I am an astronomer and a Christian Orthodox. During the Communist era, I kept my faith in the family. This was a time when the Bible was discreetly kept at home, protected from the eyes of an uninvited guest, and when school education was atheistic-scientific (note the order of the words here!). It is hard to imagine the void not only in our souls, but also in the Romanian culture, that still preserved its faith as it was centuries ago, only in the monasteries – the ones that remained anyway. Who could answer my questions standing alone in the wide-open astronomical dome facing the stars?
The fall of Communism in Romania in December 1989 certainly led to the freedom of faith, among other things. In my country, where more than 86% of the population are Orthodox, the transit was not easy, but slowly we came to regain a normal practice of religious cult.
I had the chance to participate in the international meeting ‘Science and Religion’, which took place under the auspices of the John Templeton Foundation on 12-13th April 2000 at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. I had to say a few words, so I just said this: ‘If the dialogue between these two angles of seeing the world seems to be extremely interesting here, in Paris, in my country it would be an unbelievable miracle’. Yet, the miracle happened: on November 8-11th, 2001, the colloquy ‘Science and Religion: Antagonism or Complementarity?’ was organised. It was the first meeting of this kind organised in an Orthodox and post-Communist country.
The results were amazing. In fact, for almost a decade, the John Templeton Foundation provided funding three major programs in Romania:
The first project, under the aegis of John Templeton Foundation, was ‘Science and Religion in Romania, A Project for Romania, as Laboratory for Post-Communist Countries’, 2004-2006. Researches and courses, books and conferences, local and national meetings were part of its presence in the Romanian (and international) life.
This was followed by the ‘Bridge Program’ in 2006. This built on the success of the previous program, and the objective was to contribute to the consolidation of the Romanian Science and Religion network, and its recognition in the Romanian academic landscape. Its purpose was dedicated to preparing the ground for the implementation of future activities. The project focused on organising each of the regional poles of the network and on building up infrastructures at a national level.
The last program ended December 31st, 2010. It was the ‘Science and Orthodoxy. Research and Education’ program, SORE. The main result we had hoped for was achieved: we served as a kind of laboratory for our neighboring countries, demonstrating that a science and religion dialogue is possible, despite differing points of view, which is also common to any dialogue between two people, or two different groups, especially for young ones. This last program was primarily focused on the development of research and education in Science and Religion at a national level.
The programs were sustained by a lot of personalities in Romania, including the President of the Academy and high eminences of the Romanian Orthodox Church. Seven centres were set up in major academic locations in Romania and France, where many debates took place. Important research was carried out, and academic courses for students of different universities were organised.
About 80 books (original or translations) have been published in the series ‘Science, and Religion’, followed by ‘Science, Spirituality, Society’. 6 journals were published the series ‘Transdisciplinarity in Science and Religion’ and three were published in ‘Transdisciplinary Studies’.
The journals can now be read online on the site www.it4s.ro, where you can find the original or translated titles of new books too. These all benefited from the contributions of many of the most important persons in the field, Templeton Prize winners included.
These events were an unexpectedly large success, having congresses and workshops organised around them, for example ‘Science and Orthodoxy, a Necessary Dialogue’, 22-26th October 2005, Bucharest and Constantza. At this event, Romanian scientists and theologians, together with specialists from all over the world, presented various topics concerning the characteristics and the methodology of debates of this type in the Orthodox tradition.
Another congress was ‘Transdisciplinary Approaches of the Dialogue between Science, Art, and Religion in the Europe of Tomorrow’, held in Sibiu, 9-11th September 2007. The congress was a great opportunity to carry out an international debate between science, art and religion in Europe’s 2007 cultural capital, Sibiu. The congress was held in Sibiu because Romania is recognised for its openness towards other religions, and because Orthodoxy offers a particular perspective on the dialogue between science, art, religion, faith and reason. Because of all this we were able to discuss a new approach towards transdisciplinary dialogue. Such dialogue comes in the context of the efforts to develop globalisation in a new Europe but, simultaneously, to having the need to maintain the particularities of Orthodoxy, especially in the South-Eastern Europe.
Next, the International Congress ‘The Dialogue between Science and Religion in the Orthodox World’ was held in Bucharest on the 25–27th of September 2008.
On December 31st, 2009 there concluded a special program for the dialogue between science and religion. This program ‘Science and Orthodoxy. Research and Education – S. O. R. E.’, was concerned with science and religion in general, but it was also special in its concern for an orthodox and post-communist country, such as Romania is. This program had an obvious effect in neighboring countries, as was seen in the international meeting organised in February 2009 in Sibiu ‘Big Questions about the Universe’.
Between 19th and 20th of October 2009, the Association for the Dialogue between Science and Theology in Romania (ADSTR) organised the Congress ‘Romania, as Laboratory of the Dialogue between Science and Spirituality in the Contemporary World’ in Bucharest.
In 2010, UNESCO celebrated the International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures. Here, we emphasised the beneficial effects of cultural diversity highlighting the importance of borrowings, transfers and exchanges between cultures, especially in South-East Europe. The diversity of people living here is contributing to the global and peaceful development of the region. The Romanian experience in the dialogue between Science and Spirituality hope to be a stimulus for neighboring countries to find the best ways for developing the rapprochement of cultures to the benefit of society, especially for the youth. All of these concerns were discussed during the international workshop.
All of these international meetings were attended by a lot of scientists, philosophers and theologians, all from different continents. The proceedings prove the model we constructed to be valid for people interested in such a dialogue, especially from the post-Communist and Orthodox countries.
The Institute for Transdisciplinary Studies in Science, Spirituality, Society − IT4S is designed for deepening the sphere of our pursuit in research and education to a larger target: the society, as an extension of the Association for the Dialogue between Science and Theology in Romania – ADSTR. The main objective is to promote the inter- and transdisciplinary research in science, religion and spirituality, in our country, as well in the neighboring ones, taking into account the experience won during all these years. Romania proved that it could be a very good laboratory through which to experience the dialogue between science and spirituality in the contemporary world.
Although the lack of new grants makes it difficult for us to organise new meetings, or to publish new books or journals, we try to keep up the dialogue between science and religion, taking advantage of different programs. For example, one program that is in full swing, Science and Orthodoxy around the World – SOW, relates to the experience of neighboring countries, especially Orthodox countries, and many of those have gone through terrible Communist political situation, which continues to show its effects on the spirituality of our people.
As you can read on the website http://project-sow.org/, the project focuses on the dialogue between science and religion in the Orthodox Christian world. More than 50 specialists from 15 countries participate from various academic fields such as science, philosophy, history, theology and education. SOW aims at establishing a permanent platform for dialogue on an international level between scientists and Orthodox thinkers, sparking a wider dialogue, at the global level, and bringing the Orthodox Christian world into the spotlight of Science & Religion studies throughout the world.
Our conclusion is that we have to continue this hard work at national and international levels, with enlarged interest for society in general, and particularly for the youth.
President of the Associations
“The Dialogue between Science and Theology in Romania” (ADSTR); and
“The Institute for Transdisciplinary Studies in Science, Spirituality, Society” (IT4S)
Fellow of ISSR