ISSR is pleased to announce the following events taking place on the 17th November 2017 in Boston, USA.


TITLE: “Attending to Symbiosis: Theology and the Connectedness of Nature”

DATE: Friday, 17 November 2017

TIME: 10:30 am to 1:00 pm

LOCATION: Hynes Convention Center, Boston. Room to be Announced.


Few recent developments in biology are as striking as our new appreciation of mutually beneficial symbiosis: the hair on a sloth is adapted for growing algae, which forms an important source of calories for its host in return; the earliest known fossils of life on Earth are of symbiotic communities; garden centres stock spores of fungus that extends the root system of trees, and is nourished with sugars in return. Mutualism – beneficial relationships between organisms of different species – is no longer seen as a marginal curiosity; it is now known to be profoundly widespread.

Evolution now seems to present the story of shifting patterns of benefit, not simply of competition. Some of its most momentous developments have involved the symbiotic engulfing of smaller organisms by larger ones (endosymbiosis), as with chloroplasts and mitochondria.

There are important practical consequences. Aspects of human health depend on our relationship with the bacteria, or microbiome, of our gut. Something as fundamental to agriculture as soil is shaped and preserved by symbiotic relationships.

Beginning with a survey of the state of contemporary scientific knowledge, this panel will address the relative lack of theological attention to these developments, and consider their significance for a theological understanding of nature, not least in the form of their consequences for systematic theology and theological ethics.


Daniel Castillo, Loyola University Maryland

Andrew Davison, University of Cambridge

Adam Pryor, Bethany College

Professor Katherine Sonderegger, Virginia Theological Seminary

Wesley Wildman, Boston University and the Institute for the Bio-Cultural Study of Religion




TITLE: “CRISPR/Cas and Human Germline Gene Editing: Possibilities and Perspectives”

DATE: Friday, 17 November 2017

TIME: 2:30 to 5:00 pm

LOCATION: Hynes Convention Center, Boston. Room to be Announced.

This mini-conference addresses the possibility of human germline gene editing from the perspectives of religion, bioethics, and public engagement. New genome-editing techniques, including CRISPR/Cas, enable precise changes to the genome. Applied to medicine, these techniques open up new ways for researchers to counter diseases such as cancer. They also have the power to make additions, deletions, or other alterations in the human genome. These alterations may include gene editing in particular patients (so-called “somatic cell gene therapy”) or in future children, perhaps affecting their offspring indefinitely (“germline modification”).

The first speaker is Richard O. Hynes, co-chair of the Committee on Human Gene Editing: Scientific, Medical, and Ethical Considerations of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine. Working with counterparts in the Royal Society and the Chinese Academy of Science, for instance in hosting the International Summit on Human Gene Editing, this Committee has been central to discussions by experts and the general public on promises and challenges presented by advances in gene editing. Professor Hynes is the Daniel K. Ludwig Professor for Cancer Research at MIT, a Fellow of the Royal Society, and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He will comment on the state of the technical advances and what they suggest for future uses in human germline modification.

Three panelists will offer a response and engage Prof. Hynes in discussion. They include (1) Laurie Zoloth, Dean of the University of Chicago Divinity School and President of the AAR in 2014, whose work brings together advances in biomedical research, bioethics, and religion; (2) Ron Cole-Turner, a Vice President of the International Society for Science and Religion and editor of Design and Destiny: Jewish and Christian Perspectives on Human Germline Modification; and (3) John H. Evans, Sociology, University of California, San Diego, a leading expert on public and religious responses to advances in biotechnology and a member of the NAM/NAS Committee on Human Gene Editing. At least 30 minutes is reserved for public discussion.

Questions to be explored in this mini-conference include technical, bioethical, religious, and social issues. What level of precision and safety are made possible by the new techniques? If approval is contingent upon safety, what level is required? What are the most likely first steps to be proposed for use in human germline gene editing? Could someone create in offspring genetic qualities that have not existed in people before? Could a gene drive be installed in a human? Could people be modified so they could not breed with the unmodified?  How are new gene editing techniques changing the bioethical and religious conversations about germline gene editing?

It is expected that this mini-conference will be webcast. For details, please visit the website of the National Academies [] just before the conference occurs. The International Society is grateful to acknowledge that the webcast is supported by the National Academy of Medicine’s Kellogg Health of the Public Fund.

The ISSR also gratefully acknowledges the assistance of the American Academy of Religion in offering this event and the co-sponsorship of two Units of the AAR: Bioethics and Religion Unit and the Human Enhancement and Transhumanism Unit.


These events are free and open to the public at no charge. There is no need to register in advance. These sessions take place the day before the opening of the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion. The ISSR encourages registration and attendance at AAR, but anyone wishing to attend only the ISSR events need not register for AAR.

This page will be updated with further information, such as room locations, as the information becomes available. Questions may be addressed to Ron Cole-Turner at