A 21st Century Debate on Science and Religion (2017), published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing was edited by Professor Fraser Watts, Dr Harris Wiseman and myself, Professor Shiva Khalili. The book is made up of 12 chapters, written by selected speakers from the Vienna Congress ‘Science and/or Religion: a 21st Century Debate’. The congress was held as a joint project between the 27-29th August 2015, at the Sigmund Freud University in Vienna, Austria.
For me the book also marks a milestone within a personal journey, my own inner dialogue and debate regarding the question of ‘science and/or religion?’ This question is part of my reflections on my own meaning-giving beliefs and narratives; and furthermore, reflects challenges within my religious, national and gender identities. As a Muslim Iranian, experiencing the cultural and religious diversity in late Shah’s time, as well as the Islamic enthusiasm after the revolution, I had a hard time in the 80s and early 90s as a psychology student at Vienna University associating psychological theories with religious and cultural diversity. And, I had a hard time finding appropriate narratives from within the sciences, that would be able to make sense of myself and the religious experiences of the people I knew.
As such, the wish for a better fitting and wider narrative led me on to a quest to find out more about both science and religion. The Tehran International Conference on the Dialogue between Science and Religion in 2006; the later Tehran Conference on Psychology, Religion and Culture in 2011; and the last Vienna conference in 2015, reflect some developments and changes in my views, and in fact also reflect changes in some other speakers’ views at these events. A 21st Century Debate on Science and Religion describes these developments more generally in regard to the sociopolitical changes and religious movements we can observe in 21st century as well as the very important role of modern scientific achievements, and the progress in sciences and technology we see around us.
What has remained stable, however, is the shared belief in the necessity of dialogue between science and religion; the respect, and the sense of responsibility of the scholars from both sides, in needing to contribute to a safer environment for learning and growth for all individuals and groups.
While progressive modern sciences today are offering an exciting dynamic grand narrative, challenging or enriching the former cultural and religious worldviews (and even scientific narratives of past centuries), the scientific education of, and respectful dialogue with individuals and groups that cleave to other narratives can be seen to be crucial.
I hope that our book represents these concerns of the authors of the chapters (Philip Clayton, Nancey Murphy, Mikael Stenmark, Wesley J. Wildman, William Grassie, Fraser Watts, Shiva Khalili, Wentzel Van Huyssteen , Noreen Herzfeld, Michael Ruse, Abdolrahim Gavahi, Michael J. Reiss), and will be a motivation for carrying on further dialogue, and proffering opportunities for bringing individuals from diverse background to tell their stories and listen to others, thereby building new prospects for growth and respectfully negotiating different narratives and identities, without any discrimination or aggression, between followers of different meaning-giving belief systems or narratives.
It has been a great pleasure and honor for me to have had the opportunity to meet and work with great international scholars within the field of science and religion, and with the ISSR also, during the last 2 decades, whose mission it has been to create such opportunities, and to promote precisely such respectful dialogue.