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Essays About Religion: Top 5 Examples and 7 Writing Prompts

Essays about religion include delicate issues and tricky subtopics. See our top essay examples and prompts to guide you in your essay writing.

With over 4,000 religions worldwide, it’s no wonder religion influences everything. It involves faith, lessons on humanity, spirituality, and moral values that span thousands of years. For some, it’s both a belief and a cultural system. As it often clashes with science, laws, and modern philosophies, it’s also a hot debate topic. Religion is a broad subject encompassing various elements of life, so you may find it a challenging topic to write an essay about it.

1. Wisdom and Longing in Islam’s Religion by Anonymous on

2. consequences of following religion blindly essay by anonymous on, 3. religion: christians’ belief in god by anonymous on, 4. mecca’s influence on today’s religion essay by anonymous on, 5. religion: how buddhism views the world by anonymous on , 1. the importance of religion, 2. pros and cons of having a religion, 3. religions across the world, 4. religion and its influence on laws, 5. religion: then and now, 6. religion vs. science, 7. my religion.

“Portraying Muslims as radical religious fanatics who deny other religions and violently fight dissent has nothing to do with true Islamic ideology. The knowledge that is presented in Islam and used by Muslims to build their worldview system is exploited in a misinterpreted form. This is transforming the perception of Islam around the world as a radical religious system that supports intolerance and conflicts.”

The author discusses their opinion on how Islam becomes involved with violence or terrorism in the Islamic states. Throughout the essay, the writer mentions the massive difference between Islam’s central teachings and the terrorist groups’ dogma. The piece also includes a list of groups, their disobediences, and punishments.

This essay looks at how these brutalities have nothing to do with Islam’s fundamental ideologies. However, the context of Islam’s creeds is distorted by rebel groups like The Afghan mujahideen, Jihadis, and Al-Qa’ida. Furthermore, their activities push dangerous narratives that others use to make generalized assumptions about the entire religion. These misleading generalizations lead to misunderstandings amongst other communities, particularly in the western world. However, the truth is that these terrorist groups are violating Islamic doctrine.

“Following religion blindly can hinder one’s self-actualization and interfere with self-development due to numerous constraints and restrictions… Blind adherence to religion is a factor that does not allow receiving flexible education and adapting knowledge to different areas.”

The author discusses the effects of blindly following a religion and mentions that it can lead to difficulties in self-development and the inability to live independently. These limitations affect a person’s opportunity to grow and discover oneself.  Movies like “ The Da Vinci Code ” show how fanatical devotion influences perception and creates constant doubt. 

“…there are many religions through which various cultures attain their spiritual and moral bearings to bring themselves closer to a higher power (deity). Different religions are differentiated in terms of beliefs, customs, and purpose and are similar in one way or the other.”

The author discusses how religion affects its followers’ spiritual and moral values and mentions how deities work in mysterious ways. The essay includes situations that show how these supreme beings test their followers’ faith through various life challenges. Overall, the writer believes that when people fully believe in God, they can be stronger and more capable of coping with the difficulties they may encounter.

“Mecca represents a holy ground that the majority of the Muslims visit; and is only supposed to be visited by Muslims. The popularity of Mecca has increased the scope of its effects, showing that it has an influence on tourism, the financial aspects of the region and lastly religion today.”

The essay delves into Mecca’s contributions to Saudi Arabia’s tourism and religion. It mentions tourism rates peaking during Hajj, a 5-day Muslim pilgrimage, and visitors’ sense of spiritual relief and peace after the voyage. Aside from its tremendous touristic benefits, it also brings people together to worship Allah. You can also check out these essays about values and articles about beliefs .

“Buddhism is seen as one of the most popular and widespread religions on the earth the reason of its pragmatic and attractive philosophies which are so appealing for people of the most diversified backgrounds and ways of thinking .”

To help readers understand the topic, the author explains Buddhism’s worldviews and how Siddhatta Gotama established the religion that’s now one of the most recognized on Earth. It includes teachings about the gift of life, novel thinking, and philosophies based on his observations. Conclusively, the author believes that Buddhism deals with the world as Gotama sees it.

Check out our guide packed full of transition words for essays .

7 Prompts on Essays About Religion

Essays About Religion: The importance of religion

Religion’s importance is embedded in an individual or group’s interpretation of it. They hold on to their faith for various reasons, such as having an idea of the real meaning of life and offering them a purpose to exist. Use this prompt to identify and explain what makes religion a necessity. Make your essay interesting by adding real-life stories of how faith changed someone’s life.

Although religion offers benefits such as positivity and a sense of structure, there are also disadvantages that come with it. Discuss what’s considered healthy and destructive when people follow their religion’s gospels and why. You can also connect it to current issues. Include any personal experience you have.

Religion’s prevalence exhibits how it can significantly affect one’s daily living. Use this prompt to discuss how religions across the world differ from one another when it comes to beliefs and if traditions or customs influence them. It’s essential to use relevant statistical data or surveys in this prompt to support your claims and encourage your readers to trust your piece.

There are various ways religion affects countries’ laws as they adhere to moral and often humanitarian values. Identify each and discuss how faith takes part in a nation’s decision-making regarding pressing matters. You can focus on one religion in a specific location to let the readers concentrate on the case. A good example is the latest abortion issue in the US, the overturning of “Wade vs. Roe.” Include people’s mixed reactions to this subject and their justifications.

Religion: then and now

In this essay, talk about how the most widespread religions’ principles or rituals changed over time. Then, expound on what inspired these changes.  Add the religion’s history, its current situation in the country, and its old and new beliefs. Elaborate on how its members clash over these old and new principles. Conclude by sharing your opinion on whether the changes are beneficial or not.

There’s a never-ending debate between religion and science. List the most controversial arguments in your essay and add which side you support and why. Then, open discourse about how these groups can avoid quarreling. You can also discuss instances when religion and science agreed or worked together to achieve great results. 

Use this prompt if you’re a part of a particular religion. Even if you don’t believe in faith, you can still take this prompt and pick a church you’ll consider joining. Share your personal experiences about your religion. Add how you became a follower, the beliefs that helped you through tough times, and why you’re staying as an active member in it. You can also speak about miraculous events that strengthen your faith. Or you can include teachings that you disagree with and think needs to be changed or updated.

For help with your essay, check out our top essay writing tips !

religion nowadays essay

Maria Caballero is a freelance writer who has been writing since high school. She believes that to be a writer doesn't only refer to excellent syntax and semantics but also knowing how to weave words together to communicate to any reader effectively.

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The big idea: do we still need religion?

In a world of scientific miracles, what does faith have to offer us?

I n 2018, archaeologists moving bodies for reburial from a 19th-century cemetery in Birmingham to make way for the new HS2 station were puzzled to find several that had plates on their laps. Then someone remembered a curious custom from the nearby Welsh Marches – that of the village “sin-eater”. A plate of bread and salt would be placed on the deceased’s lap while they were lying in repose. Just before the coffin was closed and the funeral cortege set off for the church, the village sin-eater arrived, ate the bread and was given some coins and a glass of ale for their trouble. The belief was that the deceased’s sins were absorbed by the salt and transferred into the bread, and then into the sin-eater.

Sin-eaters were usually elderly and destitute, and glad to have the money – not to mention the free food and drink. The price they paid was to be shunned by their community because of their macabre associations. The last known sin-eater was Richard Munslow, who died aged 73 in 1906. Sin-eating reminds us that, more than anything else, even the most staid of religions – in this case, Anglicanism – can be associated with surprisingly curious beliefs and rituals.

Perhaps because of this, it has often been claimed that religious belief arises from ignorance and superstition. If that were the case, you might expect religion to gradually fade away as societies became better educated and more scientifically oriented.

There are at least two reasons, however, why religions persist. One is the fact that, on average, religious people are generally happier, healthier and live longer. For better or for worse, they also have easier deaths when the time comes. The other is that religious people are more likely to feel that they belong to a community. In a survey I ran, those who reported attending religious services were depressed less frequently, felt their lives were more worthwhile, were more engaged with their local community, and felt greater trust towards others. These enormous benefits mean not only that religion has enduring appeal, but that religious practices make you “fit” in the evolutionary sense – and thus they tend to stick around.

Part of the reason people are attracted to religion is that its rituals – the standing, sitting and kneeling in unison, the singing, the listening to emotionally rousing sermons – trigger the brain’s endorphin system. This is the mechanism that underpins social bonding in all primates, including humans. Like opiates, endorphins produce a sense of bliss bordering on ecstasy, calmness and warmth, relaxation and trust, while elevating pain thresholds. In addition to these hedonic benefits, endorphins trigger the release of natural killer cells (part of the body’s immune system).

Endorphins also underpin the bonding of friendships and, through that, allow us to create supportive groups of like-minded individuals. This effect seems to be especially strong in the context of rituals, as has been shown experimentally in religious services in the UK and Brazil. It seems, therefore, that religions evolved to reinforce a sense of community cohesion, something that’s extremely important to our wellbeing and survival.

Our natural community size – the size of our personal social network, the number of friends we have on Facebook – is part of a relationship between group size and brain size in primates. Each species has a characteristic group size determined by the size of its brain. Ours is about 150 . Not only is this the average size of personal social networks (the number of extended family and friends with whom you have meaningful relationships), but it also turns out to be the optimal size for religious congregations. If a congregation is smaller than about 100, it puts a heavy burden on the membership; if it is above about 200, it becomes increasingly prone to divisiveness. This seems to explain why big religions are so susceptible to fragmentation – constantly throwing up small sects (typically of a few hundred people at most) built round a charismatic leader whose wayward beliefs the hierarchy desperately tries to contain.

Social bonding is important, of course, to many species. But there’s an aspect of religion that seems to be peculiarly human. Being able to engage in religious discussion – and hence explain the significance of the rituals and why you should take part – depends on the kinds of mind-reading, or “mentalising”, skills that play a crucial role in managing our everyday relationships. These are the skills that allow us to understand what someone else is thinking, to grasp their intentions. They allow us to utter sentences such as, “I know that you realise that Freddie believes that …”

To be able to do this, I have to be able to step back from the immediacy of the physical world so as to imagine the possibility that you might or might not think this, that Freddie might or might not intend whatever you thought he did, and even whether the person Freddie had in mind did or did not think what Freddie thought they did. Apes can do the first two steps in this chain, but that’s the limit. For humans, it comes easily, bringing with it an ability to imagine parallel worlds inhabited by invisible beings. It’s a short step from there to religious ideas, which in turn lead to better bonding, which makes you more likely to survive. Survival means your superior mentalising skills will be passed on to a new generation, equally adept at religious thinking; a penchant for religion is therefore part of our genetic inheritance.

But that’s not all. The same cognitive abilities that give us religion also allow us to ask why the world has to be the way it is (giving us science) and to imagine entirely fictional worlds (giving us literature). Thus, you could no more have a world where religion was cast aside as superstition than you could have one without science or stories. And that would be a very different world indeed.

Robin Dunbar is emeritus professor of evolutionary psychology at the University of Oxford and author of How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures.

Further reading

A History of God by Karen Armstrong (Vintage, £11.99)

Religion Explained by Pascal Boyer (Basic Books, £14.35)

World Religions – The Great Faiths Explored and Explained by John Bowker (DK, £19.99)

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Church/Religion in Today’s World Essay (Critical Writing)

Impact of culture on the church and challenges in the 21st century, the role that religion should play in the world, works cited.

Until the early 1980s, many sociologists were aware of the specific role that religion would take in the modern world. However, in the progression of Western modernization, every community was going through a practice of secularization. The church/religion did not disappear in the process but was set aside and privatized (Mortensen 20-23). Since differentiation results in relatively independent social settings, it freed people from the control of religion. This happened particularly to the disconnection of the state from the church and led to the surfacing of diverse institutional orders such as politics, secular culture, and financial systems, which were free to pursue their objectives and create their regulations devoid of being restrained by the church/religion. The occurrence of differentiation institutionalized the church/religion as a separate social field. This separation of religion from a power pervading the entire society to a sphere of its own has been the major aspect of secularization and has called for an undoubted need for the rise of justly modern societies.

The main concern that modern culture presents to the church/religion is that it is the outgrowth of a historic-cultural progression profoundly entrenched in the Christian faith. In numerous approaches, modern culture acts as an elevated, refined civilization, comprising of a great diversity of valuable anthropological perceptiveness and strengths that have surprising flexibility and receptiveness to absorb, elucidate, and unite. Nonetheless, in the present times, the modern culture appears, in most instances, as a culture that has no faith, willfully disjointed from the religious belief that gave it life and hence turning out to be a weak civilization. This has resulted in most of the people being influenced by occurrences in today’s world towards a general loss of religious belief and pathology of ungratefulness and eccentricity (Mortensen 22-24). This happens as they try to lead a life of segregation from their colleagues and not ready to recognize the world they live in and the privileges they have as gifts from God.

From the time that sexual abuse predicament hit the United States Roman Catholic Church at around 1985 where there were allegations of molestation of children by clergymen; critics have often compared the issues encountered by religion with the ones experienced in Europe. The problems in Europe occurred in the 16 th century just a day before Protestant Reformation (Douthat par. 3-5). Such issues encompassed sexual laxity and embezzlement amid the priests and clerical disrespect for the concerns of temporality. The need for transformation has been increasingly urgent of late with exposure of extensive perverseness and foully delinquent practices in today’s world. Studies affirm that comparable, though less striking, issues have also been reported in New Orleans, Omaha, and many other bishoprics across the globe (Jenkins par. 1-4). The transformation process now being discussed within the churches in the United States entail notions of augmented lay contribution in governance. Such concerns were last talked of when Martin Luther King faced the Catholic orthodoxy of ancient times. Unlike in the past days, the Roman Catholic of today’s world is pondering the idea of allowing women to the priesthood, in addition to accepting the marriage of priests.

Something intuitive inside humankind demands a belief system for appropriate functioning. This means that religion is essential to most people across the globe. There are thousands of religions internationally with some having just a few followers. However, even in today’s world where there is technological advancement, enhanced access to information and capacity to explore and comprehend the universe, increased secularism, and infringement of human rights, religion should play a pivotal role in society. Through its teachings and crusades, the church/religion ought to ensure that religious lessons and convictions continue to be the main support of the community’s moral ethos (De Gruchy and Moyse 23-25). Religion should not just teach good values but also affirm moral action. In this regard, religion ought to play a fundamental societal task necessitating exceptional deliberation. In America and other nations across the globe, the majority of people attend a church or mosque each week. While there, from their youngest years, religion should teach them to voluntarily follow the law, respect the properties of others, and obey God’s commandments (Bilgiç and Bilgiç 349-351). This way, people will follow the set rules because of the belief that even if the law enforcement officers do not catch them doing evil, God will punish them.

The greatest role that religion should play in the modern world is the regulation of behavior and provision of mental peace. The majority of the laws that people, even nonbelievers, follow are based on religious doctrines (Mojahed 5-8). Human life is riddled with worries because in most instances people have to struggle for their wellbeing amidst insecurities, harm, and fears, and this at times makes them feel helpless. In this regard, religion should undertake the vital role of encouraging and consoling people in times of crisis. Religion should offer shelter to people with great problems while giving emotional support to ensure that they have mental peace.

Bilgiç, Tuba, and Bestami Bilgiç. “‘Raising a Moral Generation’: The Republican People’s Party and Religious Instruction in Turkey, 1946–1949.” Middle Eastern Studies, vol. 53, no. 3, 2017, pp. 349-362.

De Gruchy, John, and Ashley Moyse. The End Is Not Yet: Standing Firm in Apocalyptic Times . Fortress Press, 2017.

Douthat, Ross. “Crises of Faith.” The Atlantic , 2007, Web.

Jenkins, Philip. “The Next Christianity.” The Atlantic , 2002, Web.

Mojahed, Azizollah. “Religiosity and Preventing Risky Behaviors.” International Journal of High Risk Behaviors & Addiction, vol. 3, no. 3, 2014, pp. 5-11.

Mortensen, Viggo. “What is happening to Global Christianity?” Dialog, vol. 43, no. 1, 2004, pp. 20-27.

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  • Theological Imagination and Secularization
  • Secularization in the World: For and Against
  • Secularization in the Middle Eastern History
  • The Changing Nature of Secularization
  • Secularization in Social World
  • Argument on Secularization and Its Challenges
  • Secularization: Classical Theory
  • The Aspects of Secularization Theory
  • The Future of Religion in America
  • Al-Ghazali and Inability to Affirm the Creator
  • Religion and Morality Relation
  • The Necessity of Religion
  • The Role of the Church in Ireland: Past and Present
  • Afterlife Beliefs and Day-to-Day Implications
  • Prohibitions in Islam and Its Historical Reasons

100+ Religion Essay Topics


The realm of religion has always been a deeply fascinating and, at times, contentious area of study. The possibilities for exploration are vast, from theological doctrines to the impact of religion on societies. If you are a student or an enthusiast looking to delve into religious studies through essays, you’ve come to the right place.

Table of Contents

What is a Religion Essay?

A religion essay is a piece of writing that explores topics related to spirituality, theological doctrines, the historical evolution of religions, religious practices, and the impact of religion on various facets of society. It provides an avenue for individuals to critically examine and articulate their understanding of a religious subject, fostering both introspection and academic analysis.

Guide on Choosing a Religion Essay Topic

In 100-150 words? Here goes: Choosing a topic for a religion essay can be overwhelming, given the vastness of the subject. Start by narrowing your focus. Are you more interested in theological concepts, historical events, or social impacts? Research current events related to religion, as contemporary issues can provide fresh perspectives. Reflect on personal experiences or curiosities. It’s always easier to write on topics you’re passionate about. Lastly, ensure your chosen topic has enough credible sources available for a well-researched essay.

Religion Essay Topics Lists

Theological concepts.

  • The Concept of God in Abrahamic Religions
  • Karma and Reincarnation in Hinduism
  • The Significance of Nirvana in Buddhism
  • Sufism: The Mystical Dimension of Islam
  • The Holy Trinity in Christianity: Interpretations and Beliefs

Historical Events

  • The Crusades: Religious Zeal or Political Conquest?
  • The Reformation and its Impact on Christianity
  • Spread of Islam: Historical Perspectives and Causes
  • Ancient Egyptian Religion and its Influence on Society
  • The Role of the Vatican during World War II

Social Impacts

  • Religion and its Role in Shaping Moral Values
  • The Influence of Religion on Art and Architecture
  • Religion and Politics: A Dangerous Liaison?
  • Impact of Secularism on Modern Societies
  • Feminism and Religion: Points of Convergence and Divergence

Contemporary Issues

  • The Rise of Atheism in the 21st Century
  • Religion and LGBTQ+ Rights: Conflicts and Resolutions
  • Modern Religious Movements and Cults: A Study
  • Religion in the Age of Technology: Evolution or Dissolution?
  • Climate Change: Religious Perspectives and Responsibilities

Personal Reflections

  • My Spiritual Journey: Discoveries and Challenges
  • Religion in My Family: Traditions and Changes
  • The Role of Prayer in My Life
  • Personal Experiences with Religious Tolerance and Intolerance
  • Finding Peace: A Personal Encounter with Meditation

Historical Contexts

  • The Fall of Constantinople: Religious Implications
  • The Establishment of the Church of England
  • Comparative Analysis: Spread of Christianity and Islam in Africa
  • The Dead Sea Scrolls: Relevance and Discoveries
  • Influence of the Byzantine Church on Orthodox Christianity

Theological Doctrines

  • Comparative Analysis of Heaven in Different Religions
  • The Role of Angels and Demons across Religions
  • Salvation in Christian Theology
  • Islamic Views on Predestination
  • Hindu Views on Creation and Cosmos

Philosophical Questions

  • The Problem of Evil in Religious Thought
  • The Existence of God: Arguments For and Against
  • Morality: Divine Command Theory vs. Secular Ethics
  • Free Will vs. Divine Determinism
  • The Concept of Soul in Various Religions

Modern Interpretations and Movements

  • Progressive Christianity: A New Age Movement?
  • Jihad: Misunderstandings and Clarifications
  • Spiritual but Not Religious: The Rise of Secular Spirituality
  • Neo-Paganism and Modern Witchcraft
  • The Baha’i Faith and Its Universal Message

Religious Practices and Rituals

  • The Significance of Hajj in Islam
  • Christian Sacraments: Symbols and Meanings
  • Hindu Festivals and Their Socio-religious Importance
  • Jewish Dietary Laws: Significance and Practice
  • Zen Buddhism: Practices and Philosophies

Religion and Society

  • The Role of Religion in Contemporary Politics
  • Religion and Education: Benefits and Drawbacks
  • Religious Perspectives on Healthcare Ethics
  • The Impact of Religion on Family Structures
  • Religion in Media: Representation and Bias

Interfaith and Comparative Studies

  • Comparative Study of Abrahamic Religions
  • Eastern vs. Western Spiritual Practices
  • Similarities in Creation Myths Across Religions
  • Comparative Study of Ascetic Practices in Religions
  • Rituals of Death and Afterlife Across Cultures

Gender and Religion

  • Female Figures in Christianity: Beyond Mary
  • The Role of Women in Islamic Societies
  • Feminine Divinities in Hinduism
  • Gender Roles in Traditional and Modern Jewish Practices
  • The Evolution of Gender Norms in Buddhist Traditions

Religion and Science

  • Religious Perspectives on Evolution
  • The Vatican and Astronomy: A Historic Relationship
  • Islamic Contributions to Science and Mathematics
  • Hindu Cosmology and Modern Astrophysics
  • Buddhism and Psychology: Overlaps and Insights

Mysticism and Esoteric Beliefs

  • Kabbalah: Jewish Mysticism Explored
  • Christian Gnostic Traditions
  • Sufism: The Heart of Islamic Mysticism
  • Tantra in Hinduism and Buddhism: Misunderstandings and Realities
  • The Rosicrucians: History and Beliefs of a Mysterious Order

Sacred Texts and Their Interpretations

  • The Bhagavad Gita: A Philosophical Analysis
  • Parables in the New Testament: Meanings and Implications
  • The Talmud and Its Relevance in Contemporary Judaism
  • The Tao Te Ching: Exploring Daoist Philosophy
  • Themes of Justice and Mercy in the Qur’an

Religion and Art

  • Depictions of Buddha in Art: Evolution and Significance
  • Christian Iconography: Symbols and Their Origins
  • Islamic Calligraphy: Beauty in Sacred Texts
  • Religious Themes in Renaissance Art
  • The Influence of Hindu Mythology on Classical Dance Forms

Faith and Modern Challenges

  • Addressing Climate Change: Religious Responses and Responsibilities
  • Religion in the Digital Age: New Forms of Worship and Community
  • The Ethics of Genetic Engineering from Religious Perspectives
  • Faith Healing vs. Modern Medicine: A Comparative Analysis
  • The Role of Religion in Modern Mental Health Practices

Minor Religions and Sects

  • Jainism: Principles of Non-Violence and Asceticism
  • The Yoruba Religion: Understanding Orishas and Rituals
  • The Alevi Community: Beliefs and Practices
  • Zoroastrianism: History and Current Status
  • The Raelian Movement: Extraterrestrial Beliefs and Controversies

Call to Action

Overwhelmed by the vastness of religious topics or unsure how to articulate your thoughts cohesively? Let WriteOnDeadline help! Our expert essay writers are well-versed in diverse religious subjects and can craft an impeccable essay tailored to your needs. Don’t hesitate – reach out to us today!

