination of research and provision of resources will further deepen church-wide understanding of the challenges science and technology pose for society, and continue to contribute to the mission, ministry and theological reflection of senior church leaders as they respond.”
Tom McLeish, Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University of York and Co-Project Director, said: “This major grant will assist in realising and deepening the re-discovery that the Church and science are natural partners, as has been the case throughout most of their history, rather than being media-styled opponents in conflict.
“Bringing theology and science into the community together is the powerful combination of ECLAS.”
Following a two-year pilot project funded by the John Templeton Foundation, ECLAS was launched in 2015 with funding from the Templeton World Charity Foundation.
Its successes to date include:
- A survey of 1,000 clergy and in-depth interviews with over 30 senior leaders which has revealed how scientific topics are considered, or not, by UK church leaders;
- Eight conferences for senior church leaders held over the past four years on subjects ranging from neuroscience to cosmology; and
- Scientists in Congregations has led to the production of a new resource book Mess Science, which is used by many Messy Church groups nationally; a UK-wide tour of the play Faith in the Questions by Riding Lights theatre company; new hymns and songs for children reflecting scientific themes; and in St Albans the Take Your Vicar to the Lab programme to link clergy with laboratories.