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The Last Three Years in Numbers: An Overview of ECLAS Activity 2020-2023

 Olivia Rathbone

As someone who has only recently joined the ECLAS team, covering for Helen Billam as Communications Manager, I am impressed by what the team has achieved under the 2020-2023 grant from the Templeton Religion Trust.

Despite challenges ranging from the Covid-19 pandemic to and widespread industrial action across the UK, including in universities and on public transport, the project has exceeded its goals and expectations in every area. Adapting to a changed world by moving events online provided opportunities to open up to wider audiences. ECLAS has laid strong groundwork for the next five years, expanding into a larger, international project phase funded by the John Templeton Foundation.

Here are some of the achievements in numbers:

  • 5 Senior Leadership Conferences were run online (plus one upcoming, in-person conference in June 2023 at the Science Museum). These brought together bishops and other senior church leaders with world-leading scientists and theologians of science to discuss contemporary issues. Additionally, there were seven events around the country for local clergy, enhancing understanding and networks between senior church leaders and leading scientists. Online events as well as Church of England bishops, we also had senior ministers from Baptist, Coptic, Methodist, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Reformed, and Roman Catholic churches, and attracted Anglican bishops from 6 continents. Leadership conferences addressed topical issues where science-engaged theology is key to public understanding and policy: viruses and vaccines; race and biology; science fiction and religion; genes and gene editing; media and communications; and imagining the future.
  • 2 rounds of Scientists in Congregations comprising a total of 33 awards to help congregations and local church groups to create spaces of engagement, build confidence and competence around scientific issues and foster thoughtful, prayerful communities working in the world. This has enabled work in a number of different scientific disciplines, and projects that were able to appropriately tailor their projects to their local context were the most successful.
  • 12 Science for Seminaries awards were made in total, with a wide reach both geographically and theologically. The largest group of awardees were four Church of England Theological Education Institutions, followed by two interdenominational seminaries, two Roman Catholic seminaries (including one in the Republic of Ireland), and one award each to Presbyterian, Pentecostal and Church of Scotland/Scottish Episcopal training colleges. The awards allowed colleges to integrate science into their core curriculum. Topics covered included sin and soteriology, healthcare, AI ethics, medical ethics, eco-theology, creation and cosmology, and spirituality and embodiment. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive and indicates the potential for a lasting transformative effect. Students appreciated engaging with science and felt that it was relevant to their ministry studies.
  • 27: the number of conferences, seminars and workshops Dr Kamwendo and Revd Prof Wilkinson have contributed to, including the 2022 Lambeth Conference, a guest appearance on podcast series, the prestigious Durham University Global Lecture Series, York Festival of Ideas and Catholics at COP26. The Research strand deepened our understanding of science-faith narratives and the views of senior leaders and allowed us to share understandings of best practices in science-theology discourse across diverse contexts. We published ten papers based on this work. Team members have also taken on leadership for two edited volumes related to science-engaged theology.
  • 347 public communications outputs from the team, including media engagements and mentions, lectures and guest blogs for third parties between January 2020 and March 2023. Media engagements have encompassed a wide range of outlets, from The Times of London through to regular BBC Radio slots and a variety of Christian media channels. The ECLAS website saw a total of 96 blog posts and news stories from ECLAS team members, Scientists in Congregations and Science for Seminaries grant recipients and other guest contributors. Also on our website are 60 videos covering a range of topics, plus the resources created to go alongside our activities at the Lambeth Conference in 2022: a downloadable guide for clergy and senior leaders on developing positive science faith engagement.
  • 1 Archbishop of Canterbury! Archbishop Welby spoke at our November 2021 AI themed day conference at Lambeth Palace and made faith and science a major focus of the 2022 Lambeth Conference. In addition, our close partnership with the Anglican Communion Science Commission and our work with Faith and Public Life deepened our ties with the Church of England and strengthened networks connecting church leaders with scientists and policy makers across the UK. The ECLAS team’s reputation for high quality, informed and contextually sensitive work in the field of high-level Church-Science engagement is firmly established and has been expanded and enriched even during the pandemic.

Overall, we are immensely pleased with outputs and outcomes of the project and believe it has had a significant impact on how big questions are approached in the UK; science-engaged theology is becoming a recognized and respected component of theological reasoning and public discussion.

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