Useful References

  • BBC Religions – Comprehensive information on a wide array of religions.
  • Religion Online – Full texts by recognized religious scholars.
  • Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project – Offers statistical research and reports on religion’s role in society.

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religion nowadays essay

Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology

religion nowadays essay

World Religions Overview Essay

religion nowadays essay

The Movement of Religion and Ecology: Emerging Field and Dynamic Force

Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim, Yale University

Originally published in the Routledge Handbook of Religion and Ecology

As many United Nations reports attest, we humans are destroying the life-support systems of the Earth at an alarming rate. Ecosystems are being degraded by rapid industrialization and relentless development. The data keeps pouring in that we are altering the climate and toxifying the air, water, and soil of the planet so that the health of humans and other species is at risk. Indeed, the Swedish scientist, Johan Rockstrom, and his colleagues, are examining which planetary boundaries are being exceeded. (Rockstrom and Klum, 2015)

The explosion of population from 3 billion in 1960 to more then 7 billion currently and the subsequent demands on the natural world seem to be on an unsustainable course. The demands include meeting basic human needs of a majority of the world’s people, but also feeding the insatiable desire for goods and comfort spread by the allure of materialism. The first is often called sustainable development; the second is unsustainable consumption. The challenge of rapid economic growth and consumption has brought on destabilizing climate change. This is coming into full focus in alarming ways including increased floods and hurricanes, droughts and famine, rising seas and warming oceans.

Can we turn our course to avert disaster? There are several indications that this may still be possible. On September 25, 2015 after the Pope addressed the UN General Assembly, 195 member states adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). On December 12, 2015 these same members states endorsed the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Both of these are important indications of potential reversal. The Climate Agreement emerged from the dedicated work of governments and civil society along with business partners. The leadership of UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres, and many others was indispensable.

One of the inspirations for the Climate Agreement and for the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals was the release of the Papal Encyclical, Laudato Si’ in June 2015. The encyclical encouraged the moral forces of concern for both the environment and people to be joined in “integral ecology”.  “The cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor” are now linked as was not fully visible before. (Boff, 1997 and in the encyclical) Many religious and environmental communities are embracing this integrated perspective and will, no doubt, foster it going forward. The question is how can the world religions contribute more effectively to this renewed ethical momentum for change. For example, what will be their long-term response to population growth? As this is addressed in the article by Robert Wyman and Guigui Yao, we will not take it up here. Instead, we will consider some of the challenges and possibilities amid the dream of progress and the lure of consumption.

Challenges: The Dream of Progress and the Religion of Consumption

Consumption appears to have become an ideology or quasi-religion, not only in the West but also around the world. Faith in economic growth drives both producers and consumers. The dream of progress is becoming a distorted one. This convergence of our unlimited demands with an unquestioned faith in economic progress raises questions about the roles of religions in encouraging, discouraging, or ignoring our dominant drive toward appropriately satisfying material needs or inappropriately indulging material desires. Integral ecology supports the former and critiques the latter.

Moreover, a consumerist ideology depends upon and simultaneously contributes to a worldview based on the instrumental rationality of the human. That is, the assumption for decision-making is that all choices are equally clear and measurable. Market based metrics such as price, utility, or efficiency are dominant. This can result in utilitarian views of a forest as so much board feet or simply as a mechanistic complex of ecosystems that provide services to the human.

One long-term effect of this is that the individual human decision-maker is further distanced from nature because nature is reduced to measurable entities for profit or use. From this perspective we humans may be isolated in our perceived uniqueness as something apart from the biological web of life. In this context, humans do not seek identity and meaning in the numinous beauty of the world, nor do they experience themselves as dependent on a complex of life-supporting interactions of air, water, and soil. Rather, this logic sees humans as independent, rational decision-makers who find their meaning and identity in systems of management that now attempt to co-opt the language of conservation and environmental concern. Happiness is derived from simply creating and having more material goods. This perspective reflects a reading of our current geological period as human induced by our growth as a species that is now controlling the planet. This current era is being called the “Anthropocene” because of our effect on the planet in contrast to the prior 12,000 year epoch known as the Holocene.

This human capacity to imagine and implement a utilitarian-based worldview regarding nature has undermined many of the ancient insights of the world’s religious and spiritual traditions. For example, some religions, attracted by the individualistic orientations of market rationalism and short-term benefits of social improvement, seized upon material accumulation as containing divine sanction. Thus, Max Weber identified the rise of Protestantism with an ethos of inspirited work and accumulated capital.

Weber also identified the growing disenchantment from the world of nature with the rise of global capitalism. Karl Marx recognized the “metabolic rift” in which human labor and nature become alienated from cycles of renewal. The earlier mystique of creation was lost. Wonder, beauty, and imagination as ways of knowing were gradually superseded by the analytical reductionism of modernity such that technological and economic entrancement have become key inspirations of progress.

Challenges: Religions Fostering Anthropocentrism

This modern, instrumental view of matter as primarily for human use arises in part from a dualistic Western philosophical view of mind and matter. Adapted into Jewish, Christian and Islamic religious perspectives, this dualism associates mind with the soul as a transcendent spiritual entity given sovereignty and dominion over matter. Mind is often valued primarily for its rationality in contrast to a lifeless world. At the same time we ensure our radical discontinuity from it.

Interestingly, views of the uniqueness of the human bring many traditional religious perspectives into sync with modern instrumental rationalism. In Western religious traditions, for example, the human is seen as an exclusively gifted creature with a transcendent soul that manifests the divine image and likeness. Consequently, this soul should be liberated from the material world. In many contemporary reductionist perspectives (philosophical and scientific) the human with rational mind and technical prowess stands as the pinnacle of evolution. Ironically, religions emphasizing the uniqueness of the human as the image of God meet market-driven applied science and technology precisely at this point of the special nature of the human to justify exploitation of the natural world. Anthropocentrism in various forms, religious, philosophical, scientific, and economic, has led, perhaps inadvertently, to the dominance of humans in this modern period, now called the Anthropocene. (It can be said that certain strands of the South Asian religions have emphasized the importance of humans escaping from nature into transcendent liberation. However, such forms of radical dualism are not central to the East Asian traditions or indigenous traditions.)

From the standpoint of rational analysis, many values embedded in religions, such as a sense of the sacred, the intrinsic value of place, the spiritual dimension of the human, moral concern for nature, and care for future generations, are incommensurate with an objectified monetized worldview as they not quantifiable. Thus, they are often ignored as externalities, or overridden by more pragmatic profit-driven considerations. Contemporary nation-states in league with transnational corporations have seized upon this individualistic, property-based, use-analysis to promote national sovereignty, security, and development exclusively for humans.

Possibilities: Systems Science

Yet, even within the realm of so-called scientific, rational thought, there is not a uniform approach. Resistance to the easy marriage of reductionist science and instrumental rationality comes from what is called systems science and new ecoogy. By this we refer to a movement within empirical, experimental science of exploring the interaction of nature and society as complex dynamic systems. This approach stresses both analysis and synthesis – the empirical act of observation, as well as placement of the focus of study within the context of a larger whole. Systems science resists the temptation to take the micro, empirical, reductive act as the complete description of a thing, but opens analysis to the large interactive web of life to which we belong, from ecosystems to the biosphere. There are numerous examples of this holistic perspective in various branches of ecology. And this includes overcoming the nature-human divide. (Schmitz 2016) Aldo Leopold understood this holistic interconnection well when he wrote: “We abuse land because we see it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” (Leopold, 1966)

Collaboration of Science and Religion

Within this inclusive framework, scientists have been moving for some time beyond simply distanced observations to engaged concern. The Pope’s encyclical, Laudato Si , has elevated the level of visibility and efficacy of this conversation between science and religion as perhaps never before on a global level. Similarly, many other statements from the world religions are linking the wellbeing of people and the planet for a flourishing future. For example, the World Council of Churches has been working for four decades to join humans and nature in their program on Justice, Peace, and the Integrity of Creation.

Many scientists such as Thomas Lovejoy, E.O. Wilson, Jane Lubchenco, Peter Raven, and Ursula Goodenough recognize the importance of religious and cultural values when discussing solutions to environmental challenges. Other scientists such as Paul Ehrlich and Donald Kennedy have called for major studies of human behavior and values in relation to environmental issues. ( Science , July 2005) This has morphed into the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere. ( Since 2009 the Ecological Society of America has established an Earth Stewardship Initiative with yearly panels and publications.  Many environmental studies programs are now seeking to incorporate these broader ethical and behavioral approaches into the curriculum.

Possibilities: Extinction and Religious Response

The stakes are high, however, and the path toward limiting ourselves within planetary boundaries is not smooth. Scientists are now reporting that because of the population explosion, our consuming habits, and our market drive for resources, we are living in the midst of a mass extinction period. This period represents the largest loss of species since the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago when the Cenozoic period began. In other words, we are shutting down life systems on the planet and causing the end of this large-scale geological era with little awareness of what we are doing or its consequences.

As the cultural historian Thomas Berry observed some years ago, we are making macrophase changes on the planet with microphase wisdom. Indeed, some people worry that these rapid changes have outstripped the capacity of our religions, ethics, and spiritualities to meet the complex challenges we are facing.

The question arises whether the wisdom traditions of the human community, embedded in institutional religions and beyond, can embrace integral ecology at the level needed? Can the religions provide leadership into a synergistic era of human-Earth relations characterized by empathy, regeneration, and resilience? Or are religions themselves the wellspring of those exclusivist perspectives in which human societies disconnect themselves from other groups and from the natural world? Are religions caught in their own meditative promises of transcendent peace and redemptive bliss in paradisal abandon? Or does their drive for exclusive salvation or truth claims cause them to try to overcome or convert the Other?

Authors in this volume are exploring these issues within religious and spiritual communities regarding the appropriate responses of the human to our multiple environmental and social challenges. What forms of symbolic visioning and ethical imagining can call forth a transformation of consciousness and conscience for our Earth community? Can religions and spiritualites provide vision and inspiration for grounding and guiding mutually enhancing human-Earth relations? Have we arrived at a point where we realize that more scientific statistics on environmental problems, more legislation, policy or regulation, and more economic analysis, while necessary, are no longer sufficient for the large-scale social transformations needed? This is where the world religions, despite their limitations, surely have something to contribute.

Such a perspective includes ethics, practices, and spiritualities from the world’s cultures that may or may not be connected with institutional forms of religion. Thus spiritual ecology and nature religions are an important part of the discussions and are represented in this volume. Our own efforts have focused on the world religions and indigenous traditions. Our decade long training in graduate school and our years of living and traveling throughout Asia and the West gave us an early appreciation for religions as dynamic, diverse, living traditions. We are keenly aware of the multiple forms of syncretism and hybridization in the world religions and spiritualties. We have witnessed how they are far from monolithic or impervious to change in our travels to more than 60 countries.

Problems and Promise of Religions

Several qualifications regarding the various roles of religion should thus be noted. First, we do not wish to suggest here that any one religious tradition has a privileged ecological perspective. Rather, multiple interreligious perspectives may be the most helpful in identifying the contributions of the world religions to the flourishing of life.

We also acknowledge that there is frequently a disjunction between principles and practices: ecologically sensitive ideas in religions are not always evident in environmental practices in particular civilizations. Many civilizations have overused their environments, with or without religious sanction.

Finally, we are keenly aware that religions have all too frequently contributed to tensions and conflict among various groups, both historically and at present. Dogmatic rigidity, inflexible claims of truth, and misuse of institutional and communal power by religions have led to tragic consequences in many parts of the globe.

Nonetheless, while religions have often preserved traditional ways, they have also provoked social change. They can be limiting but also liberating in their outlooks. In the twentieth century, for example, religious leaders and theologians helped to give birth to progressive movements such as civil rights for minorities, social justice for the poor, and liberation for women.  Although the world religions have been slow to respond to our current environmental crises, their moral authority and their institutional power may help effect a change in attitudes, practices, and public policies. Now the challenge is a broadening of their ethical perspectives.

Traditionally the religions developed ethics for homicide, suicide, and genocide. Currently they need to respond to biocide, ecocide, and geocide. (Berry, 2009)

Retrieval, Reevaluation, Reconstruction

There is an inevitable disjunction between the examination of historical religious traditions in all of their diversity and complexity and the application of teachings, ethics, or practices to contemporary situations. While religions have always been involved in meeting contemporary challenges over the centuries, it is clear that the global environmental crisis is larger and more complex than anything in recorded human history. Thus, a simple application of traditional ideas to contemporary problems is unlikely to be either possible or adequate. In order to address ecological problems properly, religious and spiritual leaders, laypersons and academics have to be in dialogue with scientists, environmentalists, economists, businesspeople, politicians, and educators. Hence the articles in this volume are from various key sectors.

With these qualifications in mind we can then identify three methodological approaches that appear in the still emerging study of religion and ecology. These are retrieval, reevaluation, and reconstruction. Retrieval involves the scholarly investigation of scriptural and commentarial sources in order to clarify religious perspectives regarding human-Earth relations. This requires that historical and textual studies uncover resources latent within the tradition. In addition, retrieval can identify ethical codes and ritual customs of the tradition in order to discover how these teachings were put into practice. Traditional environmental knowledge (TEK) is an important part of this for all the world religions, especially indigenous traditions.

With reevaluation, traditional teachings are evaluated with regard to their relevance to contemporary circumstances. Are the ideas, teachings, or ethics present in these traditions appropriate for shaping more ecologically sensitive attitudes and sustainable practices? Reevaluation also questions ideas that may lead to inappropriate environmental practices. For example, are certain religious tendencies reflective of otherworldly or world-denying orientations that are not helpful in relation to pressing ecological issues? It asks as well whether the material world of nature has been devalued by a particular religion and whether a model of ethics focusing solely on human interactions is adequate to address environmental problems.

Finally, reconstruction suggests ways that religious traditions might adapt their teachings to current circumstances in new and creative ways. These may result in new syntheses or in creative modifications of traditional ideas and practices to suit modern modes of expression. This is the most challenging aspect of the emerging field of religion and ecology and requires sensitivity to who is speaking about a tradition in the process of reevaluation and reconstruction. Postcolonial critics have appropriately highlighted the complex issues surrounding the problem of who is representing or interpreting a religious tradition or even what constitutes that tradition. Nonetheless, practitioners and leaders of particular religions are finding grounds for creative dialogue with scholars of religions in these various phases of interpretation.

Religious Ecologies and Religious Cosmologies

As part of the retrieval, reevaluation, and reconstruction of religions we would identify “religious ecologies” and “religious cosmologies” as ways that religions have functioned in the past and can still function at present. Religious ecologies are ways of orienting and grounding whereby humans undertake specific practices of nurturing and transforming self and community in a particular cosmological context that regards nature as inherently valuable. Through cosmological stories humans narrate and experience the larger matrix of mystery in which life arises, unfolds, and flourishes. These are what we call religious cosmologies. These two, namely religious ecologies and religious cosmologies, can be distinguished but not separated. Together they provide a context for navigating life’s challenges and affirming the rich spiritual value of human-Earth relations.

Human communities until the modern period sensed themselves as grounded in and dependent on the natural world. Thus, even when the forces of nature were overwhelming, the regenerative capacity of the natural world opened a way forward. Humans experienced the processes of the natural world as interrelated, both practically and symbolically. These understandings were expressed in traditional environmental knowledge, namely, in hunting and agricultural practices such as the appropriate use of plants, animals, and land. Such knowledge was integrated in symbolic language and practical norms, such as prohibitions, taboos, and limitations on ecosystems’ usage. All this was based in an understanding of nature as the source of nurturance and kinship. The Lakota people still speak of “all my relations” as an expression of this kinship. Such perspectives will need to be incorporated into strategies to solve environmental problems. Humans are part of nature and their cultural and religious values are critical dimensions of the discussion.

Multidisciplinary approaches: Environmental Humanities

We are recognizing, then, that the environmental crisis is multifaceted and requires multidisciplinary approaches. As this book indicates, the insights of scientific modes of analytical and synthetic knowing are indispensable for understanding and responding to our contemporary environmental crisis. So also, we need new technologies such as industrial ecology, green chemistry, and renewable energy. Clearly ecological economics is critical along with green governance and legal policies as articles in this volume illustrate.

In this context it is important to recognize different ways of knowing that are manifest in the humanities, such as artistic expressions, historical perspectives, philosophical inquiry, and religious understandings. These honor emotional intelligence, affective insight, ethical valuing, and spiritual awakening.

Environmental humanities is a growing and diverse area of study within humanistic disciplines. In the last several decades, new academic courses and programs, research journals and monographs, have blossomed. This broad-based inquiry has sparked creative investigation into multiple ways, historically and at present, of understanding and interacting with nature, constructing cultures, developing communities, raising food, and exchanging goods. 

It is helpful to see the field of religion and ecology as part of this larger emergence of environmental humanities. While it can be said that environmental history, literature, and philosophy are some four decades old, the field of religions and ecology began some two decades ago. It was preceded, however, by work among various scholars, particularly Christian theologians. Some eco-feminists theologians, such as Rosemary Ruether and Sallie McFague, Mary Daly, and Ivone Gebara led the way.

The Emerging Field of Religion and Ecology

An effort to identify and to map religiously diverse attitudes and practices toward nature was the focus of a three-year international conference series on world religions and ecology. Organized by Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim, ten conferences were held at the Harvard Center for the Study of World Religions from 1996-1998 that resulted in a ten volume book series (1997-2004). Over 800 scholars of religion and environmentalists participated. The director of the Center, Larry Sullivan, gave space and staff for the conferences. He chose to limit their scope to the world religions and indigenous religions rather than “nature religions”, such as wicca or paganism, which the organizers had hoped to include.

Culminating conferences were held in fall 1998 at Harvard and in New York at the United Nations and the American Museum of Natural History where 1000 people attended and Bill Moyers presided. At the UN conference Tucker and Grim founded the Forum on Religion and Ecology, which is now located at Yale. They organized a dozen more conferences and created an electronic newsletter that is now sent to over 12,000 people around the world. In addition, they developed a major website for research, education, and outreach in this area ( The conferences, books, website, and newsletter have assisted in the emergence of a new field of study in religion and ecology. Many people have helped in this process including Whitney Bauman and Sam Mickey who are now moving the field toward discussing the need for planetary ethics. A Canadian Forum on Religion and Ecology was established in 2002, a European Forum for the Study of Religion and the Environment was formed in 2005, and a Forum on Religion and Ecology @ Monash in Australia in 2011.

Courses on this topic are now offered in numerous colleges and universities across North America and in other parts of the world. A Green Seminary Initiative has arisen to help educate seminarians. Within the American Academy of Religion there is a vibrant group focused on scholarship and teaching in this area. A peer-reviewed journal, Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture, and Ecology , is celebrating its 25 th year of publication. Another journal has been publishing since 2007, the Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture . A two volume Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature edited by Bron Taylor has helped shape the discussions, as has the International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture he founded. Clearly this broad field of study will continue to expand as the environmental crisis grows in complexity and requires increasingly creative interdisciplinary responses.

The work in religion and ecology rests in an intersection between the academic field within education and the dynamic force within society. This is why we see our work not so much as activist, but rather as “engaged scholarship” for the flourishing of our shared planetary life. This is part of a broader integration taking place to link concerns for both people and the planet. This has been fostered in part by the twenty-volume Ecology and Justice Series from Orbis Books and with the work of John Cobb, Larry Rasmussen, Dieter Hessel, Heather Eaton, Cynthia Moe-Loebeda, and others. The Papal Encyclical is now highlighting this linkage of eco-justice as indispensable for an integral ecology.

The Dynamic Force of Religious Environmentalism

All of these religious traditions, then, are groping to find the languages, symbols, rituals, and ethics for sustaining both ecosystems and humans. Clearly there are obstacles to religions moving into their ecological, eco-justice, and planetary phases. The religions are themselves challenged by their own bilingual languages, namely, their languages of transcendence, enlightenment, and salvation; and their languages of immanence, sacredness of Earth, and respect for nature. Yet, as the field of religion and ecology has developed within academia, so has the force of religious environmentalism emerged around the planet. Roger Gottlieb documents this in his book A Greener Faith . (Gottlieb 2006) The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew held international symposia on “Religion, Science and the Environment” focused on water issues (1995-2009) that we attended. He has made influential statements on this issue for 20 years. The Parliament of World Religions has included panels on this topic since 1998 and most expansively in 2015. Since 1995 the UK based Alliance of Religion and Conservation (ARC), led by Martin Palmer, has been doing significant work with religious communities around under the patronage of Prince Philip.

