Abrahamic Reflections on Science and Religion: 2019 Conference Summary

Our concluding workshop was held in Casablanca, June 16-20, 2019. 

Group discussion

Our first formal session was called “The Elephants in the Room: Why we can’t all just get along?”  The purpose of this session was to directly address tensions within our international, interfaith group.  From the beginning, we noted a desire to talk about difficult topics, especially the treatment of Palestinians by the Israeli government.  We largely avoided direct confrontations on such sensitive matters. In Casablanca scholars from the three Abrahamic faiths represented to give short talks on these tensions.  We then broke into small groups so that everyone would have a better chance of being heard.  

Group discussion

group camel ride shot

Day 2 was devoted to sightseeing and informal discussions in and on the way to Marrakech.  We found these unstructured times to be especially important in forming relationships and allowing conversations to flow in organic and unpredictable ways.

Group discussion in synagogue

Shira Weiss presenting to group

The remaining days were a mix of plenary and concurrent sessions where workshop participants discussed drafts of their projects.  

group discussion

Lunch in Marrakech

The group shared meals together, usually at our hotel.  Afternoons were free. Some gathered in small groups for sightseeing, shopping, or swimming in Casablanca.  Others could be found in lounge areas at the hotel or local cafes for more discussion.

sightseeing in Marrakech

PUBLIC LECTURES

Two evening sessions, with public lectures, were held at the French Institute of Casablanca on July 18 and 19.  

Presentation at the French Institute

The first public lecture was given by our three-person team of Christian philosopher of science Karen Zwier, Muslim religious studies scholar Shalahudin Kafrawi, and Jewish philosopher Tyron Goldschmidt on Randomness and Providence in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The lecture was held in the library of the Institute and attended by approximately one hundred highly attentive members of the community; most were either high school or college age.  

Audience at French Institute

Two lectures were given during the second evening at the Institute, this time held in their auditorium in order to accommodate a much larger audience—around two hundred.  The first was by Jordanian molecular biologist, Rana Dajani. The second was by French astrophysicist, Bruno Guiderdoni. Once again, an extensive question-and-answer period followed that eventually had to be brought to a close because of time.  

Alan Love with students at French Institute

At one point, the questions moved from astrophysics—Dr. Guiderdoni’s area of specialization—to paleontology.  After starting to answer, Guiderdoni stopped to ask Alan Love, a philosopher of biology, if he would like to address the question.  While this exchange constituted just a few minutes of the many hours of work our group has engaged in, it was poignant that a Muslim physicist felt free to step aside and ask a Christian philosopher to help address a student’s question, all in a completely natural way.  While that exchange will quickly be forgotten, I believe it provided a brief glimpse into the breadth of our scholars and to the relationships and respect that has been built up over the three years of our grant.

Bruno and Alan at French Institute

CONCLUDING CONFERENCE

The concluding conference, on June 22 at the King Hussein Bin Talal Convention Centre on the Dead Sea, was hosted by the Phi Science Institute in Amman.

Phi Science bused in over three hundred students and recent college graduates to the conference. After the opening talks, our scholars were continually approached with questions, sometimes forming small groups in the lobby.  Some of us were literally surrounded by students at our tables during meals. It was the most enthusiastic and active group some of us had ever seen at such an event.  

Audience in Jordan

Kelly James Clark onstage in Jordan

The conference began with keynote addresses by philosopher Kelly Clark and Rana Dajani—something of a local hero in Jordan.  After three concurrent sessions, two more keynote addresses followed, one by Turkish philosopher Caner Taslaman and the other by Karen Zwier and Shalahuddin Kafrawi, who gave a version of their talk from the French Institute in Casablanca.  The conference concluded with an interfaith panel with philosopher Irem Steen, philosopher-physicist Enis Doko, philosopher Silvia Jonas, and philosopher Scott Davison.

Panel discussion in Jordan

Jeff Koperski and Silvia Jonas with students

The large, enthusiastic audience made it easy for our scholars to engage.  Informal discussions ran throughout the day and did not stop until the buses had to finally leave that evening to take the students back to Amman.  By all accounts, it was a highly successful day.

Discussion at conference

Selfie of conference audience

Discussion at dinner

Audience discussion