UDTS Selected to Participate in Science for Seminaries Project

Apr 29, 2021 | University Relations staff

DUBUQUE, Iowa – The University of Dubuque Theological Seminary (UDTS) has been awarded a grant to support the integration of scientific engagement into the student experience in the seminary’s master of divinity program by the Science for Seminaries project of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion (DoSER) program, in partnership with the Association of Theological Schools (ATS).

With the $75,000 grant, UDTS will launch a new initiative in fall 2021 titled “Attention and Connection: Engaging Brains, Bodies, and Ecologies for Ministries.” The initiative seeks to learn from the sciences in order to prepare students for ministry in the changing contexts of the 21st century.

“With this new initiative, we want students to be able to have a perspective on theology and science that is highly compatible with one another. We want students to see those as two topics that can be engaged in tandem rather than seeing them as separate, and we want them to have the tools to be able to engage both science and theology together,” said Nicholas Elder, PhD, one of three UDTS faculty project leaders on the new initiative and an assistant professor of New Testament.

The remaining UDTS faculty project leaders are Mary Emily Duba, PhD, assistant professor of theology, and Susan Forshey, PhD, assistant professor of discipleship and Christian formation.

“Science in its many forms is not a new arena for the three UDTS faculty who are leading this initiative. They have already integrated scientific findings into their course contents and teaching strategies, and so we are excited that our students will grow even more in their gifts for ministry through this Science for Seminaries project,” said Annette Huizenga, dean of UDTS and associate professor of New Testament.

The grant will give sustained attention to the three foci of the initiative – place, learning, and brains and bodies – while incorporating ecology, the science of learning, and neuroscience. Learning from ecologists will strengthen students’ ability to discern and articulate a robust theology of place. Insights emerging from the science of learning will strengthen professors’ capacities to develop good pedagogical practices and to equip their students to become excellent Christian educators. Engagement with neuroscience and neurophysiology, especially the ways the brain builds memories, forms habits, and holds traumas, will deepen students’ approach to spiritual formation and improve their understanding of the people they will one day lead.

Integration of scientific engagement will begin at the outset of the master of divinity program and will continue through at least six additional courses. All three areas of attention and their corresponding bodies of science will be engaged in the first required class for all master of divinity students: God’s Redeeming Mission. The course will be redesigned and will incorporate a scientifically-grounded, theologically-informed immersive education at University of Dubuque’s Wolter Woods and Prairies, 121 acres of land recently purchased in northeast Iowa to be used as an education and research center. Grant funds will help build an immersive, place-based curriculum that integrates ecology and whole-person formation that draws on the science of learning.

In addition to classroom instruction, the grant will also help fund campus-wide events and connect UDTS project leaders with science advisors. The two science advisors for the initiative are Adam Hoffman, PhD, head of the Department of Natural and Applied Sciences and a professor of environmental chemistry at the University of Dubuque, and Jake Kurczek, PhD, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Loras College.

Science for Seminaries helps a diverse group of seminaries integrate science into their core curricula and provides support and resources to seminary professors to encourage informed dialogue and a positive understanding of science among future religious leaders. Integrating science into seminary education will not only benefit professors and students, but ultimately it will enrich those in the pews who are interested in the discoveries and implications of science. As many as 32 seminaries will be chosen to participate over the five years of the grant, joining the 10 seminaries that completed a pilot program.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the Science family of journals. AAAS was founded in 1848 and includes 261 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving millions of individuals. Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world, with an estimated total readership of 1 million. The nonprofit AAAS is open to all and fulfills its mission to “advance science and serve society” through initiatives in science policy, international programs, science education, public engagement, and more. Building upon its mission, AAAS established the Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion (DoSER) program in 1995 to facilitate communication between scientific and religious communities. For the latest information and news about AAAS DoSER and the Science for Seminaries Project, visit AAAS.org/DoSER and ScienceforSeminaries.org.