These efforts are recovering a sense of place, which is especially clear in the environmental resilience and regeneration practices of indigenous peoples. It is also evident in valuing the sacred pilgrimage places in the Abrahamic traditions (Jerusalem, Rome, and Mecca) both historically and now ecologically. So also East Asia and South Asia attention to sacred mountains, caves, and other pilgrimage sites stands in marked contrast to massive pollution.

In many settings around the world religious practitioners are drawing together religious ways of respecting place, land, and life with understanding of environmental science and the needs of local communities. There have been official letters by Catholic Bishops in the Philippines and in Alberta, Canada alarmed by the oppressive social conditions and ecological disasters caused by extractive industries. Catholic nuns and laity in North America, Australia, England, and Ireland sponsor educational programs and conservation plans drawing on the eco-spiritual vision of Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme. Also inspired by Berry and Swimme, Paul Winter’s Solstice celebrations and Earth Mass at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York Winter have been taking place for three decades.

Even in the industrial growth that grips China, there are calls from many in politics, academia, and NGOs to draw on Confucian, Daoist, and Buddhist perspectives for environmental change. In 2008 we met with Pan Yue, the Deputy Minister of the Environment, who has studied these traditions and sees them as critical to Chinese environmental ethics. In India, Hinduism is faced with the challenge of clean up of sacred rivers, such as the Ganges and the Yamuna. To this end in 2010 with Hindu scholars, David Haberman and Christopher Chapple, we organized a conference of scientists and religious leaders in Delhi and Vrindavan to address the pollution of the Yamuna.

Many religious groups are focused on climate change and energy issues. For example, InterFaith Power and Light and GreenFaith are encouraging religious communities to reduce their carbon footprint. Earth Ministry in Seattle is leading protests against oil pipelines and terminals. The Evangelical Environmental Network and other denominations are emphasizing climate change as a moral issue that is disproportionately affecting the poor. In Canada and the US the Indigenous Environmental Network is speaking out regarding damage caused by resource extraction, pipelines, and dumping on First Peoples’ Reserves and beyond. All of the religions now have statements on climate change as a moral issue and they were strongly represented in the People’s Climate March in September 2015. Daedalus, the journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, published the first collection of articles on religion and climate change from two conferences we organized there. (Tucker & Grim, 2001)

Striking examples of religion and ecology have occurred in the Islamic world. In June 2001 and May 2005 the Islamic Republic of Iran led by President Khatami and the United Nations Environment Programme sponsored conferences in Tehran that we attended. They were focused on Islamic principles and practices for environmental protection. The Iranian Constitution identifies Islamic values for ecology and threatens legal sanctions. One of the earliest spokespersons for religion and ecology is the Iranian scholar, Seyyed Hossein Nasr. Fazlun Khalid in the UK founded the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Science. In Indonesia in 2014 a fatwa was issued declaring that killing an endangered species is prohibited.

These examples illustrate ways in which an emerging alliance of religion and ecology is occurring around the planet. These traditional values within the religions now cause them to awaken to environmental crises in ways that are strikingly different from science or policy. But they may find interdisciplinary ground for dialogue in concerns for eco-justice, sustainability, and cultural motivations for transformation. The difficulty, of course, is that the religions are often preoccupied with narrow sectarian interests. However, many people, including the Pope, are calling on the religions to go beyond these interests and become a moral leaven for change.

Renewal Through Laudato Si’

Pope Francis is highlighting an integral ecology that brings together concern for humans and the Earth. He makes it clear that the environment can no longer be seen as only an issue for scientific experts, or environmental groups, or government agencies alone. Rather, he invites all people, programs and institutions to realize these are complicated environmental and social problems that require integrated solutions beyond a “technocratic paradigm” that values an easy fix. Within this integrated framework, he urges bold new solutions.

In this context Francis suggests that ecology, economics, and equity are intertwined. Healthy ecosystems depend on a just economy that results in equity. Endangering ecosystems with an exploitative economic system is causing immense human suffering and inequity. In particular, the poor and most vulnerable are threatened by climate change, although they are not the major cause of the climate problem. He acknowledges the need for believers and non-believers alike to help renew the vitality of Earth’s ecosystems and expand systemic efforts for equity.

In short, he is calling for “ecological conversion” from within all the world religions. He is making visible an emerging worldwide phenomenon of the force of religious environmentalism on the ground, as well as the field of religion and ecology in academia developing new ecotheologies and ecojustice ethics. This diverse movement is evoking a change of mind and heart, consciousness and conscience. Its expression will be seen more fully in the years to come.

The challenge of the contemporary call for ecological renewal cannot be ignored by the religions. Nor can it be answered simply from out of doctrine, dogma, scripture, devotion, ritual, belief, or prayer. It cannot be addressed by any of these well-trod paths of religious expression alone. Yet, like so much of our human cultures and institutions the religions are necessary for our way forward yet not sufficient in themselves for the transformation needed.  The roles of the religions cannot be exported from outside their horizons.  Thus, the individual religions must explain and transform themselves if they are willing to enter into this period of environmental engagement that is upon us. If the religions can participate in this creativity they may again empower humans to embrace values that sustain life and contribute to a vibrant Earth community.


Berry, Thomas. 2009. The Sacred Universe: Earth Spirituality and Religion in the 21st Century (New York: Columbia University Press).

Boff, Leonardo. 1997. Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books).

Gottlieb, Roger. 2006. A Greener Faith: Religious Environmentalism and Our Planetary Future . (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Grim, John and Mary Evelyn Tucker, eds. 2014. Ecology and Religion. (Washington, DC: Island Press).

Leopold, Aldo. 1966. A Sand County Almanac . (Oxford University Press).

Rockstrom, Johan and Mattias Klum. 2015. Big World, Small Planet: Abundance Within Planetary Boundaries . (New Haven: Yale University Press)

Schmitz, Oswald. 2016. The New Ecology: Science for a Sustainable World. (Princeton: Princeton University Press).

Taylor, Bron, ed. 2008. Encyclopedia of Religion, Nature, and Culture. (London: Bloomsbury).

Tucker, Mary Evelyn. 2004. Worldly Wonder: Religions Enter their Ecological Phase . (Chicago: Open Court).

Tucker, Mary Evelyn and John Grim, eds. 2001 Religion and Ecology: Can the Climate Change? Daedalus Vol. 130, No.4.

Header photo: ARC procession to UN Faith in Future Meeting, Bristol, UK

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Regions & Countries

Religion in everyday life, highly religious americans are happier and more involved with family but are no more likely to exercise, recycle or make socially conscious consumer choices.

Highly religious adults more engaged with family, more likely to volunteer and happier overall

These differences are found not only in the U.S. adult population as a whole but also within a variety of religious traditions (such as between Catholics who are highly religious and those who are less religious), and they persist even when controlling for other factors, including age, income, education, geographic region of residence, marital status and parental status.

For instance, highly religious people are about as likely as other Americans to say they lost their temper recently, and they are only marginally less likely to say they told a white lie in the past week. When it comes to diet and exercise, highly religious Americans are no less likely to have overeaten in the past week, and they are no more likely to say they exercise regularly. Highly religious people also are no more likely than other Americans to recycle their household waste. And when making decisions about what goods and services to buy, they are no more inclined to consider the manufacturers’ environmental records or whether companies pay employees a fair wage.

These are among the latest findings of Pew Research Center’s U.S. Religious Landscape Study. The study and this report were made possible by The Pew Charitable Trusts, which received support for the project from Lilly Endowment Inc.

Belief in God, gratitude, forgiveness and honesty top 'essentials' of what it means to be a Christian

Among Christians, believing in God tops the list, with fully 86% saying belief in God is “essential” to their Christian identity. In addition, roughly seven-in-ten Christians say being grateful for what they have (71%), forgiving those who have wronged them (69%) and always being honest (67%) are essential to being Christian. Far fewer say that attending religious services (35%), dressing modestly (26%), working to protect the environment (22%) or resting on the Sabbath (18%) are essential to what being Christian means to them, personally.

The survey posed similar questions to members of non-Christian faiths and religiously unaffiliated Americans (sometimes called religious “nones”), asking whether various behaviors are essential to “what being a moral person means to you.” 4  Among the unaffiliated, honesty (58%) and gratitude (53%) are the attributes most commonly seen as essential to being a moral person. (Findings about non-Christians are discussed in more detail at the end of Chapter 2 .)

The survey shows a clear link between what people see as essential to their faith and their self-reported day-to-day behavior. Simply put, those who believe that behaving in a particular way or performing certain actions are key elements of their faith are much more likely to say they actually perform those actions on a regular basis.

For example, among Christians who say that working to help the poor is essential to what being Christian means to them, about six-in-ten say they donated time, money or goods to help the poor in the past week. By comparison, fewer Christians who do not see helping the poor as central to their religious identity say they worked to help the poor during the previous week (42%).

The same pattern is seen in the survey’s questions about interpersonal interactions, health and social consciousness. Relatively few Christians see living a healthy lifestyle, buying from companies that pay fair wages or protecting the environment as key elements of their faith. But those who do see these things as essential to what it means to be a Christian are more likely than others to say they live a healthy lifestyle (by exercising, for example), consider how a company treats its employees and the environment when making purchasing decisions, or attempt to recycle or reduce waste as much as possible.

Of course, survey data like these cannot prove that believing certain actions are obligatory for Christians actually causes Christians to behave in particular ways. The causal arrow could point in the other direction: It may be easier for those who regularly engage in particular behaviors to cite those behaviors as essential to their faith. Conversely, it may be harder for those who do not regularly engage in particular activities (such as helping the poor) to describe those activities as essential to their faith. Nevertheless, the survey data suggest that Christians are more likely to live healthy lives, work on behalf of the poor and behave in environmentally conscious ways if they consider these things essential to what it means to be a Christian.

Beliefs are strongly linked with actions

But while relatively few people look to religious leaders for guidance on major decisions, many Americans do turn to prayer when faced with important choices. Indeed, among those who are highly religious, nearly nine-in-ten (86%) say they rely “a lot” on prayer and personal religious reflection when making major life decisions, which exceeds the share of the highly religious who say they rely a lot on their own research.

Other key findings in this report include:

  • Three-quarters of adults – including 96% of members of historically black Protestant churches and 93% of evangelical Protestants – say they thanked God for something in the past week. And two-thirds, including 91% of those in the historically black Protestant tradition and 87% of evangelicals, say they asked God for help during the past week. Fewer than one-in-ten adults (8%) say they got angry with God in the past week. (For more details on how Americans say they relate to God, see Chapter 1 .)
  • One-third of religiously unaffiliated Americans say they thanked God for something in the past week, and one-in-four have asked God for help in the past week. (For more details, see Chapter 1 .)
  • Nearly half of Americans (46%) say they talk with their immediate families about religion at least once or twice a month. About a quarter (27%) say they talk about religion at least once a month with their extended families, and 33% say they discuss religion as often with people outside their families. Having regular conversations about religion is most common among evangelicals and people who belong to churches in the historically black Protestant tradition. By contrast, relatively few religious “nones” say they discuss religion with any regularity. (For more details on how often Americans talk about religion, see Chapter 1 .)
  • One-third of American adults (33%) say they volunteered in the past week. This includes 10% who say they volunteered mainly through a church or religious organization and 22% who say their volunteering was not done through a religious organization. (For more details on volunteering, see Chapter 1 .) 5
  • Three-in-ten adults say they meditated in the past week to help cope with stress. Regularly using meditation to cope with stress is more common among highly religious people than among those who are less religious (42% vs. 26%). (For more details on meditation and stress, see Chapter 1 .)
  • Nine-in-ten adults say the quality of a product is a “major factor” they take into account when making purchasing decisions, and three-quarters focus on the price. Far fewer – only about one-quarter of adults – say a company’s environmental responsibility (26%) or whether it pays employees a fair wage (26%) are major factors in their purchasing decisions. Highly religious adults are no more or less likely than those who are less religious to say they consider a company’s environmental record and fair wage practices in making purchasing decisions. (For more details on how Americans make purchasing decisions, see Chapter 1 .)
  • Three-quarters of Catholics say they look to their own conscience “a great deal” for guidance on difficult moral questions. Far fewer Catholics say they look a great deal to the Catholic Church’s teachings (21%), the Bible (15%) or the pope (11%) for guidance on difficult moral questions. (For more details, see Chapter 3 .)
  • One-quarter of Christians say dressing modestly is essential to what being Christian means to them, and an additional four-in-ten say it is “important, but not essential.” (For more details, see Chapter 2 .)
  • When asked to describe, in their own words, what being a “moral person” means to them, 23% of religious “nones” cite the golden rule or being kind to others, 15% mention being a good person and 12% mention being tolerant and respectful of others. (For more details, see Chapter 2 .)

The remainder of this report explores these and other findings in greater depth. Chapter 1 provides greater detail on how Americans from various religious backgrounds say they live their day-to-day lives. Chapter 2 examines the essentials of religious and moral identity – what do Christians see as “essential” to what it means to be a Christian, and what do members of non-Christian faiths and religious “nones” see as essential to being a moral person? Chapter 3 reports on where members of various religious groups say they look for guidance when making major life decisions or thinking about tough moral questions. On most of these questions, the report compares highly religious Americans with those who are less religious and also looks at differences among members of a variety of religious groups. For comparisons of highly religious people with those who are less religious within particular religious groups (e.g., highly religious Catholics vs. less religious Catholics), see the detailed tables .

Profile of those who are highly religious, less religious

Profile of "highly religious' respondents

As this report highlights, these standard measures of traditional religious practice do not capture the full breadth of what it means to be religious; many respondents also say attributes such as gratitude, forgiveness and honesty are essential to what being religious means to them, personally. Nevertheless, these two indicators (prayer and religious attendance) are closely related to a variety of other measures of religious commitment.

Demographic profile of 'highly religious' respondents

As might be expected, the religious makeup of the highly religious and less religious also are quite distinct. Fully half of highly religious American adults (49%) identify with evangelical Protestant denominations, compared with about one-in-five (19%) of those who are not highly religious. And while only a handful of highly religious people are religiously unaffiliated, about a quarter of less religious respondents (27%) identify as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular.”

There also are important demographic differences between the highly religious and those who are less religious. 8  They also are more likely to align with the Republican Party than the Democratic Party, and they are somewhat older, on average, than those who are less religious. However, there are few differences by level of education.

If respondents who seldom or never pray and seldom or never attend religious services are analyzed separately from others who are “not highly religious,” many of these differences are even larger.

  • There are many possible ways to define “highly religious.” For example, Pew Research Center used an index of four measures (frequency of prayer, worship service attendance, belief in God and importance of religion) to create a “highly religious” category in a recently published interactive tool titled “ How religious is your state? ” The definition of “highly religious” in this report is based on two of these standard measures of religiosity – self-reported rates of prayer and worship service attendance – that were asked of all respondents in a supplemental survey to the U.S. Religious Landscape Study, the main source of data for this report. ↩
  • Some previous studies have found that highly religious Americans Are more likely to volunteer not only for religious causes but also for secular ones. See Putnam, Robert D. and David E. Campbell. 2010. “American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us.” Chapter 13, pages 443-454. Some prior studies also have found linkages between religious behavior and better health outcomes, though the reasons for this are debated. See, for example, Blasi, Anthony J. ed. 2011. “Toward a Sociological Theory of Religion and Health.” ↩
  • In recent years, religious leaders across a wide range of faiths have urged followers to put their religious beliefs into practice through everyday behaviors such as consumer choices, environmentalism, hospitality, charity, honesty, forgiveness and healthy living. See, for example, Pope Francis’ 2015 environmental encyclical “Laudato Si.” Also see Bass, Dorothy C. ed. 2010. “Practicing Our Faith: A Way of Life for a Searching People.” However, the underlying question in this report is not normative – e.g., how religious people should behave in daily life – but sociological: Do Americans who are highly religious by conventional measures (prayer and worship service attendance) also have different beliefs or behave differently from less religious Americans in other areas of life? ↩
  • Ideally, the survey would have asked about the “essentials” of religious identity across a wider range of religious groups. For example, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist respondents would have been asked if these behaviors are essential to what being Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist means to them. Because some respondents completed the survey by mail in a paper-and-pencil format, however, it was not feasible to program the questionnaire with language specific to more than a few religious groups. ↩
  • Readers should note that surveys may overstate the extent to which respondents engage in volunteering, since people who participate in activities such as volunteering also are more likely to participate in surveys. For more details, see “ The challenges of polling when fewer people are available to be polled .” ↩
  • Estimates of the highly religious share of the population come from the 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Study national telephone survey. Among respondents in the supplemental survey, 28% are highly religious by the definition employed here, and 72% are not. ↩
  • The question asking respondents how important religion is in their lives was asked in a previous wave of the American Trends Panel series of surveys; as a result, not everyone in the supplemental survey to the Religious Landscape Study was asked this question. For more details about the American Trends Panel, see the Methodology . ↩
  • For more on the link between gender and religiosity, see Pew Research Center’s report “ The Gender Gap in Religion Around the World .” ↩

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Religion and Science

The relationship between religion and science is the subject of continued debate in philosophy and theology. To what extent are religion and science compatible? Are religious beliefs sometimes conducive to science, or do they inevitably pose obstacles to scientific inquiry? The interdisciplinary field of “science and religion”, also called “theology and science”, aims to answer these and other questions. It studies historical and contemporary interactions between these fields, and provides philosophical analyses of how they interrelate.

This entry provides an overview of the topics and discussions in science and religion. Section 1 outlines the scope of both fields, and how they are related. Section 2 looks at the relationship between science and religion in five religious traditions, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism. Section 3 discusses contemporary topics of scientific inquiry in which science and religion intersect, focusing on divine action, creation, and human origins.

1.1 A brief history

1.2 what is science, and what is religion, 1.3 taxonomies of the interaction between science and religion, 1.4 the scientific study of religion, 2.1 christianity, 2.3 hinduism, 2.4 buddhism, 2.5 judaism, 3.1 divine action and creation, 3.2 human origins, works cited, other important works, other internet resources, related entries, 1. science, religion, and how they interrelate.

Since the 1960s, scholars in theology, philosophy, history, and the sciences have studied the relationship between science and religion. Science and religion is a recognized field of study with dedicated journals (e.g., Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science ), academic chairs (e.g., the Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at Oxford University), scholarly societies (e.g., the Science and Religion Forum), and recurring conferences (e.g., the European Society for the Study of Science and Theology’s biennial meetings). Most of its authors are theologians (e.g., John Haught, Sarah Coakley), philosophers with an interest in science (e.g., Nancey Murphy), or (former) scientists with long-standing interests in religion, some of whom are also ordained clergy (e.g., the physicist John Polkinghorne, the molecular biophysicist Alister McGrath, and the atmospheric scientist Katharine Hayhoe). Recently, authors in science and religion also have degrees in that interdisciplinary field (e.g., Sarah Lane Ritchie).

The systematic study of science and religion started in the 1960s, with authors such as Ian Barbour (1966) and Thomas F. Torrance (1969) who challenged the prevailing view that science and religion were either at war or indifferent to each other. Barbour’s Issues in Science and Religion (1966) set out several enduring themes of the field, including a comparison of methodology and theory in both fields. Zygon, the first specialist journal on science and religion, was also founded in 1966. While the early study of science and religion focused on methodological issues, authors from the late 1980s to the 2000s developed contextual approaches, including detailed historical examinations of the relationship between science and religion (e.g., Brooke 1991). Peter Harrison (1998) challenged the warfare model by arguing that Protestant theological conceptions of nature and humanity helped to give rise to science in the seventeenth century. Peter Bowler (2001, 2009) drew attention to a broad movement of liberal Christians and evolutionists in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries who aimed to reconcile evolutionary theory with religious belief. In the 1990s, the Vatican Observatory (Castel Gandolfo, Italy) and the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (Berkeley, California) co-sponsored a series of conferences on divine action and how it can be understood in the light of various contemporary sciences. This resulted in six edited volumes (see Russell, Murphy, & Stoeger 2008 for a book-length summary of the findings of this project).

The field has presently diversified so much that contemporary discussions on religion and science tend to focus on specific disciplines and questions. Rather than ask if religion and science (broadly speaking) are compatible, productive questions focus on specific topics. For example, Buddhist modernists (see section 2.4 ) have argued that Buddhist theories about the self (the no-self) and Buddhist practices, such as mindfulness meditation, are compatible and are corroborated by neuroscience.

In the contemporary public sphere, a prominent interaction between science and religion concerns evolutionary theory and creationism/Intelligent Design. The legal battles (e.g., the Kitzmiller versus Dover trial in 2005) and lobbying surrounding the teaching of evolution and creationism in American schools suggest there’s a conflict between religion and science. However, even if one were to focus on the reception of evolutionary theory, the relationship between religion and science is complex. For instance, in the United Kingdom, scientists, clergy, and popular writers (the so-called Modernists), sought to reconcile science and religion during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, whereas the US saw the rise of a fundamentalist opposition to evolutionary thinking, exemplified by the Scopes trial in 1925 (Bowler 2001, 2009).

Another prominent offshoot of the discussion on science and religion is the New Atheist movement, with authors such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens. They argue that public life, including government, education, and policy should be guided by rational argument and scientific evidence, and that any form of supernaturalism (especially religion, but also, e.g., astrology) has no place in public life. They treat religious claims, such as the existence of God, as testable scientific hypotheses (see, e.g., Dawkins 2006).

In recent decades, the leaders of some Christian churches have issued conciliatory public statements on evolutionary theory. Pope John Paul II (1996) affirmed evolutionary theory in his message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, but rejected it for the human soul, which he saw as the result of a separate, special creation. The Church of England publicly endorsed evolutionary theory (e.g., C. M. Brown 2008), including an apology to Charles Darwin for its initial rejection of his theory.

