Contributed Papers

Science and Religion


Presenter 1

Campanella, Galileo, and the Clash for the New Science at the Court of Urban VIII

Stefano Gattei

University of Trento


In 1620, Cardinal Barberini wrote the Adulatio perniciosa, a poem in praise of Galileo. When Barberini became Pope Urban VIII (1623), the benevolence he showed towards Galileo gave the latter new confidence, and he felt he could finally resume work on what would become the Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems (1632). In the Adulatio perniciosa Galileo is mentioned twice, together with his discoveries of Jupiter's satellites, three-bodied Saturn, and sunspots. The latter reference is particularly important, as the Pope seemed to be siding with Galileo against Christoph Scheiner, a Jesuit astronomer who claimed priority over the discovery of sunspots, and disputed at length with Galileo about their physical nature. Most notably, in his work on sunspots, Galileo openly advocated heliocentrism: this caused an uproar of Aristotelian philosophers, and eventually led to Bellarmino's 1616 warning to Galileo. In the late 1620s, the Dominican friar Tommaso Campanella wrote a voluminous commentary on the Pope's Latin poems: he gave pride of place to the Adulatio perniciosa, and presented its author as an advocate of the new science against the dogmatic Aristotelians from within the Church. Campanella's attempt met with a harsh reaction from the Curia, and he had to flee to France. Most importantly, it alerted the Pope against similar attempts. Shortly thereafter, when Galileo's Dialogue came to Urban VIII's attention, it met with an even harsher reaction.

In my paper, I will reconstruct the events and present my work towards the first edition and annotated English translation of the Adulatio perniciosa and of Campanella's commentary, a text that arguably played an important role in the Pope's resolution to sentence Galileo and in his determination never to revise his decision. Such texts - involving the chief protagonists of the Galileo affair - have never been taken into consideration by historians and may contribute to our understanding of Galileo's trial.


Presenter 2

From Design to Self-Organizing Nature? Postsecular Insights on the Emergent Ecology of James Dwight Dana and Asa Gray

Lucas Nossaman

University of Tennessee Knoxville


The study of coral reefs and plant geography had this in common in the 1850s: both were areas of immensely fruitful inquiry toward a more ecological view of nature. In the years leading up to Darwin's masterful synthesis of dispersion narratives, American scientists were hard at work tracing nascent theories of organic development and species distribution across oceans and continents. Recent scholarship, however, has tended to frame this explosion of new studies of development and interconnection within a larger secularization narrative in which natural theology gave way to a secular, empirical science. But returning to the insights of Ronald Numbers and Herbert Hovencamp reveals a more complex story. Natural theology transformed with the times. In particular, the widespread popularity of Alexander von Humboldt's Cosmos (1845-1859) in America shifted the terms of design toward a more interconnected, geologically old earth. Within literary and religious studies, a new "postsecular" methodology has arisen that can help scholars see nineteenth-century natural science in a new light. Drawing on these studies that emphasize proliferation and transformation, rather than the subtraction of religious belief, this paper contends that the nuanced dialectic of part-whole in natural theology facilitated the rise of an emergent ecological science. James Dwight Dana's coral and Asa Gray's comparative flora functioned not only as evidence of development. They circulated in antebellum culture as numinous examples of a new scheme of design in which the divine operated through connecting links, natural processes, and aesthetic forms coming into being across deep time.


Presenter 3

Institutional Religious Healing And Hospitals: The Christian Science Benevolent Association

Alexandra L. Prince

The University at Buffalo (SUNY)


In 1919, an institutional form of Christian Science healing was created with the erection of the Christian Science Benevolent Association in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, an establishment which Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science, had earlier envisioned as a "resort for invalids without homes or relatives available in time of need." The proposed paper builds on studies of the history of medicine and institutional healthcare through an examination of The Church of Christ, Scientist's role in providing care for the ill through the establishment of two "sanitariums" in the early 20th century-The Benevolent Association at Chestnut Hill and the Christian Science Benevolent Association of the Pacific Coast, open in 1930. It further explores the attendant creation and evolution of the profession of Christian Science nursing. The approaches of Christian Science nurses addressed issues of patient care and staff training Eddy took issue with in regards to state-run secular asylums and hospitals. This project affords a special focus on uncovering how the history of the Christian Science Benevolent Association represented an alternative approach to state-run psychiatric care for the mentally ill during the 20th century and how the methodology of Christian Science nursing developed in response to the perceived shortcomings and patient abuses observed in allopathic medical care. This paper argues for the inclusion of historical considerations of religious hospitals in the early 20th century as alternative histories of institutional care and healing.


Presenter 4

Science and the Counterculture: American Humanism, Religion, and Race

Stephen P. Weldon

University of Oklahoma


As David Kaiser and W. Patrick McCray have noted, there is a widespread misconception that the American Counterculture of the 1960s and 70s was antiscience. In their introduction to Groovy Science (2016), they state that "although [the counterculture was] wary of a larger society that seemed to prize conformity, consumerism, and planned obsolescence" many of its partisans embraced science.

This paper explores this issue by looking at a small, influential group of intellectuals: the men and women of the American humanist movement, a well-connected group of progressives who defended science across the 20th century. Extending themes developed in my book The Scientific Spirit of American Humanism (2020), I illustrate how the social, political, and religious turmoil of the period reshaped the way that intellectuals in this group thought and talked about science.

Throughout this period the humanists brought into their circle many well-known scientists, men like Hermann Muller, Julian Huxley, Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow, and B. F. Skinner. These men's acceptance of science as a mode of knowing was never in question, but their ideas about what constituted good science differed widely and spawned divisions within the humanist organization.

Humanists (like American society as a whole) remained ambivalent about the nature and purpose of science in society. Some of them opted for a strong embrace of the democratizing, individualizing, and spiritual aspects of the counterculture, promoting the creation of an open, engaged scientific outlook. Others moved in the opposite direction, defending a rigid, hard-nosed positivism, which they used in attacking both occultism and Christian fundamentalism.

This talk helps explain the transformational changes occurring in America of the long 1960s by framing the discussion of science in the context of contemporary controversies over religion, race, and social change.