Professor Peter Harrison discusses the false historical assumptions behind the current perception that "science" and "religion" have always been in conflict. Providing a wide-ranging historical overview, Harrison begins with the early interplay between religious institutions and scientific activity, ...

About this episode

The idea of long-running clash between the domains of “science” and “religion” has not only been central to western discourses on modernity, but has increasingly become a central supposition in the history of science itself – informing not just the rhetoric of the New Atheists, but also the broader public understanding of the issue.  But is this historically accurate? In this interview, Professor Peter Harrison (formerly Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at Oxford) outlines the flaws in this supposition by providing a historical perspective on the categories “science” and “religion” and the way that they were formerly considered separate virtues (scientia and religio) instead of incompatible domains of knowledge.  Far from the current narrative being correct – often focusing on episodes such as the Church’s response to the Galileo controversy – Professor Harrison explains that religious institutions were originally (and for a long time) key supporters of scientific activity, which was considered broadly as a theological attempt to unlock The Book of Nature.   The middle section of the interview looks at the complex relationship between theological commitment and scientific activity from Newton to Darwin, and in the final section discusses continuing complexities of the relationship in the post-Darwinan western world, right down to problematic assumptions at play in contemporary New Atheism as well as debates about Islamic militancy. This interview was recorded at the meeting of the Australian Religious History Association in July 2014.  For those interested in the themes of the interview, the keynote talk of the RHA meeting was delivered by one of Professor Harrison’s key collaborators, Ronald Numbers (on a similar topic, focusing especially on the Galileo episode).   A number of related talks and interviews can be found on the CHED website. You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.ca, or Amazon.com links to support us at no additional cost when you have a purchase to make.

This episode has not been transcribed yet. 

Consider a donation to pay for the cost of editing a transcript?

Related Resources

What is ‘Buddhism in the West’?

Response

I often see “Buddhism in the West” lumped in with new religious movements (NRMs) or more interestingly as sources of therapeutic influence for new styles of mental health treatment such as those seen in the field of Psychology. The compulsion to lump Buddhism with new religious movements may derive from a variety of influences. There appears to be much debate regarding what defines Buddhism in the West. Particularly, ...
Taking Witchcraft and Possessions Seriously with Philip Almond

Response

When the past has provided us as many truly excellent documents as early modern Europe has on witchcraft and possessions, what need have we to inject ourselves into their discussions? In this interview with Philip Almond, Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Queensland and Deputy Director of the Centre for the History of European Discourses, listeners are treated to a wide-ranging survey of the past decade of Almond’s work on witchcraft and demonic possession in early modern England.
Vernacular Religion: Because you’ll Find More than the Devil in the Details

Response

There is an important message embedded in Marion Bowman’s notion of “vernacular religion”–that when we plant our feet firmly on the ground, amidst the fray of religious life, we are confronted with the unmistakable heterogeneity of both belief and practice. As living people “do religion” on the ground it may not always resemble the religion of the Qur’an, the Vatican or your Buddhism 101 textbook.

Responses to this episode

The Interstices of Science and Religion

Having exiled the supernatural, science finds itself left with the task of writing a modern genesis, or a liturgy for a secular age. Science and religion are not ancient concepts. What we think of as inherently scientific today may have carried theological overtones in times past; what we conceive of as religious may have likewise found support in scientific circles. Both categories have emerged through complex and contradictory histories:

Other EPISODES YOU MIGHT ENJOY

BASR 2019: The State of the Discipline

Podcast

Vivian Asimos and Theodora Wildcroft took the opportunity to ask the delegates of BASR 2019 what inspired them about the conference theme, their opinion about major trends in the discipline, and how they were personally feeling about REF 2021.
Religion and Film

Podcast

The interview explores S. Brent Plate's personal research journey into this relatively young field, charting the history of the field in the process. Discussion then turns to the key terms involved... what are we meaning by "religion and film"? The relationship of established "world religions" to cinema? Religion/s on Film? Documentaries?
Angel Spirituality

Podcast

What is angel spirituality, and who does it appeal to (hint: women)? How do they challenge preconceptions about the relationship between new spiritualities and Christianity, and raise interesting questions about gender, and vernacular religion in supposedly post-Christian Europe?
Roundtable: What is the Future of Religious Studies?

Podcast

After this week’s podcast, which involved eight scholars giving their views on the future of Religious Studies, there was really only one way we could create a suitably collective and varied response – six postgrads sitting around a table, accompanied by pink gin and our trusty dictaphone. Conversation ranges from the public perception of what Religious Studies does, ...
D. Mitra Barua on Immigrant Buddhism in the West

Podcast

"...Rebranding the Buddhist concept of Harmony to be a more politically comparable term to the Canadian mosaic..." Dr. D. Mitra Barua is an instructor of Religious Studies at the University of Saskatchewan, and has a Masters in Buddhist Philosophy undertaken in Sri Lanka.
Separating Religion and Government…But What Is Religion?: A Look at the US Supreme Court

Podcast

Americans generally affirm the importance of separating "church" and "state." But what does church--or religion--mean? Hear two leading religious freedom lawyers discuss the meaning of religious freedom in key #SCOTUS cases, including one before the Court this term.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- NonCommercial- NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

The views expressed in podcasts, features and responses are the views of the individual contributors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Religious Studies Project or our sponsors. The Religious Studies Project is produced by the Religious Studies Project Association (SCIO), a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (charity number SC047750).