This entry will focus on the relationship between religious and scientific ideas as rather abstract philosophical positions, rather than as practices. However, this relationship has a large practical impact on the lives of religious people and scientists (including those who are both scientists and religious believers). A rich sociological literature indicates the complexity of these interactions, among others, how religious scientists conceive of this relationship (for recent reviews, see Ecklund 2010, 2021; Ecklund & Scheitle 2007; Gross & Simmons 2009).

For the past fifty years, the discussion on science and religion has de facto been on Western science and Christianity: to what extent can the findings of Western sciences be reconciled with Christian beliefs? The field of science and religion has only recently turned to an examination of non-Christian traditions, providing a richer picture of interaction.

In order to understand the scope of science and religion and their interactions, we must at least get a rough sense of what science and religion are. After all, “science” and “religion” are not eternally unchanging terms with unambiguous meanings. Indeed, they are terms that were coined recently, with meanings that vary across contexts. Before the nineteenth century, the term “religion” was rarely used. For a medieval author such as Aquinas, the term religio meant piety or worship, and was not applied to religious systems outside of what he considered orthodoxy (Harrison 2015). The term “religion” obtained its considerably broader current meaning through the works of early anthropologists, such as E.B. Tylor (1871), who systematically used the term for religions across the world. As a result, “religion” became a comparative concept, referring to traits that could be compared and scientifically studied, such as rituals, dietary restrictions, and belief systems (Jonathan Smith 1998).

The term “science” as it is currently used also became common in the nineteenth century. Prior to this, what we call “science” fell under the terminology of “natural philosophy” or, if the experimental part was emphasized, “experimental philosophy”. William Whewell (1834) standardized the term “scientist” to refer to practitioners of diverse natural philosophies. Philosophers of science have attempted to demarcate science from other knowledge-seeking endeavors, in particular religion. For instance, Karl Popper (1959) claimed that scientific hypotheses (unlike religious and philosophical ones) are in principle falsifiable. Many authors (e.g., Taylor 1996) affirm a disparity between science and religion, even if the meanings of both terms are historically contingent. They disagree, however, on how to precisely (and across times and cultures) demarcate the two domains.

One way to distinguish between science and religion is the claim that science concerns the natural world, whereas religion concerns the supernatural world and its relationship to the natural. Scientific explanations do not appeal to supernatural entities such as gods or angels (fallen or not), or to non-natural forces (such as miracles, karma, or qi ). For example, neuroscientists typically explain our thoughts in terms of brain states, not by reference to an immaterial soul or spirit, and legal scholars do not invoke karmic load when discussing why people commit crimes.

Naturalists draw a distinction between methodological naturalism , an epistemological principle that limits scientific inquiry to natural entities and laws, and ontological or philosophical naturalism , a metaphysical principle that rejects the supernatural (Forrest 2000). Since methodological naturalism is concerned with the practice of science (in particular, with the kinds of entities and processes that are invoked), it does not make any statements about whether or not supernatural entities exist. They might exist, but lie outside of the scope of scientific investigation. Some authors (e.g., Rosenberg 2014) hold that taking the results of science seriously entails negative answers to such persistent questions into the existence of free will or moral knowledge. However, these stronger conclusions are controversial.

The view that science can be demarcated from religion in its methodological naturalism is more commonly accepted. For instance, in the Kitzmiller versus Dover trial, the philosopher of science Robert Pennock was called to testify by the plaintiffs on whether Intelligent Design was a form of creationism, and therefore religion. If it were, the Dover school board policy would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Building on earlier work (e.g., Pennock 1998), Pennock argued that Intelligent Design, in its appeal to supernatural mechanisms, was not methodologically naturalistic, and that methodological naturalism is an essential component of science.

Methodological naturalism is a recent development in the history of science, though we can see precursors of it in medieval authors such as Aquinas who attempted to draw a theological distinction between miracles, such as the working of relics, and unusual natural phenomena, such as magnetism and the tides (see Perry & Ritchie 2018). Natural and experimental philosophers such as Isaac Newton, Johannes Kepler, Robert Hooke, and Robert Boyle regularly appealed to supernatural agents in their natural philosophy (which we now call “science”). Still, overall there was a tendency to favor naturalistic explanations in natural philosophy. The X-club was a lobby group for the professionalization of science founded in 1864 by Thomas Huxley and friends. While the X-club may have been in part motivated by the desire to remove competition by amateur-clergymen scientists in the field of science, and thus to open up the field to full-time professionals, its explicit aim was to promote a science that would be free from religious dogma (Garwood 2008, Barton 2018). This preference for naturalistic causes may have been encouraged by past successes of naturalistic explanations, leading authors such as Paul Draper (2005) to argue that the success of methodological naturalism could be evidence for ontological naturalism.

Several typologies probe the interaction between science and religion. For example, Mikael Stenmark (2004) distinguishes between three views: the independence view (no overlap between science and religion), the contact view (some overlap between the fields), and a union of the domains of science and religion; within these views he recognizes further subdivisions, e.g., contact can be in the form of conflict or harmony. The most influential taxonomy of the relationship between science and religion remains Barbour’s (2000): conflict, independence, dialogue, and integration. Subsequent authors, as well as Barbour himself, have refined and amended this taxonomy. However, others (e.g., Cantor & Kenny 2001) have argued that this taxonomy is not useful to understand past interactions between both fields. Nevertheless, because of its enduring influence, it is still worthwhile to discuss it in detail.

The conflict model holds that science and religion are in perpetual and principal conflict. It relies heavily on two historical narratives: the trial of Galileo (see Dawes 2016) and the reception of Darwinism (see Bowler 2001). Contrary to common conception, the conflict model did not originate in two seminal publications, namely John Draper’s (1874) History of the Conflict between Religion and Science and Andrew Dickson White’s (1896) two-volume opus A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom . Rather, as James Ungureanu (2019) argues, the project of these early architects of the conflict thesis needs to be contextualized in a liberal Protestant tradition of attempting to separate religion from theology, and thus salvage religion. Their work was later appropriated by skeptics and atheists who used their arguments about the incompatibility of traditional theological views with science to argue for secularization, something Draper and White did not envisage.

The vast majority of authors in the science and religion field is critical of the conflict model and believes it is based on a shallow and partisan reading of the historical record. While the conflict model is at present a minority position, some have used philosophical argumentation (e.g., Philipse 2012) or have carefully re-examined historical evidence such as the Galileo trial (e.g., Dawes 2016) to argue for this model. Alvin Plantinga (2011) has argued that the conflict is not between science and religion, but between science and naturalism. In his Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (first formulated in 1993), Plantinga argues that naturalism is epistemically self-defeating: if both naturalism and evolution are true, then it’s unlikely we would have reliable cognitive faculties.

The independence model holds that science and religion explore separate domains that ask distinct questions. Stephen Jay Gould developed an influential independence model with his NOMA principle (“Non-Overlapping Magisteria”):

The lack of conflict between science and religion arises from a lack of overlap between their respective domains of professional expertise. (2001: 739)

He identified science’s areas of expertise as empirical questions about the constitution of the universe, and religion’s domain of expertise as ethical values and spiritual meaning. NOMA is both descriptive and normative: religious leaders should refrain from making factual claims about, for instance, evolutionary theory, just as scientists should not claim insight on moral matters. Gould held that there might be interactions at the borders of each magisterium, such as our responsibility toward other living things. One obvious problem with the independence model is that if religion were barred from making any statement of fact, it would be difficult to justify its claims of value and ethics. For example, one could not argue that one should love one’s neighbor because it pleases the creator (Worrall 2004). Moreover, religions do seem to make empirical claims, for example, that Jesus appeared after his death or that the early Hebrews passed through the parted waters of the Red Sea.

The dialogue model proposes a mutualistic relationship between religion and science. Unlike independence, it assumes a common ground between both fields, perhaps in their presuppositions, methods, and concepts. For example, the Christian doctrine of creation may have encouraged science by assuming that creation (being the product of a designer) is both intelligible and orderly, so one can expect there are laws that can be discovered. Creation, as a product of God’s free actions, is also contingent, so the laws of nature cannot be learned through a priori thinking which prompts the need for empirical investigation. According to Barbour (2000), both scientific and theological inquiry are theory-dependent, or at least model-dependent. For example, the doctrine of the Trinity colors how Christian theologians interpret the first chapters of Genesis. Next to this, both rely on metaphors and models. Both fields remain separate but they talk to each other, using common methods, concepts, and presuppositions. Wentzel van Huyssteen (1998) has argued for a dialogue position, proposing that science and religion can be in a graceful duet, based on their epistemological overlaps. The Partially Overlapping Magisteria (POMA) model defended by Alister McGrath (e.g., McGrath and Collicutt McGrath 2007) is also worth mentioning. According to McGrath, science and religion each draw on several different methodologies and approaches. These methods and approaches are different ways of knowing that have been shaped through historical factors. It is beneficial for scientists and theologians to be in dialogue with each other.

The integration model is more extensive in its unification of science and theology. Barbour (2000) identifies three forms of integration. First, natural theology, which formulates arguments for the existence and attributes of God. It uses interpretations of results from the natural sciences as premises in its arguments. For instance, the supposition that the universe has a temporal origin features in contemporary cosmological arguments for the existence of God. Likewise, the fact that the cosmological constants and laws of nature are life-permitting (whereas many other combinations of constants and laws would not permit life) is used in contemporary fine-tuning arguments (see the entry to fine-tuning arguments ). Second, theology of nature starts not from science but from a religious framework, and examines how this can enrich or even revise findings of the sciences. For example, McGrath (2016) developed a Christian theology of nature, examining how nature and scientific findings can be interpreted through a Christian lens. Thirdly, Barbour believed that Whitehead’s process philosophy was a promising way to integrate science and religion.

While integration seems attractive (especially to theologians), it is difficult to do justice to both the scientific and religious aspects of a given domain, especially given their complexities. For example, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1971), who was both knowledgeable in paleoanthropology and theology, ended up with an unconventional view of evolution as teleological (which put him at odds with the scientific establishment) and with an unorthodox theology (which denied original sin and led to a series of condemnations by the Roman Catholic Church). Theological heterodoxy, by itself, is no reason to doubt a model. However, it shows obstacles for the integration model to become a live option in the broader community of theologians and philosophers who want to remain affiliate to a specific religious community without transgressing its boundaries. Moreover, integration seems skewed towards theism: Barbour described arguments based on scientific results that support (but do not demonstrate) theism, but failed to discuss arguments based on scientific results that support (but do not demonstrate) the denial of theism. Hybrid positions like McGrath’s POMA indicate some difficulty for Barbour’s taxonomy: the scope of conflict, independence, dialogue, and integration is not clearly defined and they are not mutually exclusive. For example, if conflict is defined broadly then it is compatible with integration. Take the case of Frederick Tennant (1902), who sought to explain sin as the result of evolutionary pressures on human ancestors. This view led him to reject the Fall as a historical event, as it was not compatible with evolutionary biology. His view has conflict (as he saw Christian doctrine in conflict with evolutionary biology) but also integration (he sought to integrate the theological concept of sin in an evolutionary picture). It is clear that many positions defined by authors in the religion and science literature do not clearly fall within one of Barbour’s four domains.

Science and religion are closely interconnected in the scientific study of religion, which can be traced back to seventeenth-century natural histories of religion. Natural historians attempted to provide naturalistic explanations for human behavior and culture, including religion and morality. For example, Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle’s De l’Origine des Fables (1724) offered a causal account of belief in the supernatural. People often assert supernatural explanations when they lack an understanding of the natural causes underlying extraordinary events: “To the extent that one is more ignorant, or one has less experience, one sees more miracles” (1724 [1824: 295], my translation). Hume’s Natural History of Religion (1757) is perhaps the best-known philosophical example of a natural historical explanation of religious belief. It traces the origins of polytheism—which Hume thought was the earliest form of religious belief—to ignorance about natural causes combined with fear and apprehension about the environment. By deifying aspects of the environment, early humans tried to persuade or bribe the gods, thereby gaining a sense of control.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, authors from newly emerging scientific disciplines, such as anthropology, sociology, and psychology examined the purported naturalistic roots of religious beliefs. They did so with a broad brush, trying to explain what unifies diverse religious beliefs across cultures. Auguste Comte (1841) proposed that all societies, in their attempts to make sense of the world, go through the same stages of development: the theological (religious) stage is the earliest phase, where religious explanations predominate, followed by the metaphysical stage (a non-intervening God), and culminating in the positive or scientific stage, marked by scientific explanations and empirical observations.

In anthropology, this positivist idea influenced cultural evolutionism, a theoretical framework that sought to explain cultural change using universal patterns. The underlying supposition was that all cultures evolve and progress along the same trajectory. Cultures with differing religious views were explained as being in different stages of their development. For example, Tylor (1871) regarded animism as the earliest form of religious belief. James Frazer’s Golden Bough (1890) is somewhat unusual within this literature, as he saw commonalities between magic, religion, and science. Though he proposed a linear progression, he also argued that a proto-scientific mindset gave rise to magical practices, including the discovery of regularities in nature. Cultural evolutionist models dealt poorly with religious diversity and with the complex relationships between science and religion across cultures. Many authors proposed that religion was just a stage in human development, which would eventually be superseded. For example, social theorists such as Karl Marx and Max Weber proposed versions of the secularization thesis, the view that religion would decline in the face of modern technology, science, and culture.

Functionalism was another theoretical framework that sought to explain religion. Functionalists did not consider religion to be a stage in human cultural development that would eventually be overcome. They saw it as a set of social institutions that served important functions in the societies they were part of. For example, the sociologist Émile Durkheim (1912 [1915]) argued that religious beliefs are social glue that helps to keep societies together.

Sigmund Freud and other early psychologists aimed to explain religion as the result of cognitive dispositions. For example, Freud (1927) saw religious belief as an illusion, a childlike yearning for a fatherly figure. He also considered “oceanic feeling” (a feeling of limitlessness and of being connected with the world, a concept he derived from the French author Romain Rolland) as one of the origins of religious belief. He thought this feeling was a remnant of an infant’s experience of the self, prior to being weaned off the breast. William James (1902) was interested in the psychological roots and the phenomenology of religious experiences, which he believed were the ultimate source of all institutional religions.

From the 1920s onward, the scientific study of religion became less concerned with grand unifying narratives, and focused more on particular religious traditions and beliefs. Anthropologists such as Edward Evans-Pritchard (1937) and Bronisław Malinowski (1925) no longer relied exclusively on second-hand reports (usually of poor quality and from distorted sources), but engaged in serious fieldwork. Their ethnographies indicated that cultural evolutionism was a defective theoretical framework and that religious beliefs were more diverse than was previously assumed. They argued that religious beliefs were not the result of ignorance of naturalistic mechanisms. For instance, Evans-Pritchard (1937) noted that the Azande were well aware that houses could collapse because termites ate away at their foundations, but they still appealed to witchcraft to explain why a particular house collapsed at a particular time. More recently, Cristine Legare et al. (2012) found that people in various cultures straightforwardly combine supernatural and natural explanations, for instance, South Africans are aware AIDS is caused by the HIV virus, but some also believe that the viral infection is ultimately caused by a witch.

Psychologists and sociologists of religion also began to doubt that religious beliefs were rooted in irrationality, psychopathology, and other atypical psychological states, as James (1902) and other early psychologists had assumed. In the US, in the late 1930s through the 1960s, psychologists developed a renewed interest for religion, fueled by the observation that religion refused to decline and seemed to undergo a substantial revival, thus casting doubt on the secularization thesis (see Stark 1999 for an overview). Psychologists of religion have made increasingly fine-grained distinctions between types of religiosity, including extrinsic religiosity (being religious as means to an end, for instance, getting the benefits of being a member of a social group) and intrinsic religiosity (people who adhere to religions for the sake of their teachings) (Allport & Ross 1967). Psychologists and sociologists now commonly study religiosity as an independent variable, with an impact on, for instance, health, criminality, sexuality, socio-economic profile, and social networks.

A recent development in the scientific study of religion is the cognitive science of religion (CSR). This is a multidisciplinary field, with authors from, among others, developmental psychology, anthropology, philosophy, and cognitive psychology (see C. White 2021 for a comprehensive overview). It differs from other scientific approaches to religion in its presupposition that religion is not a purely cultural phenomenon. Rather, authors in CSR hold that religion is the result of ordinary, early developed, and universal human cognitive processes (e.g., Barrett 2004, Boyer 2002). Some authors regard religion as the byproduct of cognitive processes that are not evolved for religion. For example, according to Paul Bloom (2007), religion emerges as a byproduct of our intuitive distinction between minds and bodies: we can think of minds as continuing, even after the body dies (e.g., by attributing desires to a dead family member), which makes belief in an afterlife and in disembodied spirits natural and spontaneous. Another family of hypotheses regards religion as a biological or cultural adaptive response that helps humans solve cooperative problems (e.g., Bering 2011; Purzycki & Sosis 2022): through their belief in big, powerful gods that can punish, humans behave more cooperatively, which allowed human group sizes to expand beyond small hunter-gatherer communities. Groups with belief in big gods thus out-competed groups without such beliefs for resources during the Neolithic, which would explain the current success of belief in such gods (Norenzayan 2013). However, the question of which came first—big god beliefs or large-scale societies—is a continued matter of debate.

2. Science and religion in various religions

As noted, most studies on the relationship between science and religion have focused on science and Christianity, with only a small number of publications devoted to other religious traditions (e.g., Brooke & Numbers 2011; Lopez 2008). Since science makes universal claims, it is easy to assume that its encounter with other religious traditions would be similar to its interactions with Christianity. However, given different creedal tenets (e.g., in Hindu traditions God is usually not entirely distinct from creation, unlike in Christianity and Judaism), and because science has had distinct historical trajectories in other cultures, one can expect disanalogies in the relationship between science and religion in different religious traditions. To give a sense of this diversity, this section provides a bird’s eye view of science and religion in five major world religions: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism.

Christianity is an Abrahamic monotheistic religion, currently the religion with the most adherents. It developed in the first century CE out of Judaism. Christians adhere to asserted revelations described in a series of canonical texts, which include the Old Testament, which comprises texts inherited from Judaism, and the New Testament, which contains the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (narratives on the life and teachings of Jesus), as well as events and teachings of the early Christian churches (e.g., Acts of the Apostles, letters by Paul), and Revelation, a prophetic book on the end times.

Given the prominence of revealed texts in Christianity, a useful starting point to examine the relationship between Christianity and science is the two books metaphor (see Tanzella-Nitti 2005 for an overview): God revealed Godself through the “Book of Nature”, with its orderly laws, and the “Book of Scripture”, with its historical narratives and accounts of miracles. Augustine (354–430) argued that the book of nature was the more accessible of the two, since scripture requires literacy whereas illiterates and literates alike could read the book of nature. Maximus Confessor (c. 580–662), in his Ambigua (see Louth 1996 for a collection of and critical introduction to these texts) compared scripture and natural law to two clothes that envelop the Incarnated Logos: Jesus’ humanity is revealed by nature, whereas his divinity is revealed by the scriptures. During the Middle Ages, authors such as Hugh of St. Victor (ca. 1096–1141) and Bonaventure (1221–1274) began to realize that the book of nature was not at all straightforward to read. Given that original sin marred our reason and perception, what conclusions could humans legitimately draw about ultimate reality? Bonaventure used the metaphor of the books to the extent that “ liber naturae ” was a synonym for creation, the natural world. He argued that sin has clouded human reason so much that the book of nature has become unreadable, and that scripture is needed as an aid as it contains teachings about the world.

Christian authors in the field of science and religion continue to debate how these two books interrelate. Concordism is the attempt to interpret scripture in the light of modern science. It is a hermeneutical approach to Bible interpretation, where one expects that the Bible foretells scientific theories, such as the Big Bang theory or evolutionary theory. However, as Denis Lamoureux (2008: chapter 5) argues, many scientific-sounding statements in the Bible are false: the mustard seed is not the smallest seed, male reproductive seeds do not contain miniature persons, there is no firmament, and the earth is neither flat nor immovable. Thus, any plausible form of integrating the book of nature and scripture will require more nuance and sophistication. Theologians such as John Wesley (1703–1791) have proposed the addition of other sources of knowledge to scripture and science: the Wesleyan quadrilateral (a term not coined by Wesley himself) is the dynamic interaction of scripture, experience (including the empirical findings of the sciences), tradition, and reason (Outler 1985).

Several Christian authors have attempted to integrate science and religion (e.g., Haught 1995, Lamoureux 2008, Murphy 1995), making integration a highly popular view on the relationship between science and religion. These authors tend to interpret findings from the sciences, such as evolutionary theory or chaos theory, in a theological light, using established theological models such as classical theism or the doctrine of creation. John Haught (1995) argues that the theological view of kenosis (self-emptying of God in creation) anticipates scientific findings such as evolutionary theory: a self-emptying God (i.e., who limits Godself), who creates a distinct and autonomous world, makes a world with internal self-coherence, with a self-organizing universe as the result.

The dominant epistemological outlook in Christian science and religion has been critical realism, a position that applies both to theology (theological realism) and to science (scientific realism). Barbour (1966) introduced this view into the science and religion literature; it has been further developed by theologians such as Arthur Peacocke (1984) and Wentzel van Huyssteen (1999). Critical realism aims to offer a middle way between naïve realism (the world is as we perceive it) and instrumentalism (our perceptions and concepts are purely instrumental). It encourages critical reflection on perception and the world, hence “critical”. Critical realism has distinct flavors in the works of different authors, for instance, van Huyssteen (1998, 1999) develops a weak form of critical realism set within a postfoundationalist notion of rationality, where theological views are shaped by social, cultural, and evolved biological factors. Murphy (1995: 329–330) outlines doctrinal and scientific requirements for approaches in science and religion: ideally, an integrated approach should be broadly in line with Christian doctrine, especially core tenets such as the doctrine of creation, while at the same time it should be in line with empirical observations without undercutting scientific practices.

