Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

Faith Renewed

Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

Faith Renewed

Article excerpt

I found the spring 2014 edition on faith of special interest, inasmuch as it affirms the value of what I am doing in creating an undergraduate course on neuroscience and religion at Texas A&M University. The ongoing argument about evolution and religion of late incorporates a new divide, as neuroscience seems to secularize the human mind and spirit. After all, biological operations of the brain construct people's religious belief systems, as I summarize in my new book, Mental Biology: The New Science of How the Brain and Mind Relate, published in April by Prometheus.

However, neuroscience and religion share many views and objectives, even as the implementation efforts occur for different reasons and by different means. For example, both disciplines value the nature of creation and life, seek to understand and nurture humanity, and promote healthy, actualized, and happy lives. Most of the neuroscience aspects are explored in my book.

The time has come for scholars to recognize and embrace the interactions of these two disciplines. Universities offer religious studies programs, and most schools teach neuroscience. But none that I can find integrate both subjects.

Each of the 15 weeks in my course, which debuted last fall, examined a different, personally relevant neuroscience theme, taken from my Core Ideas in Neuroscience 2013 e-book from Benecton Press. Sample neuroscience themes included evolution of the nervous system, embryological development, neural information processing, emotional drives and motivations, agency, consciousness, sleep and dreaming, and neuronal disease and death.

Each week I also identified a list of related religious topics. Those topics included religious diversity, original sin, fear of damnation, worship practices, prayer or meditation, visions and dreams, unconscious biases and beliefs, predestination, forgiveness and repentance, love and charity, and religious ecstasy or fanaticism.

Students picked a scholarly publication to elucidate a neuroscience and religion relationship. They alternated weekly between writing a summary of that publication and a 500-word essay on the germane concept. Proselytization was not allowed and was never an issue. Essays were posted and analyzed in an online forum. I selected four students each week to present their essays and lead a class discussion.

In 50 years of college teaching I have never had students so engaged. Post-course survey ratings averaged 9.3 out of 10 for two items: essays and leading class discussion. I plan to institutionalize the experience at my campus and encourage neuroscientists elsewhere to make a similar experience available for their students.

--W R. Klemm (Auburn University), Senior Professor of Neuroscience, TAMU

The spring 2014 edition on faith encompassed an impressive array of topics, causing me to realize the many facets of life in which we place our trust, including religion, reason, science, democracy, higher education, and the future.

I want to comment on "The Rites of College Athletics." Sports and exercise columnist Carl Nathe conducted an interesting QA with two University of Kentucky coaches about, as Nathe aptly wonders, "what role [religious l faith plays--if any--in how they approach their profession and the student-athletes entrusted to their guidance. …

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