Thursday, October 19, 2006

Quakerism and Science

I submitted a proposal to give a talk at my college about some of the research I did on sabbatical, and my proposal was accepted. What this means is that I will be giving a talk that will have a lot to do with Quakerism at my non-Quaker college! This is very exciting.

Back when I was in graduate school, studying philosophy of science, my dissertation advisors knew that I was Quaker and that I took religion seriously. They were a bit dubious about this, but since I was low-key about it all (as Quakers are often wont to be) and it didn't seem to be infecting my work in any problematic ways, they didn't seem all that troubled by it.

The philosophers of science and the historians of science at my university had a weekly "History and Philosophy of Science" colloquium that we (faculty and graduate students) attended. One day, the speaker was Geoffrey Cantor, from the University of Leeds, to give a lecture on Quakers in the Royal Society and why Quakers were sympathetic to science.

As the faculty and graduate students gathered, two of the faculty members on my dissertation committee gathered around me and then even sat on either side of me, excited at this opportunity to gain new insight into this graduate student of theirs who was Quaker and interested in philosophy of science.

Predictably, I was feeling pretty uncomfortable, but also intrigued. Would this speaker, who was not himself Quaker, do a nice job?

He did a superb job. All of those historians of science and philosophers of science were actually quite impressed with Quakerism by the end.

I breathed a huge sigh of relief as my dissertation advisors turned to me at the end and said, "well, that explains a lot!" They seemed relieved themselves to have learned that Quakerism is non-credal and experiential, and that Quakers always incorporated and often even emphasized science education in the schools and colleges they set up.

When I was in England in March, I had a chance to meet Geoffrey Cantor, and to thank him for how helpful his talk was back then when I was a graduate student. We had a nice long conversation about Quakers and their understanding of science and knowledge more generally.

So now I get to follow in his footsteps and present a talk at my current college about Quakerism and science. Will it be as well-received as his was? We shall see.

In the meantime, as I prepare, I plan to post some of my thinking here so that other Friends can correct me if I get some of the history wrong. So, stay tuned...!

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