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Science and Technology Studies meets Science and Religion

Dr Thoko Kamwendo

 

Last year (2022) I was lucky enough to receive funding from the International Network for Science and Belief in Society (INSBS) to produce an edited collection of essays using approaches from Science and Technology Studies (STS) to explore the nexus between science and religion.

STS, or the sociology of science, is my home discipline. It makes intuitive sense to apply the sociology of science to explore the sociology of science and religion. That is also why it is a little curious that it is not all that common. That being said, the social study of science and religion, to the extent that it can be considered a field at all, is still new and emerging. It is also spectacularly multidisciplinary. In its current form, the field combines approaches from sociology, religious studies, history, psychology, anthropology, and (yes!) STS.

But this diversity also means that it can be a challenge for scholars within the field to make use of approaches from outside their home disciplines. Through conversations with colleagues in the network, I discovered that many of them were excited by the possibility of drawing on STS in their work but weren’t sure where to begin. The idea behind the volume of essays is to provide a starting point for students, scholars, and anyone else who has an interest in science and religion to get to know both STS and how it can be useful for understanding the relationship between science and religion.

One of the real benefits of the project has been to put those of us who do take an STS approach to science and religion in conversation with each other. Our workshops to prepare for the volume allowed us not only to hear about each other’s work but to reflect on both what we have in common and how our work differs from each other. We were not far into our first workshop before we started talking about how there is curiously little engagement with religion from STS as a field. The original idea behind the book may have been to give STS away to people who are interested in science and religion, but it quickly also became about giving religion away to people who are interested in science, including our colleagues in STS.

So, the volume aims to consolidate existing relevant and useful approaches to the topic of science and religion grounded in STS. The contributions are driven by four principal questions that we developed together in our workshops: what theories, methods and concepts from Science and Technology Studies have you applied to the study of science and religion and how? What insights have they yielded that are useful for understanding the relationship between science, technology, and religion? How does what you do incorporate aspects of religion into STS that would be useful for STS scholars to know? How does what you do problematize the notions of science, technology, religion, and society and the relationships between them?

Chapter drafting is now fully underway. The chapters reflect the eclectic nature of both STS and the emerging field of the social study of science and religion. They run the gamut from discussions about religion in STS (Caroline McCalman, Mike Brownout), religion in science (Mareike Smolka, Hauke Riesch, Charlotte Sleigh), science in religion (Cara Rock Singer) and the value of STS approaches for understanding the relationship between science, religion, and society (James Riley, Will Mason-Wilkes, Thoko Kamwendo).

The topics and case studies vary too. We have chapters on the re-enchantment of the brain in neuroscience, reimagining public orientations to evolution, reclaiming normativity in STS, the Jewish ritual bath as a ‘small t technology’, apocalyptic prophecy in science communication, sacrifice in environmentalism, theology and practice amongst Christian church leaders, re-thinking Natural Theology, and returning religion to secular conceptions of society.

We hope you will find the book as interesting to read as we have found to write it. One of the contributors, Caroline McCalman, and I were recently guests on the INSBS Podcast Series hosted by James Riley and Will-Mason Wilkes who are also contributors to the volume. Do look out for that episode of the podcast if you are interested in knowing more about it. And keep an eye out for the volume itself which is expected to come out sometime in early 2024.

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