Several historians (e.g., Hooykaas 1972) have argued that Christianity was instrumental to the development of Western science. Peter Harrison (2007) maintains that the doctrine of original sin played a crucial role in this, arguing there was a widespread belief in the early modern period that Adam, prior to the Fall, had superior senses, intellect, and understanding. As a result of the Fall, human senses became duller, our ability to make correct inferences was diminished, and nature itself became less intelligible. Postlapsarian humans (i.e., humans after the Fall) are no longer able to exclusively rely on their a priori reasoning to understand nature. They must supplement their reasoning and senses with observation through specialized instruments, such as microscopes and telescopes. As the experimental philosopher Robert Hooke wrote in the introduction to his Micrographia :

every man, both from a deriv’d corruption, innate and born with him, and from his breeding and converse with men, is very subject to slip into all sorts of errors … These being the dangers in the process of humane Reason, the remedies of them all can only proceed from the real, the mechanical, the experimental Philosophy [experiment-based science]. (1665, cited in Harrison 2007: 5)

Another theological development that may have facilitated the rise of science was the Condemnation of Paris (1277), which forbade teaching and reading natural philosophical views that were considered heretical, such as Aristotle’s physical treatises. As a result, the Condemnation opened up intellectual space to think beyond ancient Greek natural philosophy. For example, medieval philosophers such as John Buridan (fl. 14th c) held the Aristotelian belief that there could be no vacuum in nature, but once the idea of a vacuum became plausible, natural philosophers such as Evangelista Torricelli (1608–1647) and Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) could experiment with air pressure and vacua (see Grant 1996, for discussion).

Some authors claim that Christianity was unique and instrumental in catalyzing the scientific revolution. For example, according to the sociologist of religion Rodney Stark (2004), the scientific revolution was in fact a slow, gradual development from medieval Christian theology. Claims such as Stark’s, however, fail to recognize the legitimate contributions of Islamic and Greek scholars to the development of modern science, and fail to do justice to the importance of practical technological innovations in map-making and star-charting in the emergence of modern science. In spite of these positive readings of the relationship between science and religion in Christianity, there are sources of enduring tension. For example, there is still vocal opposition to the theory of evolution among Christian fundamentalists. In the public sphere, the conflict view between Christianity and science prevails, in stark contrast to the scholarly literature. This is due to an important extent to the outsize influence of a vocal conservative Christian minority in the American public debate, which sidelines more moderate voices (Evans 2016).

Islam is a monotheistic religion that emerged in the seventh century, following a series of purported revelations to the prophet Muḥammad. The term “Islam” also denotes geo-political structures, such as caliphates and empires, which were founded by Muslim rulers from the seventh century onward, including the Umayyad, Abbasid, and Ottoman caliphates. Additionally, it refers to a culture which flourished within this political and religious context, with its own philosophical and scientific traditions (Dhanani 2002). The defining characteristic of Islam is belief in one God (Allāh), who communicates through prophets, including Adam, Abraham, and Muḥammad. Allāh‎’s revelations to Muḥammad are recorded in the Qurʾān, the central religious text for Islam. Next to the Qurʾān, an important source of jurisprudence and theology is the ḥadīth, an oral corpus of attested sayings, actions, and tacit approvals of the prophet Muḥammad. The two major branches of Islam, Sunni and Shia, are based on a dispute over the succession of Muḥammad. As the second largest religion in the world, Islam shows a wide variety of beliefs. Core creedal views include the oneness of God ( tawḥīd ), the view that there is only one undivided God who created and sustains the universe, prophetic revelation (in particular to Muḥammad), and an afterlife. Beyond this, Muslims disagree on a number of doctrinal issues.

The relationship between Islam and science is complex. Today, predominantly Muslim countries, such as the United Arabic Emirates, enjoy high urbanization and technological development, but they still underperform in common metrics of scientific research, such as publications in leading journals and number of citations per scientist, compared to other regions outside of the west such as India and China (see Edis 2007). Some Muslims hold a number of pseudoscientific ideas, some of which it shares with Christianity such as Old Earth creationism, whereas others are specific to Islam such as the recreation of human bodies from the tailbone on the day of resurrection, and the superiority of prayer in treating lower-back pain instead of conventional methods (Guessoum 2011: 4–5).

This contemporary lack of scientific prominence is remarkable given that the Islamic world far exceeded European cultures in the range and quality of its scientific knowledge between approximately the ninth and the fifteenth century, excelling in domains such as mathematics (algebra and geometry, trigonometry in particular), astronomy (seriously considering, but not adopting, heliocentrism), optics, and medicine. These domains of knowledge are commonly referred to as “Arabic science”, to distinguish them from the pursuits of science that arose in the west (Huff 2003). “Arabic science” is an imperfect term, as many of the practitioners were not speakers of Arabic, hence the term “science in the Islamic world” is more accurate. Many scientists in the Islamic world were polymaths, for example, Ibn Sīnā (Avicenna, 980–1037) is commonly regarded as one of the most significant innovators, not only in philosophy, but also in medicine and astronomy. His Canon of Medicine , a medical encyclopedia, was a standard textbook in universities across Europe for many centuries after his death. Al-Fārābī (ca. 872–ca. 950), a political philosopher from Damascus, also investigated music theory, science, and mathematics. Omar Khayyám (1048–1131) achieved lasting fame in disparate domains such as poetry, astronomy, geography, and mineralogy. The Andalusian Ibn Rušd (Averroes, 1126–1198) wrote on medicine, physics, astronomy, psychology, jurisprudence, music, and geography, next to developing a Greek-inspired philosophical theology.

A major impetus for science in the Islamic world was the patronage of the Abbasid caliphate (758–1258), centered in Baghdad. Early Abbasid rulers, such as Harun al-Rashid (ruled 786–809) and his successor Abū Jaʿfar Abdullāh al-Ma’mūn (ruled 813–833), were significant patrons of science. The former founded the Bayt al-Hikma (House of Wisdom), which commissioned translations of major works by Aristotle, Galen, and many Persian and Indian scholars into Arabic. It was cosmopolitan in its outlook, employing astronomers, mathematicians, and physicians from abroad, including Indian mathematicians and Nestorian (Christian) astronomers. Throughout the Islamic world, public libraries attached to mosques provided access to a vast compendium of knowledge, which spread Islam, Greek philosophy, and science. The use of a common language (Arabic), as well as common religious and political institutions and flourishing trade relations encouraged the spread of scientific ideas throughout the Islamic world. Some of this transmission was informal, e.g., correspondence between like-minded people (see Dhanani 2002), some formal, e.g., in hospitals where students learned about medicine in a practical, master-apprentice setting, and in astronomical observatories and academies. The decline and fall of the Abbasid caliphate dealt a blow to science in the Islamic world, but it remains unclear why it ultimately stagnated, and why it did not experience something analogous to the scientific revolution in Western Europe. Note, the decline of science in the Islamic world should not be generalized to other fields, such as philosophy and philosophical theology, which continued to flourish after the Abbasid caliphate fell.

Some liberal Muslim authors, such as Fatima Mernissi (1992), argue that the rise of conservative forms of Islamic philosophical theology stifled more scientifically-minded natural philosophy. In the ninth to the twelfth century, the Mu’tazila (a philosophical theological school) helped the growth of science in the Islamic world thanks to their embrace of Greek natural philosophy. But eventually, the Mu’tazila and their intellectual descendants lost their influence to more conservative brands of theology. Al-Ghazālī’s influential eleventh-century work, The Incoherence of the Philosophers ( Tahāfut al-falāsifa ), was a scathing and sophisticated critique of Greek-inspired Muslim philosophy, arguing that their metaphysical assumptions could not be demonstrated. This book vindicated more orthodox Muslim religious views. As Muslim intellectual life became more orthodox, it became less open to non-Muslim philosophical ideas, which led to the decline of science in the Islamic world, according to this view.

The problem with this narrative is that orthodox worries about non-Islamic knowledge were already present before Al-Ghazālī and continued long after his death (Edis 2007: chapter 2). The study of law ( fiqh ) was more stifling for science in the Islamic world than developments in theology. The eleventh century saw changes in Islamic law that discouraged heterodox thought: lack of orthodoxy could now be regarded as apostasy from Islam ( zandaqa ) which is punishable by death, whereas before, a Muslim could only apostatize by an explicit declaration (Griffel 2009: 105). (Al-Ghazālī himself only regarded the violation of three core doctrines as zandaqa , namely statements that challenged monotheism, the prophecy of Muḥammad, and resurrection after death.) Given that heterodox thoughts could be interpreted as apostasy, this created a stifling climate for science. In the second half of the nineteenth century, as science and technology became firmly entrenched in Western society, Muslim empires were languishing or colonized. Scientific ideas, such as evolutionary theory, became equated with European colonialism, and thus met with distrust. The enduring association between western culture, colonialism, and science led to a more prominent conflict view of the relationship between science and religion in Muslim countries.

In spite of this negative association between science and Western modernity, there is an emerging literature on science and religion by Muslim scholars (mostly scientists). The physicist Nidhal Guessoum (2011) holds that science and religion are not only compatible, but in harmony. He rejects the idea of treating the Qurʾān as a scientific encyclopedia, something other Muslim authors in the debate on science and religion tend to do. Moreover, he adheres to the no-possible-conflict principle, outlined by Ibn Rušd: there can be no conflict between God’s word (properly understood) and God’s work (properly understood). If an apparent conflict arises, the Qurʾān may not have been interpreted correctly.

While the Qurʾān asserts a creation in six days (like the Hebrew Bible), “day” is often interpreted as a very long span of time, rather than a 24-hour period. As a result, Old Earth creationism is more influential in Islam than Young Earth creationism. Adnan Oktar’s Atlas of Creation (published in 2007 under the pseudonym Harun Yahya), a glossy coffee table book that draws heavily on Christian Old Earth creationism, has been distributed worldwide (Hameed 2008). Since the Qurʾān explicitly mentions the special creation of Adam out of clay, most Muslims refuse to accept that humans evolved from hominin ancestors. Nevertheless, Muslim scientists such as Guessoum (2011) and Rana Dajani (2015) have advocated acceptance of evolution.

Hinduism is the world’s third largest religion, though the term “Hinduism” is an awkward catch-all phrase that denotes diverse religious and philosophical traditions that emerged on the Indian subcontinent between 500 BCE and 300 CE. The vast majority of Hindus live in India; most others live in Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Southeast Asia, with a significant diaspora in western countries such as the United States (Hackett 2015 [ Other Internet Resources ]). In contrast to the Abrahamic monotheistic religions, Hinduism does not always draw a sharp distinction between God and creation. (While there are pantheistic and panentheistic views in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, these are minority positions.) Many Hindus believe in a personal God, and identify this God as immanent in creation. This view has ramifications for the science and religion debate, in that there is no sharp ontological distinction between creator and creature (Subbarayappa 2011). Religious traditions originating on the Indian subcontinent, including Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism, are referred to as dharmic religions. Philosophical points of view are referred to as darśana .

One factor that unites the different strands of Hinduism is the importance of foundational texts composed between ca. 1600 and 700 BCE. These include the Vedas, which contain hymns and prescriptions for performing rituals, Brāhmaṇa, accompanying liturgical texts, and Upaniṣad, metaphysical treatises. The Vedas discuss gods who personify and embody natural phenomena such as fire (Agni) and wind (Vāyu). More gods appear in the following centuries (e.g., Gaṇeśa and Sati-Parvati in the 4th century). Note that there are both polytheistic and monotheistic strands in Hinduism, so it is not the case that individual believers worship or recognize all of these gods. Ancient Vedic rituals encouraged knowledge of diverse sciences, including astronomy, linguistics, and mathematics. Astronomical knowledge was required to determine the timing of rituals and the construction of sacrificial altars. Linguistics developed out of a need to formalize grammatical rules for classical Sanskrit, which was used in rituals. Large public offerings also required the construction of elaborate altars, which posed geometrical problems and thus led to advances in geometry. Classic Vedic texts also frequently used very large numbers, for instance, to denote the age of humanity and the Earth, which required a system to represent numbers parsimoniously, giving rise to a 10-base positional system and a symbolic representation for zero as a placeholder, which would later be imported in other mathematical traditions (Joseph 1991 [2000]). In this way, ancient Indian dharma encouraged the emergence of the sciences.

Around the sixth–fifth century BCE, the northern part of the Indian subcontinent experienced an extensive urbanization. In this context, medicine ( āyurveda ) became standardized. This period also gave rise to a wide range of heterodox philosophical schools, including Buddhism, Jainism, and Cārvāka. The latter defended a form of metaphysical naturalism, denying the existence of gods or karma. The relationship between science and religion on the Indian subcontinent is complex, in part because the dharmic religions and philosophical schools are so diverse. For example, Cārvāka proponents had a strong suspicion of inferential beliefs, and rejected Vedic revelation and supernaturalism in general, instead favoring direct observation as a source of knowledge.

Natural theology also flourished in the pre-colonial period, especially in the Advaita Vedānta, a darśana that identifies the self, ātman , with ultimate reality, Brahman. Advaita Vedāntin philosopher Adi Śaṅkara (fl. first half eighth century) was an author who regarded Brahman as the only reality, both the material and the efficient cause of the cosmos. Śaṅkara formulated design and cosmological arguments, drawing on analogies between the world and artifacts: in ordinary life, we never see non-intelligent agents produce purposive design, yet the universe is suitable for human life, just like benches and pleasure gardens are designed for us. Given that the universe is so complex that even an intelligent craftsman cannot comprehend it, how could it have been created by non-intelligent natural forces? Śaṅkara concluded that it must have been designed by an intelligent creator (C.M. Brown 2008: 108).

From 1757 to 1947, India was under British colonial rule. This had a profound influence on its culture as Hindus came into contact with Western science and technology. For local intellectuals, the contact with Western science presented a challenge: how to assimilate these ideas with Hinduism? Mahendrahal Sircar (1833–1904) was one of the first authors to examine evolutionary theory and its implications for Hindu religious beliefs. Sircar was an evolutionary theist, who believed that God used evolution to create current life forms. Evolutionary theism was not a new hypothesis in Hinduism, but the many lines of empirical evidence Darwin provided for evolution gave it a fresh impetus. While Sircar accepted organic evolution through common descent, he questioned the mechanism of natural selection as it was not teleological, which went against his evolutionary theism. This was a widespread problem for the acceptance of evolutionary theory, one that Christian evolutionary theists also wrestled with (Bowler 2009). He also argued against the British colonists’ beliefs that Hindus were incapable of scientific thought, and encouraged fellow Hindus to engage in science, which he hoped would help regenerate the Indian nation (C.M. Brown 2012: chapter 6).

The assimilation of Western culture prompted various revivalist movements that sought to reaffirm the cultural value of Hinduism. They put forward the idea of a Vedic science, where all scientific findings are already prefigured in the Vedas and other ancient texts (e.g., Vivekananda 1904). This idea is still popular within contemporary Hinduism, and is quite similar to ideas held by contemporary Muslims, who refer to the Qurʾān as a harbinger of scientific theories.

Responses to evolutionary theory were as diverse as Christian views on this subject, ranging from creationism (denial of evolutionary theory based on a perceived incompatibility with Vedic texts) to acceptance (see C.M. Brown 2012 for a thorough overview). Authors such as Dayananda Saraswati (1930–2015) rejected evolutionary theory. By contrast, Vivekananda (1863–1902), a proponent of the monistic Advaita Vedānta enthusiastically endorsed evolutionary theory and argued that it is already prefigured in ancient Vedic texts. His integrative view claimed that Hinduism and science are in harmony: Hinduism is scientific in spirit, as is evident from its long history of scientific discovery (Vivekananda 1904). Sri Aurobindo Ghose, a yogi and Indian nationalist who was educated in the West, formulated a synthesis of evolutionary thought and Hinduism. He interpreted the classic avatara doctrine, according to which God incarnates into the world repeatedly throughout time, in evolutionary terms. God thus appears first as an animal, later as a dwarf, then as a violent man (Rama), and then as Buddha, and as Kṛṣṇa. He proposed a metaphysical picture where both spiritual evolution (reincarnation and avatars) and physical evolution are ultimately a manifestation of God (Brahman). This view of reality as consisting of matter ( prakṛti ) and consciousness ( puruṣa ) goes back to sāṃkhya , one of the orthodox Hindu darśana, but Aurobindo made explicit reference to the divine, calling the process during which the supreme Consciousness dwells in matter involution (Aurobindo, 1914–18 [2005], see C.M. Brown 2007 for discussion).

During the twentieth century, Indian scientists began to gain prominence, including C.V. Raman (1888–1970), a Nobel Prize winner in physics, and Satyendra Nath Bose (1894–1974), a theoretical physicist who described the behavior of photons statistically, and who gave his name to bosons. However, these authors were silent on the relationship between their scientific work and their religious beliefs. By contrast, the mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887–1920) was open about his religious beliefs and their influence on his mathematical work. He claimed that the goddess Namagiri helped him to intuit solutions to mathematical problems. Likewise, Jagadish Chandra Bose (1858–1937), a theoretical physicist, biologist, biophysicist, botanist, and archaeologist who worked on radio waves, saw the Hindu idea of unity reflected in the study of nature. He started the Bose institute in Kolkata in 1917, the earliest interdisciplinary scientific institute in India (Subbarayappa 2011).

Buddhism, like the other religious traditions surveyed in this entry, encompasses many views and practices. The principal forms of Buddhism that exist today are Theravāda and Mahāyāna. (Vajrayāna, the tantric tradition of Buddhism, is also sometimes seen as a distinct form.) Theravāda is the dominant form of Buddhism of Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. It traditionally refers to monastic and textual lineages associated with the study of the Pāli Buddhist Canon. Mahāyāna refers to a movement that likely began roughly four centuries after the Buddha’s death; it became the dominant form of Buddhism in East and Central Asia. It includes Chan or Zen, and also tantric Buddhism, which today is found mostly in Tibet, though East Asian forms also exist.

Buddhism originated in the historical figure of the Buddha (historically, Gautama Buddha or Siddhārtha Gautama, ca. 5 th –4 th century BCE). His teaching centered on ethics as well as metaphysics, incapsulated in the Four Noble Truths (on suffering and its origin in human desires), and the Noble Eightfold Path (right view, right aspiration, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration) to end suffering and to break the cycle of rebirths, culminating in reaching Nirvana. Substantive metaphysical teachings include belief in karma, the no-self, and the cycle of rebirth.

As a response to colonialist attitudes, modern Buddhists since the nineteenth century have often presented Buddhism as harmonious with science (Lopez 2008). The argument is roughly that since Buddhism doesn’t require belief in metaphysically substantive entities such as God, the soul, or the self (unlike, for example, Christianity), Buddhism should be easily compatible with the factual claims that scientists make. (Note, however, that historically most Buddhist have believed in various forms of divine abode and divinities.) We could thus expect the dialogue and integration view to prevail in Buddhism. An exemplar for integration is the fourteenth Dalai Lama, who is known for his numerous efforts to lead dialogue between religious people and scientists. He has extensively written on the relationship between Buddhism and various scientific disciplines such as neuroscience and cosmology (e.g., Dalai Lama 2005, see also the Science and Philosophy in the Indian Buddhist Classics series, a four-volume series conceived and compiled by the Dalai Lama, e.g., Jinpa 2017). Donald Lopez Jr (2008) identifies compatibility as an enduring claim in the debate on science and Buddhism, in spite of the fact that what is meant by these concepts has shifted markedly over time. As David McMahan (2009) argues, Buddhism underwent profound shifts in response to modernity in the west as well as globally. In this modern context, Buddhists have often asserted the compatibility of Buddhism with science, favorably contrasting their religion to Christianity in that respect.

The full picture of the relationship between Buddhism and religion is more nuanced than one of wholesale acceptance of scientific claims. I will here focus on East Asia, primarily Japan and China, and the reception of evolutionary theory in the early twentieth century to give a sense of this more complex picture. The earliest translations of evolutionary thought in Japan and China were not drawn from Darwin’s Origin of Species or Descent of Man , but from works by authors who worked in Darwin’s wake, such as Ernst Haeckel and Thomas Huxley. For example, the earliest translated writings on evolutionary theory in China was a compilation by Yan Fu entitled On Natural Evolution ( Tianyan lun ), which incorporated excerpts by Herbert Spencer and Thomas Huxley. This work drew a close distinction between social Darwinism and biological evolution (Ritzinger 2013). Chinese and Japanese Buddhists received these ideas in the context of western colonialism and imperialism. East Asian intellectuals saw how western colonial powers competed with each other for influence on their territory, and discerned parallels between this and the Darwinian struggle for existence. As a result, some intellectuals such as the Japanese political adviser and academic Katō Hiroyuki (1836–1916) drew on Darwinian thought and popularized notions such as “survival of the fittest” to justify the foreign policies of the Meiji government (Burenina 2020). It is in this context that we can situate Buddhist responses to evolutionary theory.

Buddhists do not distinguish between human beings as possessing a soul and other animals as soulless. As we are all part of the cycle of rebirth, we have all been in previous lives various other beings, including birds, insects, and fish. The problem of the specificity of the human soul does not even arise because of the no-self doctrine. Nevertheless, as Justin Ritzinger (2013) points out, Chinese Buddhists in the 1920s and 1930s who were confronted with early evolutionary theory did not accept Darwin’s theory wholesale. In their view, the central element of Darwinism—the struggle for existence—was incompatible with Buddhism, with its emphasis on compassion with other creatures. They rejected social Darwinism (which sought to engineer societies along Darwinian principles) because it was incompatible with Buddhist ethics and metaphysics. Struggling to survive and to propagate was clinging onto worldly things. Taixu (1890–1947), a Chinese Reformer and Buddhist modernist, instead chose to appropriate Pyotr Kropotkin’s evolutionary views, specifically on mutual aid and altruism. The Russian anarchist argued that cooperation was central to evolutionary change, a view that is currently also more mainstream. However, Kropotkin’s view did not go far enough in Taixu’s opinion because mutual aid still requires a self. Only when one recognizes the no-self doctrine could one dedicate oneself entirely to helping others, as bodhisattvas do (Ritzinger 2013).

