The ESSSAT Prizes 2004 for Studies in Science and Theology

Winners of three prizes for original studies on aspects of the interaction between science and theology were announced today by Willem B. Drees, Philosopher of religion at Leiden University, the Netherlands, and President of ESSSAT, the European Society for the Study of Science and Theology.

The ESSSAT Research Prize 2004 is awarded to the German Biologist and Theologian Casper Söling for his dissertation titled Der Gottesinstinkt: Bausteine für eine Evolutionäre Religionstheorie. This dissertation for a doctorate in biology, defended at the Justus-Liebig University in Giessen, Germany, in June 2002, offers an evolutionary theory of religion. One might consider this a return to a theme that was already addressed by Charles Darwin in his book on human nature and sexual selection (1871). Söling considers religions as constituted by the interplay of mysticism, morality, myth, and ritual. Each of these domains allows for a different evolutionary explanation. Söling thereby avoids an ‘explanation’ of religion which would be too narrowly focussed on just one aspect of religion. But he also avoids a religionist rejection of scientific approaches to religion. Rather, Söling gives full credit to a natural scientific understanding of human behaviour, including religious behaviour, while still respecting as well the limitations of any such explanatory approach for questions regarding the truth and significance of the beliefs and practices entertained. Thus, the jury unanimously chose this book as winner of the ESSSAT Research Prize, which consists of 2000 euro as well as coverage of the travel to and participation in the next European Conference on Religion and Science, to be held in Barcelona, April 1-6, 2004, where the winners of the prizes will be presented. Söling currently works for the Bishop of Limburg, Germany. Other submissions came from countries as far apart as the UK and Russia.

The ESSSAT Communication Prize 2004 has been awarded to professor Giuseppe Tanzella-Nitti from Rome. Professor Tanzella-Nitti initiated and edited a dictionary, in Italian, on science and faith, the Dizionario Interdisciplinare di Scienza e Fede. Contributors are ninetynine scientists, theologians, philosophers and historians from a range of nationalities. Remarkable about this project is that this book, in two volumes, has been combined with the development of a webportal (www.disf.org ), where information on current activities, controversial articles, historical background information, and a host of bibliographical information is made available (more than 700 pages, by December 2003, in Italian and in English). The dictionary and portal introduce many Italians to contemporary discussions and studies on the interactions between religion and science, in the past and present, while allowing both scientists and theologians, believers and non-believers, lay persons and experts, to take a look as to what is happening in other domains. The dictionary consists of three sections, on major themes and persons, followed by a selection of historical and contemporary texts. The number of visitors to the site has increased steadily, reaching 35 000 per month by December 2003. The Prize consists of 1500 euro and participation in the Xth European Conference on Science and Theology. It was selected in a competition with contributions from languages as diverse as Croatian and English.

The ESSSAT Student Prize 2004 has been awarded to Marie Vejrup-Nielssen (26), who studies theology at the University of Aarhus, Denmark. She wrote an undergraduate thesis on aggression, in a biological perspective, and the Christian understanding of sin, which received a Gold Medal from Aarhus University in January 2003. The paper was written as an independent work, without assistance of faculty members. Though the theme for the competition at the university was theological (‘agression and violance as a theme for the Christian understanding of sin’), Marie Vejrup-Nielsen brought into the converfsation scientific insights from biology and psychology. Thus, she shows how fruitful it can be to consider human aggression both from a theological and from a scientific perspective. The ESSSAT Student prize 2004 consists of 1000 euro and participation in the Xth European Conference on Science and Theology.

These prizes will all be presented at the Tenth European Conference on Science and Theology, which will be held in Barcelona, April 1-6, 2004. This conference, organized every other year by ESSSAT, deals with the interactions between religion, science and culture. Among the plenary speakers are W. Zimmerli, an ethicist and philosopher who is president of the AutoUni, a university established by Volkswagen; Peter Harrison, a major Australian historian of science; Mariano Artigas, a Spanish philosopher, physicist and theologian; Lucio Florio, a theologian from Latin America, and Celia Deane Drummond, professor of theology and biology in the United Kingdom. About 110 papers will be discussed in workshops. Participants come from almost all European countries as well as from other continents.

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