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Supported by the Charles P. Scott Endowment, the Religion Department regularly sponsors major lecture series or symposia on a wide range of topics concerning religion.

March 2015 Scott Symposium, March 13-14, 2015

Science and Religious Experience: Explanation, Exploration and Exegesis

Friday, March 13, Lecture by Dr. Robert McCauley, Emory College, “Explanatory Pluralism and the Cognitive Science of Religion” Hillcrest 103, the Orchard Room, 4:30 pm

Many religious people as well as many scholars of religion have denounced scientific approaches to studying religion.  Their antipathy has been rooted, at least in part, in worries about reductionism, and prominent models of scientific reduction in the philosophy of science have done little to allay their concerns.  Explanatory pluralists argue that those models are flawed and advance an alternative conception of cross-scientific relations that shows why scientific approaches to religion (including the cognitive science of religion (CSR)) will not produce any fell-swoop reductions of religious phenomena, let alone the elimination of the religious.  Whether regarded individually or collectively, many landmark CSR findings constitute exemplary illustrations of explanatory pluralism -- from the earliest research on the memorability of minimally counter-intuitive representations right through to recent research on the ability of collective ritual performance to elicit empathy and cooperation among in-group members.  

Saturday, March 14, Lecture by Dr. Willoughby Britton, Brown University, "The Promises and Perils of Mixing Buddhist Meditation and Western Psychiatry” Hillcrest 103, the Orchard Room, 10:00 a.m.

Buddhist-derived meditation practices, particularly mindfulness meditation, are being applied to medical conditions, psychiatric disorders, schools and businesses for stress reduction and the promotion of wellbeing.  These secular applications are largely contextualized in a medical health model, without much attention to or knowledge of traditional Buddhist texts which carefully outline a variety of experiences associated with contemplative practices. As a result, the widespread application of meditation in clinical and secular settings is proceeding without much knowledge of the full range of experiences that can arise in the context of practice. We will examine the change in sense of self in order to demonstrate some of the ongoing challenges involved with integrating Buddhism and western psychiatry.

Saturday, March 14, Lecture by Dr. Jared Lindahl, Brown University, “Sensory Asceticism, Luminous Visions, and the Nature of Consciousness” Hillcrest 103, the Orchard Room, 11:30 a.m.

Light is one of the central metaphors deployed across religious traditions.  But what if some references to light experiences aren’t metaphorical, but biological in nature?  What could this tell us about the affects of religious practices on the human brain and body?  What could it tell us about consciousness? Dr. Lindahl will present a brief historical and phenomenological sketch of light-related practices and discourses from Greek Orthodox Christian and Tibetan Buddhist traditions.  He will then suggest how current thinking in the neuroscience of meditation, visual perception, and consciousness can help us to understand not only the similarity of reports of light experiences, but also some of the ways in which they have been interpreted in two distinct religious traditions.

Examples of previous events include:

  • a lecture by David Little (Harvard University) on the future of religious human rights, with particular attention to the concerns about the "defamation of religion";
  • a symposium on immigrant religions in the United States;
  • two lecture series on religion and bioethics that brought to campus Gilbert Meilaender, Elliot Dorff, Karen Lebacqz, Ebrahim Moosa, and David Loy.
  • a symposium on "The Passion of Christ" as depicted in art, music, literature, and scriptural texts;
  • a symposium on "Spirit and Nature," which featured a visit from His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

The Hannah A. Quint Lecture in Jewish Studies is one of the premier lectureships at the College.  Since its launch in 1988, it has brought to campus each year a leading figure in Jewish scholarship, literature, the arts, politics or other fields.  For current details on the lecture and other events in Jewish Studies, click here.

Several times a semester, the Religion Department hosts a Student-Faculty Colloquium. These informal gatherings, organized by a student planning committee, represent an opportunity for teachers and students to share a meal and get to know one another, while engaging in energetic conversations about current issues relevant to interest in religion. Sometimes the colloquium conversation is tied to an event on campus, while other times it is prompted by a story in the news.  This past year our gatherings featured conversations on fundamentalism, religion and science, and charitable giving (among others).  The final colloquium of the year is an annual celebration of our graduating majors, a moment of revelry and humor that has acquired a reputation on campus over time!

In addition to these regular events, the Religion Department hosts or co-hosts numerous other lectures, panel discussions, public readings, and artistic events throughout the academic year. Please visit this page regularly for information on upcoming events sponsored by the Religion Department.


Department of Religion

Middlebury College
Middlebury, VT 05753