Similar dynamics can be seen in the reception of evolutionary theory among Japanese Buddhists. Evolutionary theory was introduced in Japan during the early Meji period (1868–1912) when Japan opened itself to foreign trade and ideas. Foreign experts, such as the American zoologist Edward S. Morse (1838–1925) shared their knowledge of the sciences with Japanese scholars. The latter were interested in the social ramifications of Darwinism, particularly because they had access to translated versions of Spencer’s and Huxley’s work before they could read Darwin’s. Japanese Buddhists of the Nichiren tradition accepted many elements of evolutionary theory, but they rejected other elements, notably the struggle for existence, and randomness and chance, as this contradicts the role of karma in one’s circumstances at birth.

Among the advocates of the modern Nishiren Buddhist movement is Honda Nisshō (1867–1931). Honda emphasized the importance of retrogressions (in addition to progress, which was the main element in evolution that western authors such as Haeckel and Spencer considered). He strongly argued against social Darwinism, the application of evolutionary principles in social engineering, on religious grounds. He argued that we can accept humans are descended from apes without having to posit a pessimistic view of human nature that sees us as engaged in a struggle for survival with fellow human beings. Like Chinese Buddhists, Honda thought Kropotkin’s thesis of mutual aid was more compatible with Buddhism, but he was suspicious of Kropotkin’s anarchism (Burenina 2020). His work, like that of other East Asian Buddhists indicates that historically, Buddhists are not passive recipients of western science but creative interpreters. In some cases, their religious reasons for rejecting some metaphysical assumptions in evolutionary theory led them to anticipate recent developments in biology, such as the recognition of cooperation as an evolutionary principle.

Judaism is one of the three major Abrahamic monotheistic traditions, encompassing a range of beliefs and practices that express a covenant between God and the people of Israel. Central to both Jewish practice and beliefs is the study of texts, including the written Torah (the Tanakh, sometimes called “Hebrew Bible”), and the “Oral Law” of Rabbinic Judaism, compiled in such works like the Talmud. There is also a corpus of esoteric, mystical interpretations of biblical texts, the Kabbalah, which has influenced Jewish works on the relationship between science and religion. The Kabbalah also had an influence on Renaissance and early modern Christian authors such as Pico Della Mirandola, whose work helped to shape the scientific revolution (see the entry on Giovanni Pico della Mirandola ). The theologian Maimonides (Rabbi Moshe ben-Maimon, 1138–1204, aka Rambam) had an enduring influence on Jewish thought up until today, also in the science and religion literature.

Most contemporary strains of Judaism are Rabbinic, rather than biblical, and this has profound implications for the relationship between religion and science. While both Jews and Evangelical Christians emphasize the reading of sacred texts, the Rabbinic traditions (unlike, for example, the Evangelical Christian tradition) holds that reading and interpreting texts is far from straightforward. Scripture should not be read in a simple literal fashion. This opens up more space for accepting scientific theories (e.g., Big Bang cosmology) that seem at odds with a simple literal reading of the Torah (e.g., the six-day creation in Genesis) (Mitelman 2011 [ Other Internet Resources ]). Moreover, most non-Orthodox Jews in the US identify as politically liberal, so openness to science may also be an identity marker given that politically liberal people in the US have positive attitudes toward science (Pew Forum, 2021 [ Other Internet Resources ]).

Jewish thinkers have made substantive theoretical contributions to the relationship between science and religion, which differ in interesting respects from those seen in the literature written by Christian authors. To give just a few examples, Hermann Cohen (1842–1918), a prominent neo-Kantian German Jewish philosopher, thought of the relationship between Judaism and science in the light of the advances in scientific disciplines and the increased participation of Jewish scholars in the sciences. He argued that science, ethics, and Judaism should all be conceived of as distinct but complementary sciences. Cohen believed that his Jewish religious community was facing an epistemic crisis. All references to God had become suspect due to an adherence to naturalism, at first epistemological, but fast becoming ontological. Cohen saw the concept of a transcendent God as foundational to both Jewish practice and belief, so he thought adherence to wholesale naturalism threatened both Jewish orthodoxy and orthopraxy. As Teri Merrick (2020) argues, Cohen suspected this was in part due to epistemic oppression and self-censuring (though Cohen did not frame it in these terms). Because Jewish scientists wanted to retain credibility in the Christian majority culture, they underplayed and neglected the rich Jewish intellectual legacy in their practice. In response to this intellectual crisis, Cohen proposed to reframe Jewish thought and philosophy so that it would be recognized as both continuous with the tradition and essentially contributing to ethical and scientific advances. In this way, he reframed this tradition, articulating a broadly Kantian philosophy of science to combat a perceived conflict between Judaism and science (see the entry on Hermann Cohen for an in-depth discussion).

Jewish religious scholars have examined how science might influence religious beliefs, and vice versa. Rather than a unified response we see a spectrum of philosophical views, especially since the nineteenth and early twentieth century. As Shai Cherry (2003) surveys, Jewish scholars in the early twentieth century accepted biological evolution but were hesitant about Darwinian natural selection as the mechanism. The Latvian-born Israeli rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865–1935) thought that religion and science are largely separate domains (a view somewhat similar to Gould’s NOMA), though he believed that there was a possible flow from religion to science. For example, Kook challenged the lack of directionality in Darwinian evolutionary theory. Using readings of the Kabbalah (and Halakhah, Jewish law), he proposed that biological evolution fits in a larger picture of cosmic evolution towards perfection.

By contrast, the American rabbi Morcedai Kaplan (1881–1983) thought information flow between science and religion could go in both directions, a view reminiscent to Barbour’s dialogue position. He repeatedly argued against scientism (the encroachment of science on too many aspects of human life, including ethics and religion), but he believed nevertheless we ought to apply scientific methods to religion. He saw reality as an unfolding process without a pre-ordained goal: it was progressive, but not teleologically determined. Kaplan emphasized the importance of morality (and identified God as the source of this process), and conceptualized humanity as not merely a passive recipient of evolutionary change, but an active participant, prefiguring work in evolutionary biology on the importance of agency in evolution (e.g., Okasha 2018). Thus, Kaplan’s reception of scientific theories, especially evolution, led him to formulate an early Jewish process theology.

Reform Judaism endorses an explicit anti-conflict view on the relationship between science and religion. For example, the Pittsburgh Platform of 1885, the first document of the Reform rabbinate, has a statement that explicitly says that science and Judaism are not in conflict:

We hold that the modern discoveries of scientific researches in the domain of nature and history are not antagonistic to the doctrines of Judaism.

This Platform had an enduring influence on Reform Judaism over the next decades. Secular Jewish scientists such as Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, Douglas Daniel Kahneman, and Stephen J. Gould have also reflected on the relationship between science and broader issues of existential significance, and have exerted considerable influence on the science and religion debate.

3. Central topics in the debate

Current work in the field of science and religion encompasses a wealth of topics, including free will, ethics, human nature, and consciousness. Contemporary natural theologians discuss fine-tuning, in particular design arguments based on it (e.g., R. Collins 2009), the interpretation of multiverse cosmology, and the significance of the Big Bang (see entries on fine-tuning arguments and natural theology and natural religion ). For instance, authors such as Hud Hudson (2013) have explored the idea that God has actualized the best of all possible multiverses. Here follows an overview of two topics that continue to generate substantial interest and debate: divine action (and the closely related topic of creation) and human origins. The focus will be on Christian work in science and religion, due to its prevalence in the literature.

Before scientists developed their views on cosmology and origins of the world, Western cultures already had a doctrine of creation, based on biblical texts (e.g., the first three chapters of Genesis and the book of Revelation) and the writings of church fathers such as Augustine. This doctrine of creation has the following interrelated features: first, God created the world ex nihilo, i.e., out of nothing. Differently put, God did not need any pre-existing materials to make the world, unlike, e.g., the Demiurge (from Greek philosophy), who created the world from chaotic, pre-existing matter. Second, God is distinct from the world; the world is not equal to or part of God (contra pantheism or panentheism) or a (necessary) emanation of God’s being (contra Neoplatonism). Rather, God created the world freely. This introduces an asymmetry between creator and creature: the world is radically contingent upon God’s creative act and is also sustained by God, whereas God does not need creation (Jaeger 2012b: 3). Third, the doctrine of creation holds that creation is essentially good (this is repeatedly affirmed in Genesis 1). The world does contain evil, but God does not directly cause this evil to exist. Moreover, God does not merely passively sustain creation, but rather plays an active role in it, using special divine actions (e.g., miracles and revelations) to care for creatures. Fourth, God made provisions for the end of the world, and will create a new heaven and earth, in this way eradicating evil.

Views on divine action are related to the doctrine of creation. Theologians commonly draw a distinction between general and special divine action, but within the field of science and religion there is no universally accepted definition of these two concepts. One way to distinguish them (Wildman 2008: 140) is to regard general divine action as the creation and sustenance of reality, and special divine action as the collection of specific providential acts, such as miracles and revelations to prophets. Drawing this distinction allows for creatures to be autonomous and indicates that God does not micromanage every detail of creation. Still, the distinction is not always clear-cut, as some phenomena are difficult to classify as either general or special divine action. For example, the Roman Catholic Eucharist (in which bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus) or some healing miracles outside of scripture seem mundane enough to be part of general housekeeping (general divine action), but still seem to involve some form of special intervention on God’s part. Alston (1989) makes a related distinction between direct and indirect divine acts. God brings about direct acts without the use of natural causes, whereas indirect acts are achieved through natural causes. Using this distinction, there are four possible kinds of actions that God could do: God could not act in the world at all, God could act only directly, God could act only indirectly, or God could act both directly and indirectly.

In the science and religion literature, there are two central questions on creation and divine action. To what extent are the Christian doctrine of creation and traditional views of divine action compatible with science? How can these concepts be understood within a scientific context, e.g., what does it mean for God to create and act? Note that the doctrine of creation says nothing about the age of the Earth, nor does it specify a mode of creation. This allows for a wide range of possible views within science and religion, of which Young Earth creationism is but one that is consistent with scripture. Indeed, some scientific theories, such as the Big Bang theory, first proposed by the Belgian Roman Catholic priest and astronomer Georges Lemaître (1927), look congenial to the doctrine of creation. The theory is not in contradiction, and could be integrated into creatio ex nihilo as it specifies that the universe originated from an extremely hot and dense state around 13.8 billion years ago (Craig 2003), although some philosophers have argued against the interpretation that the universe has a temporal beginning (e.g., Pitts 2008).

The net result of scientific findings since the seventeenth century has been that God was increasingly pushed into the margins. This encroachment of science on the territory of religion happened in two ways: first, scientific findings—in particular from geology and evolutionary theory—challenged and replaced biblical accounts of creation. Although the doctrine of creation does not contain details of the mode and timing of creation, the Bible was regarded as authoritative, and that authority got eroded by the sciences. Second, the emerging concept of scientific laws in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century physics seemed to leave no room for special divine action. These two challenges will be discussed below, along with proposed solutions in the contemporary science and religion literature.

Christian authors have traditionally used the Bible as a source of historical information. Biblical exegesis of the creation narratives, especially Genesis 1 and 2 (and some other scattered passages, such as in the Book of Job), remains fraught with difficulties. Are these texts to be interpreted in a historical, metaphorical, or poetic fashion, and what are we to make of the fact that the order of creation differs between these accounts (Harris 2013)? The Anglican archbishop James Ussher (1581–1656) used the Bible to date the beginning of creation at 4004 BCE. Although such literalist interpretations of the biblical creation narratives were not uncommon, and are still used by Young Earth creationists today, theologians before Ussher already offered alternative, non-literalist readings of the biblical materials (e.g., Augustine De Genesi ad litteram , 416). From the seventeenth century onward, the Christian doctrine of creation came under pressure from geology, with findings suggesting that the Earth was significantly older than 4004 BCE. From the eighteenth century on, natural philosophers, such as Benoît de Maillet, Lamarck, Chambers, and Darwin, proposed transmutationist (what would now be called evolutionary) theories, which seem incompatible with scriptural interpretations of the special creation of species. Following the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859), there has been an ongoing discussion on how to reinterpret the doctrine of creation in the light of evolutionary theory (see Bowler 2009 for an overview).

Ted Peters and Martinez Hewlett (2003) have outlined a divine action spectrum to clarify the distinct positions about creation and divine action in the contemporary science and religion literature that focuses on Christians, agnostics, and atheists. They discern two dimensions in this spectrum: the degree of divine action in the natural world, and the form of causal explanations that relate divine action to natural processes. At one extreme are creationists. Like other theists, they believe God has created the world and its fundamental laws, and that God occasionally performs special divine actions (miracles) that intervene in the fabric of those laws. Creationists deny any role of natural selection in the origin of species. Within creationism, there are Old and Young Earth creationism, with the former accepting geology and rejecting evolutionary biology, and the latter rejecting both. Next to creationism is Intelligent Design, which affirms divine intervention in natural processes. Intelligent Design creationists (e.g., Dembski 1998) believe there is evidence of intelligent design in organisms’ irreducible complexity; on the basis of this they infer design and purposiveness (see Kojonen 2016). Like other creationists, they deny a significant role for natural selection in shaping organic complexity and they affirm an interventionist account of divine action. For political reasons they do not label their intelligent designer as God, as they hope to circumvent the constitutional separation of church and state in the US which prohibits teaching religious doctrines in public schools (Forrest & Gross 2004). Theistic evolutionists hold a non-interventionist approach to divine action: God creates indirectly, through the laws of nature (e.g., through natural selection). For example, the theologian John Haught (2000) regards divine providence as self-giving love, and natural selection and other natural processes as manifestations of this love, as they foster creaturely autonomy and independence. While theistic evolutionists allow for special divine action, particularly the miracle of the Incarnation in Christ (e.g., Deane-Drummond 2009), deists such as Michael Corey (1994) think there is only general divine action: God has laid out the laws of nature and lets it run like clockwork without further interference. Deism is still a long distance from ontological materialism, the view that the material world is all there is. Ontological materialists tend to hold that the universe is intelligible, with laws that scientists can discover, but there is no lawgiver and no creator.

Views on divine action were influenced by developments in physics and their philosophical interpretation. In the seventeenth century, natural philosophers, such as Robert Boyle and John Wilkins, developed a mechanistic view of the world as governed by orderly and lawlike processes. Laws, understood as immutable and stable, created difficulties for the concept of special divine action (Pannenberg 2002). How could God act in a world that was determined by laws?

One way to regard miracles and other forms of special divine action is to see them as actions that somehow suspend or ignore the laws of nature. David Hume (1748: 181), for instance, defined a miracle as “a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the deity, or by the interposal of some invisible agent”, and, more recently, Richard Swinburne (1968: 320) defines a miracle as “a violation of a law of Nature by a god”. This concept of divine action is commonly labeled interventionist. Interventionism regards the world as causally deterministic, so God has to create room for special divine actions. By contrast, non-interventionist forms of divine action require a world that is, at some level, non-deterministic, so that God can act without having to suspend or ignore the laws of nature.

In the seventeenth century, the explanation of the workings of nature in terms of elegant physical laws suggested the ingenuity of a divine designer. The design argument reached its peak during the seventeenth and early eighteenth century (McGrath 2011). For example, Samuel Clarke (1705: part XI, cited in Schliesser 2012: 451) proposed an a posteriori argument from design by appealing to Newtonian science, calling attention to the

exquisite regularity of all the planets’ motions without epicycles, stations, retrogradations, or any other deviation or confusion whatsoever.

A late proponent of this view of nature as a perfect smooth machine is William Paley’s Natural Theology (1802).

Another conclusion that the new laws-based physics suggested was that the universe was able to run smoothly without requiring an intervening God. The increasingly deterministic understanding of the universe, ruled by deterministic causal laws as, for example, outlined by Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749–1827), seemed to leave no room for special divine action, which is a key element of the traditional Christian doctrine of creation. Newton resisted interpretations like these in an addendum to the Principia in 1713: the planets’ motions could be explained by laws of gravity, but the positions of their orbits, and the positions of the stars—far enough apart so as not to influence each other gravitationally—required a divine explanation (Schliesser 2012). Alston (1989) argued, contra authors such as Polkinghorne (1998), that mechanistic, pre-twentieth century physics is compatible with divine action and divine free will. Assuming a completely deterministic world and divine omniscience, God could set up initial conditions and the laws of nature in such a way as to bring God’s plans about. In such a mechanistic world, every event is an indirect divine act.

Advances in twentieth-century physics, including the theories of general and special relativity, chaos theory, and quantum theory, overturned the mechanical clockwork view of creation. In the latter half of the twentieth century, chaos theory and quantum physics have been explored as possible avenues to reinterpret divine action. John Polkinghorne (1998) proposed that chaos theory not only presents epistemological limits to what we can know about the world, but that it also provides the world with an “ontological openness” in which God can operate without violating the laws of nature. One difficulty with this model is that it moves from our knowledge of the world to assumptions about how the world is: does chaos theory mean that outcomes are genuinely undetermined, or that we as limited knowers cannot predict them? Robert Russell (2006) proposed that God acts in quantum events. This would allow God to directly act in nature without having to contravene the laws of nature. His is therefore a non-interventionist model: since, under the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, there are no natural efficient causes at the quantum level, God is not reduced to a natural cause. Murphy (1995) outlined a similar bottom-up model where God acts in the space provided by quantum indeterminacy. These attempts to locate God’s actions either in chaos theory or quantum mechanics, which Lydia Jaeger (2012a) has termed “physicalism-plus-God”, have met with sharp criticism (e.g., Saunders 2002; Jaeger 2012a,b). After all, it is not even clear whether quantum theory would allow for free human action, let alone divine action, which we do not know much about (Jaeger 2012a). Next to this, William Carroll (2008), building on Thomistic philosophy, argues that authors such as Polkinghorne and Murphy are making a category mistake: God is not a cause in the way creatures are causes, competing with natural causes, and God does not need indeterminacy in order to act in the world. Rather, as primary cause God supports and grounds secondary causes. While this neo-Thomistic proposal is compatible with determinism (indeed, on this view, the precise details of physics do not matter much), it blurs the distinction between general and special divine action. Moreover, the Incarnation suggests that the idea of God as a cause among natural causes is not an alien idea in theology, and that God incarnate as Jesus at least sometimes acts as a natural cause (Sollereder 2015).

There has been a debate on the question to what extent randomness is a genuine feature of creation, and how divine action and chance interrelate. Chance and stochasticity are important features of evolutionary theory (the non-random retention of random variations). In a famous thought experiment, Gould (1989) imagined that we could rewind the tape of life back to the time of the Burgess Shale (508 million years ago); the chance that a rerun of the tape of life would end up with anything like the present-day life forms is vanishingly small. However, Simon Conway Morris (2003) has insisted species very similar to the ones we know now, including humans, would evolve under a broad range of conditions.

Under a theist interpretation, randomness could either be a merely apparent aspect of creation, or a genuine feature. Plantinga suggests that randomness is a physicalist interpretation of the evidence. God may have guided every mutation along the evolutionary process. In this way, God could

guide the course of evolutionary history by causing the right mutations to arise at the right time and preserving the forms of life that lead to the results he intends. (2011: 121)

By contrast, other authors see stochasticity as a genuine design feature, and not just as a physicalist gloss. Their challenge is to explain how divine providence is compatible with genuine randomness. (Under a deistic view, one could simply say that God started the universe up and did not interfere with how it went, but that option is not open to the theist, and most authors in the field of science and religion are not deists.) The neo-Thomist Elizabeth Johnson (1996) argues that divine providence and true randomness are compatible: God gives creatures true causal powers, thus making creation more excellent than if they lacked such powers. Random occurrences are also secondary causes. Chance is a form of divine creativity that creates novelty, variety, and freedom. One implication of this view is that God may be a risk taker—although, if God has a providential plan for possible outcomes, there is unpredictability but not risk. Johnson uses metaphors of risk taking that, on the whole, leave the creator in a position of control. Creation, then, is akin to jazz improvisation. Why would God take risks? There are several solutions to this question. The free will theodicy says that a creation that exhibits stochasticity can be truly free and autonomous:

Authentic love requires freedom, not manipulation. Such freedom is best supplied by the open contingency of evolution, and not by strings of divine direction attached to every living creature. (Miller 1999 [2007: 289])

The “only way theodicy” goes a step further, arguing that a combination of laws and chance is not only the best way, but the only way for God to achieve God’s creative plans (see, e.g., Southgate 2008 for a defense).

Christianity, Islam, and Judaism have similar creation stories, which ultimately go back to the first book of the Hebrew Bible (Genesis). According to Genesis, humans are the result of a special act of creation. Genesis 1 offers an account of the creation of the world in six days, with the creation of human beings on the sixth day. It specifies that humans were created male and female, and that they were made in God’s image. Genesis 2 provides a different order of creation, where God creates humans earlier in the sequence (before other animals), and only initially creates a man, later fashioning a woman out of the man’s rib. Islam has a creation narrative similar to Genesis 2, with Adam being fashioned out of clay. These handcrafted humans are regarded as the ancestors of all living humans today. Together with Ussher’s chronology, the received view in eighteenth-century Europe was that humans were created only about 6000 years ago, in an act of special creation.

Humans occupy a privileged position in these creation accounts. In Christianity, Judaism, and some strands of Islam, humans are created in the image of God ( imago Dei ). Humans also occupy a special place in creation as a result of the Fall. In Genesis 3, the account of the Fall stipulates that the first human couple lived in the Garden of Eden in a state of innocence and/or righteousness. This means they were able to not sin, whereas we are no longer able to refrain from sinning. By eating from the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Good and Evil they fell from this state, and death, manual labor, as well as pain in childbirth were introduced. Moreover, as a result of this so-called “original sin”, the effects of Adam’s sin are passed on to every human being. The Augustinian interpretation of original sin also emphasizes that our reasoning capacities have been marred by the distorting effects of sin (the so-called noetic effects of sin): as a result of sin, our original perceptual and reasoning capacities have been marred. This interpretation is influential in contemporary analytic philosophy of religion. For example, Plantinga (2000) appeals to the noetic effects of sin to explain religious diversity and unbelief, offering this as an explanation for why not everyone believes in God even though this belief would be properly basic.

There are different ways in which Christians have thought about the Fall and original sin. In Western Christianity, Augustine’s doctrine of original sin is very influential, though there is no generally accepted Christian doctrine on original sin (Couenhoven 2005). For Augustine, humans were in a state of original righteousness before the Fall, and by their action not only marred themselves but the entirety of creation. By contrast, Eastern Orthodox churches are more influenced by Irenaeus, an early Church Father who argued that humans were originally innocent and immature, rather than righteous. John Hick (1966) was an influential proponent of “Irenaean style” theodicy in contemporary Christianity.

Over the past decades, authors in the Christian religion and science literature have explored these two interpretations (Irenaean, Augustinian) and how they can be made compatible with scientific findings (see De Smedt and De Cruz 2020 for a review). Scientific findings and theories relevant to human origins come from a range of disciplines, in particular geology, paleoanthropology (the study of ancestral hominins, using fossils and other evidence), archaeology, and evolutionary biology. These findings challenge traditional religious accounts of humanity, including the special creation of humans, the imago Dei , the historical Adam and Eve, and original sin.

In natural philosophy, the dethroning of humanity from its position as a specially created species predates Darwin and can already be found in early transmutationist publications. For example, Benoît de Maillet’s posthumously published Telliamed (1748, the title is his name in reverse) traces the origins of humans and other terrestrial animals from sea creatures. Jean-Baptiste Lamarck proposed chimpanzees as the ancestors to humans in his Philosophie Zoologique (1809). The Scottish publisher and geologist Robert Chambers’ anonymously published Vestiges of Creation (1844) stirred controversy with its detailed naturalistic account of the origin of species. He proposed that the first organisms arose through spontaneous generation, and that all subsequent organisms evolved from them. Moreover, he argued that humans have a single evolutionary origin:

The probability may now be assumed that the human race sprung from one stock, which was at first in a state of simplicity, if not barbarism (1844: 305)

a view starkly different from the Augustinian interpretation of humanity as being in a prelapsarian state of perfection.

Darwin was initially reluctant to publish on human origins. While he did not discuss human evolution in his Origin of Species , he promised, “Light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history” (1859: 487). Huxley (1863) wrote Man’s Place in Nature , the first book on human evolution from a Darwinian point of view which discussed fossil evidence, such as the then recently uncovered Neanderthal fossils from Gibraltar. Darwin’s (1871) Descent of Man identified Africa as the likely place where humans originated, and used comparative anatomy to demonstrate that chimpanzees and gorillas were closely related to humans. In the twentieth century, paleoanthropologists debated whether humans separated from the other great apes (at the time wrongly classified into the paraphyletic group Pongidae ) about 15 million years ago, or about 5 million years ago. Molecular clocks—first immune responses (e.g., Sarich & Wilson 1967), then direct genetic evidence (e.g., Rieux et al. 2014)—favor the shorter chronology.

The discovery of many hominin fossils, including Ardipithecus ramidus (4.4 million years ago), Australopithecus afarensis (nicknamed “Lucy”), about 3.5 million years old, the Sima de los Huesos hominins (about 400,000 years old, ancestors to the Neanderthals), Homo neanderthalensis , and the intriguing Homo floresiensis (small hominins who lived on the island of Flores, Indonesia, dated to 700,000–50,000 years ago) have created a rich, complex picture of hominin evolution. These finds are supplemented by detailed analyses of ancient DNA extracted from fossil remains, bringing to light a previously unknown species of hominin (the Denisovans) who lived in Siberia up to about 40,000 years ago. Taken together, this evidence indicates that humans did not evolve in a simple linear fashion, but that human evolution resembles an intricate branching tree with many dead ends, in line with the evolution of other species. Genetic and fossil evidence favors a predominantly African origin of our species Homo sapiens (as early as 315,000 years ago) with limited gene-flow from other hominin species such as Neanderthals and Denisovans (see, e.g., Richter et al. 2017).

In the light of these scientific findings, contemporary science and religion authors have reconsidered the questions of human uniqueness, imago Dei , the Incarnation, and the historicity of original sin. Some authors have attempted to reinterpret human uniqueness as a number of species-specific cognitive and behavioral adaptations. For example, van Huyssteen (2006) considers the ability of humans to engage in cultural and symbolic behavior, which became prevalent in the Upper Paleolithic, as a key feature of uniquely human behavior. Other theologians have opted to broaden the notion of imago Dei. Given what we know about the capacities for morality and reason in non-human animals, Celia Deane-Drummond (2012) and Oliver Putz (2009) reject an ontological distinction between humans and non-human animals, and argue for a reconceptualization of the imago Dei to include at least some nonhuman animals. Joshua Moritz (2011) raises the question of whether extinct hominin species, such as Homo neanderthalensis and Homo floresiensis , which co-existed with Homo sapiens for some part of prehistory, partook in the divine image.

There is also discussion of how we can understand the Incarnation (the belief that Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, became a human being) with the evidence we have of human evolution. Some interpret Christ’s divine nature quite liberally. For instance, Peacocke (1979) regarded Jesus as the point where humanity is perfect for the first time. Christ is the progression and culmination of what evolution has been working toward in the teleological, progressivist interpretation of evolution by Teilhard de Chardin (1971). According to Teilhard, evil is still horrible but no longer incomprehensible; it becomes a natural feature of creation—since God chose evolution as his mode of creation, evil arises as an inevitable byproduct. Deane-Drummond (2009), however, points out that this interpretation is problematic: Teilhard worked within a Spencerian progressivist model of evolution, and he was anthropocentric, seeing humanity as the culmination of evolution. Contemporary evolutionary theory has repudiated the Spencerian progressivist view, and adheres to a stricter Darwinian model. Deane-Drummond, who regards human morality as lying on a continuum with the social behavior of other animals, conceptualizes the Fall as a mythical, rather than a historical event. It represents humanity’s sharper awareness of moral concerns and its ability to make wrong choices. She regards Christ as incarnate wisdom, situated in a theodrama that plays against the backdrop of an evolving creation. Like all human beings, Christ is connected to the rest of creation through common descent. By saving us, he saves the whole of creation.

Debates on the Fall and the historical Adam have centered on how these narratives can be understood in the light of contemporary science. On the face of it, limitations of our cognitive capacities can be naturalistically explained as a result of biological constraints, so there seems little explanatory gain to appeal to the narrative of the Fall. Some have attempted to interpret the concepts of sin and Fall in ways that are compatible with paleoanthropology, notably Peter van Inwagen (2004) and Jamie K. Smith (2017), who have argued that God could have providentially guided hominin evolution until there was a tightly-knit community of primates, endowed with reason, language, and free will, and this community was in close union with God. At some point in history, these hominins somehow abused their free will to distance themselves from God. These narratives follow the Augustinian tradition. Others, such as John Schneider (2014, 2020), on the other hand, argue that there is no genetic or paleoanthropological evidence for such a community of superhuman beings.

This survey has given a sense of the richness of the literature of science and religion. Giving an exhaustive overview would go beyond the scope of an encyclopedia entry. Because science and religion are such broad terms, the literature has split up in diverse fields of “science engaged theology”, where a specific claim or subfield in science is studied in relation to a specific claim in theology (Perry & Ritchie 2018). For example, rather than ask if Christianity is compatible with science, one could ask whether Christian eschatology is compatible with scientific claims about cultural evolution, or the cosmic fate of the universe. As the scope of science and religion becomes less parochial and more global in its outlook, the different topics the field can engage with become very diverse.

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How to cite this entry . Preview the PDF version of this entry at the Friends of the SEP Society . Look up topics and thinkers related to this entry at the Internet Philosophy Ontology Project (InPhO). Enhanced bibliography for this entry at PhilPapers , with links to its database.
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Comte, Auguste | cosmological argument | Hume, David: on religion | teleology: teleological arguments for God’s existence | theology, natural and natural religion


Many thanks to Bryce Huebner, Evan Thompson, Meir-Simchah Panzer, Teri Merrick, Geoff Mitelman, Joshua Yuter, Katherine Dormandy, Isaac Choi, Egil Asprem, Johan De Smedt, Taede Smedes, H.E. Baber, Fabio Gironi, Erkki Kojonen, Andreas Reif, Raphael Neelamkavil, Hans Van Eyghen, and Nicholas Joll, for their feedback on an earlier version of this manuscript.

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Library of Congress Catalog Data: ISSN 1095-5054

Three Essays on Religion

Author:  King, Martin Luther, Jr.

Date:  September 1, 1948 to May 31, 1951 ?

Location:  Chester, Pa. ?

Genre:  Essay

Topic:  Martin Luther King, Jr. - Education

In the following three essays, King wrestles with the role of religion in modern society. In the first assignment, he calls science and religion “different though converging truths” that both “spring from the same seeds of vital human needs.” King emphasizes an awareness of God’s presence in the second document, noting that religion’s purpose “is not to perpetuate a dogma or a theology; but to produce living witnesses and testimonies to the power of God in human experience.” In the final handwritten essay King acknowledges the life-affirming nature of Christianity, observing that its adherents have consistently “looked forward for a time to come when the law of love becomes the law of life.”

"Science and Religion"

There is widespread belief in the minds of many that there is a conflict between science and religion. But there is no fundamental issue between the two. While the conflict has been waged long and furiously, it has been on issues utterly unrelated either to religion or to science. The conflict has been largely one of trespassing, and as soon as religion and science discover their legitimate spheres the conflict ceases.

Religion, of course, has been very slow and loath to surrender its claim to sovereignty in all departments of human life; and science overjoyed with recent victories, has been quick to lay claim to a similar sovereignty. Hence the conflict.

But there was never a conflict between religion and science as such. There cannot be. Their respective worlds are different. Their methods are dissimilar and their immediate objectives are not the same. The method of science is observation, that of religion contemplation. Science investigates. Religion interprets. One seeks causes, the other ends. Science thinks in terms of history, religion in terms of teleology. One is a survey, the other an outlook.

The conflict was always between superstition disguised as religion and materialism disguised as science, between pseudo-science and pseudo-religion.

Religion and science are two hemispheres of human thought. They are different though converging truths. Both science and religion spring from the same seeds of vital human needs.

Science is the response to the human need of knowledge and power. Religion is the response to the human need for hope and certitude. One is an outreaching for mastery, the other for perfection. Both are man-made, and like man himself, are hedged about with limitations. Neither science nor religion, by itself, is sufficient for man. Science is not civilization. Science is organized knowledge; but civilization which is the art of noble and progressive communal living requires much more than knowledge. It needs beauty which is art, and faith and moral aspiration which are religion. It needs artistic and spiritual values along with the intellectual.

Man cannot live by facts alone. What we know is little enough. What we are likely to know will always be little in comparison with what there is to know. But man has a wish-life which must build inverted pyramids upon the apexes of known facts. This is not logical. It is, however, psychological.

Science and religion are not rivals. It is only when one attempts to be the oracle at the others shrine that confusion arises. Whan the scientist from his laboratory, on the basis of alleged scientific knowledge presumes to issue pronouncements on God, on the origin and destiny of life, and on man's place in the scheme of things he is [ passing? ] out worthless checks. When the religionist delivers ultimatums to the scientist on the basis of certain cosomologies embedded in the sacred text then he is a sorry spectacle indeed.

When religion, however, on the strength of its own postulates, speaks to men of God and the moral order of the universe, when it utters its prophetic burden of justice and love and holiness and peace, then its voice is the voice of the eternal spiritual truth, irrefutable and invincible.,

"The Purpose of Religion"

What is the purpose of religion? 1  Is it to perpetuate an idea about God? Is it totally dependent upon revelation? What part does psychological experience play? Is religion synonymous with theology?

Harry Emerson Fosdick says that the most hopeful thing about any system of theology is that it will not last. 2  This statement will shock some. But is the purpose of religion the perpetuation of theological ideas? Religion is not validated by ideas, but by experience.

This automatically raises the question of salvation. Is the basis for salvation in creeds and dogmas or in experience. Catholics would have us believe the former. For them, the church, its creeds, its popes and bishops have recited the essence of religion and that is all there is to it. On the other hand we say that each soul must make its own reconciliation to God; that no creed can take the place of that personal experience. This was expressed by Paul Tillich when he said, “There is natural religion which belongs to man by nature. But there is also a revealed religion which man receives from a supernatural reality.” 3 Relevant religion therefore, comes through revelation from God, on the one hand; and through repentance and acceptance of salvation on the other hand. 4  Dogma as an agent in salvation has no essential place.

This is the secret of our religion. This is what makes the saints move on in spite of problems and perplexities of life that they must face. This religion of experience by which man is aware of God seeking him and saving him helps him to see the hands of God moving through history.

Religion has to be interpreted for each age; stated in terms that that age can understand. But the essential purpose of religion remains the same. It is not to perpetuate a dogma or theology; but to produce living witnesses and testimonies to the power of God in human experience.

[ signed ] M. L. King Jr. 5

"The Philosophy of Life Undergirding Christianity and the Christian Ministry"

Basically Christianity is a value philosophy. It insists that there are eternal values of intrinsic, self-evidencing validity and worth, embracing the true and the beautiful and consummated in the Good. This value content is embodied in the life of Christ. So that Christian philosophy is first and foremost Christocentric. It begins and ends with the assumption that Christ is the revelation of God. 6

We might ask what are some of the specific values that Christianity seeks to conserve? First Christianity speaks of the value of the world. In its conception of the world, it is not negative; it stands over against the asceticisms, world denials, and world flights, for example, of the religions of India, and is world-affirming, life affirming, life creating. Gautama bids us flee from the world, but Jesus would have us use it, because God has made it for our sustenance, our discipline, and our happiness. 7  So that the Christian view of the world can be summed up by saying that it is a place in which God is fitting men and women for the Kingdom of God.

Christianity also insists on the value of persons. All human personality is supremely worthful. This is something of what Schweitzer has called “reverence for life.” 8  Hunan being must always be used as ends; never as means. I realize that there have been times that Christianity has short at this point. There have been periods in Christians history that persons have been dealt with as if they were means rather than ends. But Christianity at its highest and best has always insisted that persons are intrinsically valuable. And so it is the job of the Christian to love every man because God love love. We must not love men merely because of their social or economic position or because of their cultural contribution, but we are to love them because  God  they are of value to God.

Christianity is also concerned about the value of life itself. Christianity is concerned about the good life for every  child,  man,  and  woman and child. This concern for the good life and the value of life is no where better expressed than in the words of Jesus in the gospel of John: “I came that you might have life and that you might have it more abundantly.” 9  This emphasis has run throughout the Christian tradition. Christianity has always had a concern for the elimination of disease and pestilence. This is seen in the great interest that it has taken in the hospital movement.

Christianity is concerned about increasing value. The whole concept of the kingdom of God on earth expressing a concern for increasing value. We need not go into a dicussion of the nature and meaning of the Kingdom of God, only to say that Christians throughout the ages have held tenaciouly to this concept. They have looked forward for a time to come when the law of love becomes the law of life.

In the light of all that we have said about Christianity as a value philosophy, where does the ministry come into the picture? 10

1.  King may have also considered the purpose of religion in a Morehouse paper that is no longer extant, as he began a third Morehouse paper, “Last week we attempted to discuss the purpose of religion” (King, “The Purpose of Education,” September 1946-February 1947, in  Papers  1:122).

2.  “Harry Emerson Fosdick” in  American Spiritual Autobiographies: Fifteen Self-Portraits,  ed. Louis Finkelstein (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1948), p. 114: “The theology of any generation cannot be understood, apart from the conditioning social matrix in which it is formulated. All systems of theology are as transient as the cultures they are patterned from.”

3.  King further developed this theme in his dissertation: “[Tillich] finds a basis for God's transcendence in the conception of God as abyss. There is a basic inconsistency in Tillich's thought at this point. On the one hand he speaks as a religious naturalist making God wholly immanent in nature. On the other hand he speaks as an extreme supernaturalist making God almost comparable to the Barthian ‘wholly other’” (King, “A Comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman,” 15 April 1955, in  Papers  2:535).

4.  Commas were added after the words “religion” and “salvation.”

5.  King folded this assignment lengthwise and signed his name on the verso of the last page.

6.  King also penned a brief outline with this title (King, “The Philosophy of Life Undergirding Christianity and the Christian Ministry,” Outline, September 1948-May 1951). In the outline, King included the reference “see Enc. Of Religion p. 162.” This entry in  An Encyclopedia of Religion,  ed. Vergilius Ferm (New York: Philosophical Library, 1946) contains a definition of Christianity as “Christo-centric” and as consisting “of eternal values of intrinsic, self-evidencing validity and worth, embracing the true and the beautiful and consummated in the Good.” King kept this book in his personal library.

7.  Siddhartha Gautama (ca. 563-ca. 483 BCE) was the historical Buddha.

8.  For an example of Schweitzer's use of the phrase “reverence for life,” see Albert Schweitzer, “The Ethics of Reverence for Life,”  Christendom  1 (1936): 225-239.

9.  John 10:10.

10.  In his outline for this paper, King elaborated: “The Ministry provides leadership in helping men to recognize and accept the eternal values in the Xty religion. a. The necessity of a call b. The necessity for disinterested love c. The [ necessity ] for moral uprightness” (King, “Philosophy of Life,” Outline, September 1948-May 1951).

Source:  CSKC-INP, Coretta Scott King Collection, In Private Hands, Sermon file.

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  • 1: Introducing a Critical Thinking Approach to Religious Studies 2: Methods of Studying Religion 3: Would You Believe! Religious Beliefs and their Reasons 4: The Right to Sacred Things: Symbol, Myth, and Ritual 5: Inside the Religious Brain: New Research into Religious Experience 6:
  • Chapter 6: Trouble in the Global Village: Violence in the Name of Religion 7: Making It After All: The Future of Religion Glossary Key Scholars Notes Bibliography Index About the Author.
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The Role of Religion in Today’s Society Essay Example

The Role of Religion in Today’s Society Essay Example

  • Pages: 8 (1951 words)
  • Published: September 28, 2021

In every society, life is defined by certain beliefs that are considered to be the pillars of mankind existence. In each and every community, there are beliefs about the existence of a supernatural being known as God in Christians and Allah in the Islamic society. The worship and belief in God is what based on the “act of faith” which is believing in what you may not have seen but merely heard about. Religion has its rules and laws that have been accepted and observed in the earlier society many centuries ago, as well as in our modern society. Religion may be seen as a vital element in the society since it is known to guide morality in the society. It is also known for its participation in the rise of great and astounding societal ideologies by great philosophers which have helped a lot in shaping the pas

t society into today’s organized society. However, there are also the drawbacks about religion which are evident in our present society. In this essay therefore, my aim is to explain the role and show the growing influence of religion from the past to today’s human society.

Religion is a vital component of a good society since it mainly emphasizes on morality. The use of religious ethics in the society provides a basis for encouraging better human behavior. For instance, Christians follow religious teachings of goodwill and equality. They believe that every man is equal before God. This belief has made many religious reformers to campaign against injustice. Social equality is supported by Christianity and contributed a lot for example in ending slave trade. Christians like William Wilberforce fought in

the past to end slavery since they believed that slavery was not compatible with Christianity. In today’s society, slavery is always in form of oppression of the poor. However, these Christian morals have formed the basis of an ethical political life where leaders have included laws that ensure people have equal rights in many nations.

Religion has led to a lot of transformation in the society in that, many conflicts have been avoided through its teachings. In some countries, different political leaders come up with different political ideologies and this may result to civil wars. However, the message of forgiveness from religious ethics is what restores peace in such nations. Some of the world’s great acts of forgiveness have been motivated by a religious ethic and faith in the importance of forgiveness. For example, Martin Luther King in politics, used Christian language to preach a message of peace and forgiveness. Mahatma Gandhi is also another famous leader who through religious ethic and faith changed the perception of the society on politics and social inequality.

Religion is important in every society since it is a symbol of unity. Christianity and Islam have been accepted in almost every nation all over the world and this reveals that people have somehow share common religious beliefs. People who share common religious beliefs, have the responsibility of living in harmony among themselves. Christianity and Islam are the main religious beliefs, but religion has grown to include other beliefs like Hindu and monks as well as many Christian denominations. The growth in religion proves that people are in some way uniting with common religious ideologies. Unity is what has led to the creation

of the United Nations which is responsible in making the world a better place to live in. Unity drives away conflicts and wars in the society.

Religion delivers the message of hope among its subjects. For instance, people fear death since they never have the idea of what lies next upon dying. However, it is interesting that almost every religious belief preaches better life after death. In Christians, there is even the hope that God will create a new world (paradise) after the current world will get destroyed by the evil deeds of mankind. This message enlightens people to consider conserving and nurturing the environment. It is even written in the bible in the book of Genesis that man was given the responsibility to take care of earth. This proves that in the society, religion has the message of nurturing and restoration of not only the human race but also the universe.

On the contrary, religion can also be argued to have brought a lot of negative impacts in the society. In radical Islamic states like the United Arab Emirates, religion is considered to be everything and goes beyond even humanity. In such states people are deprived the freedom of liberalism. For instance in a radical Islamic state, any citizen who opposes the movement is punished harshly since radical Islamists believe that their religious doctrines are unquestionable and right for a moral society. In a radical Islamic state, political freedom is never exercised. An example is in an Islamic state like Iran, women are not allowed to vote during elections. Women are abused and despised in such Islamic states since the Islamic religion never refer women as

equals to men. . For instance, women in radical Islamic states are never allowed to give opinions about their government (Ball, 2014).

Some of the great philosophers emerged with theories and ideologies that tend to prove that religion has brought more harm in the society than good. Such scholars include Karl Marx and Sam Harris. Looking at Karl Marx view on religion, he believed that religion was a human product. Marx did not criticize religion as a set of beliefs but he claimed that religion reflected what the society looked like at that time. Marx argued that and I quote, “Man makes religion, religion doesn't make man. Religion is the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet found himself or has already lost himself again” (McKinnon, 2005). By this he proposed that religion never reflected a man’s true consciousness but a false one.

Marx went ahead to claim that religion is the “opium of the people.” By this, he meant that, religion taught people how to accept their current life no matter how bad it was. He felt that the society and people were believing in some superstition beliefs. In this I also tend to agree that religion like an opiate created an illusion that taught people to be concerned with life after death rather than their immediate poverty and challenges they were suffering. Religion gave them consolation that better rewards and happiness were postponed to some afterlife. For example, a poor person will attend church to be consoled by Christian teachings like Jesus was poor too when he was in earth, but now is the ruler of the world since he gave up

all the worldly pleasures to seek God. Marx therefore saw religion was a false truth and hope that aims at comforting the poor (McKinnon, 2005). It is also true that religion is used by the ruling lasses o always give false hope and comfort to the poor in order for them to strengthen and keep their power.

Marxist view of religion in the society can be identified like for example Scandinavian countries have less religion interest and that is why they are prosperous economically. In other poor countries like Brazil, religion is considered important as it gives them economical comfort. In today’s political arenas, we can bear witness on how leaders lie and give false promises and hopes to their citizens in order to keep on ruling and quench their thirst for power. All in all, Marx agreed that religion served as a sanctuary from the harshness of everyday life and oppression by the powerful, and predicted that traditional religion would one day pass away (McKinnon, 2005).

On the other hand, Sam Harris is an American neuroscientist and scholar who has shared the same Marxist view but in a different way in the present world. In his article in the Los Angeles Times dating September 2006, he saw religion as a threat to human existence. He emphasized that the modern religion perception was in lie with what Karl Marx called “illusion”. In the paper he argued that liberalism had grown dangerously out of touch with the realities of the world. Specifically, he mentioned about what devout Muslims actually believed about the West, about paradise and about the ultimate ascendance of their faith. This in short is the

way the Jihad and radical Islamic movements had illusions about life after death. Islam bombers were ready to give their real life and kill many people just because their faith promises them good life and even 72 virgins for each of them! In his claim he stated that “A cult of death is forming in the Muslim world for reasons that are perfectly explicable in terms of the Islamic doctrines of martyrdom and jihad.” (Harris, 2006)

Harris was astonished that his words were mistaken in that other scholars opposed him saying that he was against religion. From my own opinion, Harris is not criticizing the set Islamic beliefs but the inhuman acts of terror that are justified by these beliefs. In reality, nobody has ever died and resurrected according to the Islamic beliefs yet they claim that after death one is going to be rewarded. It is ironical also since the very poor Islamic believers are the ones who are used as suicide bombers. After the terror act, their families are well rewarded by the Jihad which leaves the question, why should you be paid if what you are doing is divine. Harris is indeed right in claiming that “Despite abundant evidence to the contrary, liberals continue to imagine that Muslim terrorism springs from economic despair, lack of education and American militarism” (Harris, 2006). He sees the Islamic religion support by the liberal world (scholars) as a benighted religious solidarity which is the greatest problem facing civilization in today’s world and yet it is ignored. In addition, the Islamic ideology is criticized by Harris for despising women and its intolerance toward sexual minorities. To prove that Harris

is a liberal who cannot be tied by religion, he is currently set to vote for Hillary Clinton who is set to become the first female American president in the next elections (Tayler, 2016). Harris does not see the reason why religion should claim that women are not equal to men. Just like Harris, I also see women as level with men and that religion is just supporting male chauvinism and the male ego.

In conclusion and in my opinion, religion in the past was in deed a vital tool in the foundation of a “perfect” society. Religion has allowed the society to establish good moral codes and reason of human existence. However, from the arguments I have evidently outlined in this essay, I tend to support that in the present and modern society religion is failing. As I indicated above, terror will continue to exist as long as liberals keep viewing the Islamic doctrines of martyrdom as religious beliefs. Religion in the modern world has justified many injustice acts and acts of oppression. Women are human beings just like men and can do everything they do. I always say that life occurs once and there is no room for making one live a sad life like women do. For the modern and future society to benefit from religion, some religious beliefs should be corrected and amended.

  • Ball T., Dagger R. & O’Neill D. I. (2014). Political Ideologies and the Democratic Ideal. 9th Ed. New Jersey. Pearson Education, Inc.
  • McKinnon, AM. (2005). Reading ‘Opium of the People’: Expression, Protest and the Dialectics of Religion. Critical Sociology
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Awe and dread: How religions have responded to total solar eclipses over the centuries

FILE - A partial solar eclipse is seen behind a cross on the steeple of the St. George church, in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, June 21, 2020. Throughout history, solar eclipses have had profound impact on adherents of various religions around the world. They were viewed as messages from God or spiritual forces, inducing emotions ranging from dread to wonder. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File)

FILE - A partial solar eclipse is seen behind a cross on the steeple of the St. George church, in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, June 21, 2020. Throughout history, solar eclipses have had profound impact on adherents of various religions around the world. They were viewed as messages from God or spiritual forces, inducing emotions ranging from dread to wonder. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File)

FILE - Pedestrians walk near Sultan Ahmed mosque during a partial solar eclipse in Istanbul, Turkey, Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022. Throughout history, solar eclipses have had profound impact on adherents of various religions around the world. They were viewed as messages from God or spiritual forces, inducing emotions ranging from dread to wonder. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel, File)

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Throughout history, solar eclipses have had profound impact on adherents of various religions around the world. They were viewed as messages from God or spiritual forces, inducing emotions ranging from dread to wonder.

Ahead of the total solar eclipse that will follow a long path over North America on Monday, here’s a look at how several of the world’s major religions have responded to such eclipses over the centuries and in modern times.

In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, it is believed that the energy of positive and negative actions is multiplied during major astronomical events such as a solar eclipse.

According to the late Lama Zopa Rinpoche with the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition, both lunar and solar eclipses are auspicious days for spiritual practice. He has said that the merit — which represents the positive karmic results of good intentions and actions — generated on lunar eclipses is multiplied by 700,000 and on solar eclipses by 100 million. Some of the recommended spiritual activities on these days include chanting mantras and sutras.


Some Christians have believed that an eclipse portends the coming of the “end times” that will precede Christ’s return to Earth as prophesized at various points in the Bible. One such passage is in the second chapter of Acts: “The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.”

People wait to watch a total solar eclipse in Mazatlan, Mexico, Monday, April 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

There also has been a persisting belief among some Christians that an eclipse occurred during the crucifixion because three of the Bible’s four Gospels mention a three-hour period of darkness as Jesus died.

“It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining,” says Luke 23:44.

It’s been noted that a three-hour period of darkness doesn’t suggest a solar eclipse, which produces only a few minutes of darkness.

But a recent commentary on — a website supported by numerous prominent evangelical pastors — said the darkness depicted in the three Gospels “represents a profound spiritual transition.”

“The temporary obscuring of the sun, juxtaposed with the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus, offers a powerful metaphor for the transient nature of despair and the eternal promise of salvation and rebirth,” the commentary says.

The origin of eclipses in Hinduism is explained in ancient legends known as puranas. In one legend, the devas and asuras, who symbolized good and evil respectively, churned the ocean to receive the nectar of eternal life. As one of the asuras, Svarbhanu, posed as a deva to receive the nectar, the Sun god (Surya) and Moon god (Chandra) alerted Mohini, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, who then used a discus to behead Svarbhanu.

But because the asura had already consumed a portion of the nectar, his immortal but detached head and body lived on under the names Rahu and Ketu. Legend has it that Rahu occasionally swallows the sun and the moon because of the gods’ part in his misery, causing solar and lunar eclipses.

Hindus generally regard a solar or lunar eclipse as a bad omen. Some observe fasts before and many do not eat during the period of the eclipse. Observant Hindus ritually bathe to cleanse themselves during the first and final phases of an eclipse. Some also offer prayers to ancestors. Most temples are closed for the duration of the eclipse. Devotees gather for prayers along pilgrimage sites near holy rivers during the onset of an eclipse. The event is considered to be a good time for prayer, meditation and chanting of mantras — all believed to ward off evil.

In Islam, a solar eclipse is a time to turn to God and pray. The eclipse prayer is based on narrations of sayings and actions of Prophet Muhammad.

Kaiser Aslam, Muslim chaplain at the Center for Islamic Life at Rutgers University, said one narration cited the prophet as saying: “The sun and the moon are two signs amongst the signs of Allah and they do not eclipse because of the death of someone. ... Whenever you see these eclipses pray and invoke (Allah).”

The story was that “after the death of the Prophet Muhammad’s son, Ibrahim, his companions tried to comfort him by saying that the sun eclipsed due to the greatness of the loss,” Aslam said. “The Prophet corrected them by reminding them that the sun and moon are signs of God and to not add any superstitions as to why an eclipse happens.”

On April 8, Aslam will lead the “kusuf” prayer on campus. Customarily, there’s a brief sermon after the prayer to explain the lessons behind it and dispel any superstitions around it, he added.

“It is a beautiful and meaningful prayer that emphasizes our relationship with God’s creation, making sure to give our devotion to God, instead of incidental occurrences in God’s creation,” Aslam said.

Mahmoud Alhawary, an official with Al-Azhar’s Islamic Research Academy in Cairo, said it’s better for the eclipse prayer to be performed in congregation at the mosque, but that Muslims may also pray individually elsewhere.

The wisdom “is for the individual to seek refuge in God, requesting the lifting of this affliction,” Alhawary said. “People should know that the occurrences of the whole universe are in God’s hands.”

The Talmud — the collection of writings compiled more than 1,500 years ago that constitute Jewish religious law — offers specific blessings for many natural phenomena, but not for eclipses. Instead, it depicts an eclipse as “an ill omen for the world.”

On — a website serving an Orthodox Jewish audience — Chicago-based Rabbi Menachem Posner sought to view the Talmud passage in a modern context, given the consensus that eclipses are natural events that can be predicted centuries in advance.

“Eclipses should be opportunities to increase in prayer and introspection — as opposed to prompting joyous blessings,” Posner wrote. “It is a sign that we really could and should be doing better.”

Writing in early March for the Orthodox Jewish education organization Aish, Rabbi Mordechai Becher noted that Judaism has longstanding interconnections with astronomy. He said there are three craters on the moon named after medieval rabbis with expertise in astronomy.

As for eclipses, Becher — an instructor at Yeshiva University — suggested they were made possible by God for a profound reason.

“He created a system that would remind us regularly that our choices can create darkness, even at times when there should be light,” he wrote. “Our free will choices can create a barrier between us and the Divine light, but can also allow Divine light to be seen here.”

Looking at a solar eclipse without glasses can be dangerous, here’s what to know .

Associated Press religion coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.


Opinion How Trump fills a void in an increasingly secular America

religion nowadays essay

Reporters have been noticing something new about Donald Trump ’s campaign events this time around. They often resemble religious revival meetings . The New York Times notes that where his rallies were once “improvised and volatile,” their finales now feel more planned, solemn and infused with religion. The closing 15 minutes “evokes an evangelical altar call” filled with references to God.

Trump is a shrewd reader of his supporters and has clearly seen what the data show. White evangelicals, who make up about 14 percent of the population, made up about one-quarter of voters in the 2020 election. And about three-quarters of them voted for Donald Trump. Even more striking, of those White voters who attend religious services once a month or more, 71 percent voted for Trump in the 2020 election. (Even similarly religious Black Americans, by contrast, voted for Joe Biden by a 9 to 1 ratio.) The key to understanding Trump’s coalition is the intensity of his support among White people who are and who claim to be devout Christians.

religion nowadays essay

This phenomenon must be viewed against one of the most significant shifts in American life over the past two decades – the dramatic and rapid secularization of America. As I write in my book, “ Age of Revolutions: Progress and Backlash from 1600 to the Present ,” the United States was long an outlier among advanced industrial countries in that it remained religious. But around the 1990s that began to change, and the numbers plunged after 2007. As the scholar Ronald Inglehart has shown, since that year, religious decline in America has been the greatest of any country of the 49 surveyed. By one measure, the United States today is the 12th-least -religious country on Earth. In 1990, according to the General Social Survey, less than 10 percent of Americans had no religious affiliation. Today it’s around 30 percent.

Why this is happening is not easily understood, but some of it is probably that the onward march of science, reason and skepticism has fueled secularism in most rich countries. But it might also relate to certain choices that American Christianity has made over the past few decades. In his important work, “ American Evangelicalism: Conservative Religion and the Quandary of Modernity ,” James Davison Hunter points out that Evangelicals grew their numbers by adapting to an America that had become much less religiously observant and devout. The old Protestant Fundamentalism had been filled with warnings against sin, heresy, Catholicism, adultery, divorce, materialism and any deviation from strict Christian morality. But preachers such as Jerry Falwell made the religion more user-friendly and less doctrinally demanding. What filled the place of religious doctrine was politics.

Over the past few years, this process has been extended even further with those who consider themselves devout Christians defining their faith almost entirely in political terms — by opposing abortion , same-sex marriage and transgender rights. This in turn has led to a great Democratic dechurching: According to Gallup , Democratic church membership was 46 percent in 2020, down from 71 percent two decades prior. The scholar David Campbell of the University of Notre Dame told the Associated Press , “Increasingly, Americans associate religion with the Republican Party — and if they are not Republicans themselves, they turn away from religion.” This phenomenon — of the right using, even weaponizing religion — is not unique to America or Christianity. You can see it in Brazil, El Salvador, Italy, Israel, Turkey and India, among other places.

Secularization may be inevitable, but it does seem to coincide with a sense of loss for many — a loss of faith and community that might be at the heart of the loneliness that many people report experiencing these days, as poignantly discussed by the Atlantic’s Derek Thompson. In my book, I quote the political commentator Walter Lippmann, who presciently identified this problem in 1929: “‘Men have been deprived of the sense of certainty as to why they were born, why they must work, whom they must love, what they must honor, where they may turn in sorrow and defeat.’”

“Into this void,” I write in my book, “step populism, nationalism, and authoritarianism.” These modern political forces offer people a new faith, a new cause greater than themselves to which they can devote themselves. Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban expressed this articulately to Tucker Carlson in an interview last year: “There are certain things which are more important than ‘me,’ than my ego — family, nation, God.”

This is the great political challenge of our time. Liberal democracy gives people greater liberty than ever before, breaking down repression and control everywhere — in politics, religion and society. But as the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard wrote, “anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” Modern society gives us all wealth, technology and autonomy. But for many, these things cannot fill the hole in the heart that God and faith once occupied. To fill it with politics is dangerous. But that seems to be the shape of things to come.

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religion nowadays essay

What is the difference between a solar eclipse and a lunar eclipse?

religion nowadays essay

It almost time! Millions of Americans across the country Monday are preparing to witness the once-in-a-lifetime total solar eclipse as it passes over portions of Mexico, the United States and Canada.

It's a sight to behold and people have now long been eagerly awaiting what will be their only chance until 2044 to witness totality, whereby the moon will completely block the sun's disc, ushering in uncharacteristic darkness.

That being said, many are curious on what makes the solar eclipse special and how is it different from a lunar eclipse.

The total solar eclipse is today: Get the latest forecast and everything you need to know

What is an eclipse?

An eclipse occurs when any celestial object like a moon or a planet passes between two other bodies, obscuring the view of objects like the sun, according to NASA .

What is a solar eclipse?

A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon comes in between the Earth and the sun, blocking its light from reaching our planet, leading to a period of darkness lasting several minutes. The resulting "totality," whereby observers can see the outermost layer of the sun's atmosphere, known as the corona, presents a spectacular sight for viewers and confuses animals – causing nocturnal creatures to stir and bird and insects to fall silent.

Partial eclipses, when some part of the sun remains visible, are the most common, making total eclipses a rare sight.

What is a lunar eclipse?

A total lunar eclipse occurs when the moon and the sun are on exact opposite sides of Earth. When this happens, Earth blocks the sunlight that normally reaches the moon. Instead of that sunlight hitting the moon’s surface, Earth's shadow falls on it.

Lunar eclipses are often also referred to the "blood moon" because when the Earth's shadow covers the moon, it often produces a red color. The coloration happens because a bit of reddish sunlight still reaches the moon's surface, even though it's in Earth's shadow.

Difference between lunar eclipse and solar eclipse

The major difference between the two eclipses is in the positioning of the sun, the moon and the Earth and the longevity of the phenomenon, according to NASA.

A lunar eclipse can last for a few hours, while a solar eclipse lasts only a few minutes. Solar eclipses also rarely occur, while lunar eclipses are comparatively more frequent. While at least two partial lunar eclipses happen every year, total lunar eclipses are still rare, says NASA.

Another major difference between the two is that for lunar eclipses, no special glasses or gizmos are needed to view the spectacle and one can directly stare at the moon. However, for solar eclipses, it is pertinent to wear proper viewing glasses and take the necessary safety precautions because the powerful rays of the sun can burn and damage your retinas.

Contributing: Eric Lagatta, Doyle Rice, USA TODAY

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Amid Health Concerns, Pope Delivers Strong Easter Message Calling for Gaza Cease-Fire

Pope Francis’ decisions to reduce his participation in two major Holy Week events had raised fears about his health.

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By Jason Horowitz

Reporting from Rome

Amid renewed concerns about his health, Pope Francis presided over Easter Sunday Mass, and with a hoarse but strong voice, he delivered a major annual message that touched on conflicts across the globe, with explicit appeals for peace in Israel, Gaza and Ukraine.

The appearance came after the pope decided to reduce his participation in two major Holy Week events, seemingly at the last minute.

Those decisions seemed to represent a new phase in a more than 11-year papacy throughout which Francis has made the acceptance of the limits that challenge and shape humanity a constant theme. Now, he seems to have entered a period in which he is himself scaling back to observe, and highlight, the limits imposed by his own health constraints, and to conserve strength for the most critical moments.

On Sunday after the Mass, Francis took a prolonged spin in his popemobile around St. Peter’s Square before ascending to a balcony overlooking it to deliver his traditional Easter message.

“Let us not allow the strengthening winds of war to blow on Europe and the Mediterranean,” he said to the tens of thousands of faithful, dignitaries, Swiss Guards and clergy filling the square.

Priests in white walk in pairs through arcs of yellow flowers.

Referring to the stone that had blocked the tomb of Jesus before his resurrection, which Easter celebrates, Francis said that “today, too, great stones, heavy stones, block the hopes of humanity.”

“The stone of war, the stone of humanitarian crises, the stone of human rights violations, the stone of human trafficking, and other stones as well,” he said.

The address was a compendium of Francis’ priorities, including the need to ease the suffering of people affected by war, natural disasters and famine in parts of the world he has himself visited. He addressed the plight of migrants, prayed for “consolation and hope” for the poor, and spoke against human trafficking and arms dealing.

But his focus, Francis said, was particularly turned toward the conflicts afflicting the world.

“My thoughts go especially to the victims of the many conflicts worldwide, beginning with those in Israel and Palestine, and in Ukraine,” he said, calling for the exchange of all prisoners between Russia and Ukraine.

“I appeal once again that access to humanitarian aid be ensured to Gaza, and call once more for the prompt release of the hostages seized on 7 October last and for an immediate cease-fire in the Strip,” he added.

Holy Week is one of the most demanding and significant on the Christian calendar, and Francis has been dogged all winter by what the Vatican has called the flu, bronchitis and cold-like symptoms. His doctor told the Italian news media on Saturday that Francis was in good shape for his age, but that flu season was difficult for him, as it was for many older people, partly because he had part of a lung removed as a young man.

In recent years, Francis’ health has declined. He had a significant portion of his large intestine removed in 2021, and last year he spent time in the hospital to remove potentially dangerous intestinal scar tissue from previous surgeries. Bad knee ligaments have often kept him to a wheelchair, and have required him to use a cane when he is on his feet.

Those ailments came to the fore last week when Francis skipped the homily , a sermon central to the Mass service, on Palm Sunday, and the traditional Good Friday procession at Rome’s Colosseum — an event he missed last year because he was recovering from bronchitis.

But this year, a chair for him had been placed on a platform outside the Colosseum, suggesting that the decision not to attend came at the last minute. The Vatican said Francis had made the decision “to conserve his health” in preparation for events on Saturday and Sunday.

Francis did preside over the Holy Thursday ritual of washing the feet of the faithful at a women’s prison in Rome. He appeared both purposeful and strong, talking with the inmates and giving a chocolate Easter egg to one of their sons. Then on Saturday evening, he presided over a long and solemn Easter Vigil in St. Peter’s Basilica.

On Sunday, Francis waved and seemed in good spirits as people shouted, “Long live the pope,” during his spin around St. Peter’s Square. He then re-emerged on the basilica’s balcony, lined with flowers, where he spoke about the toll that conflicts take on civilians.

In what amounted to a survey of the world’s often-forgotten conflicts, the pope spoke about the continuing suffering in Syria because of “a long and devastating war.” He expressed concern for Lebanese people affected by hostilities on their country’s border with Israel. He prayed for an end to the “violence, devastation and bloodshed” in Haiti, an easing of the humanitarian crisis afflicting the Rohingya ethnic minority persecuted in Myanmar, and an end to the suffering in Sudan and in the Sahel region of Africa.

And in Gaza, he said the eyes of suffering children ask: “Why? Why all this death?”

Jason Horowitz is the Rome bureau chief for The Times, covering Italy, the Vatican, Greece and other parts of Southern Europe. More about Jason Horowitz


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