Panel Analyzes Religion Through Lens of Liberal Arts

December 2, 2013

By Jennifer Cundiff '16

Dr. Robert Fuller and three other Bradley faculty examined Fuller’s latest book, “The Body of Faith: A Biological History of Religion in America,” in November’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Lecture Series. In addition to Fuller, the panel included professors from the biology, psychology, and history departments.

“Think of this as a giant playroom where we get to try ideas and play with them in the spirit that we can exchange ideas and have differences of opinion,” Fuller said. “That is what we are here to do. This lecture is an academic discussion of religion.”

Each of the panelists had a unique perspective on Fuller’s assertion that religion has a basis in the natural sciences, particularly in biology. He asserts that “religion is an extended phenotype,” that religion is a characteristic that results from a combination of genetics and environment.

Looking at Fuller’s assertions from a natural science perspective Dr. Jennifer Jost examined Fuller’s claims about moral emotions. She stated that, “self-sacrifice is not compatible with natural selection” and that in looking at this work in the future natural scientists will “examine hypotheses on the heritability of emotions.”

Professor of history, Dr. Jeff Kosiorek began his portion of the discussion by commending Fuller “for this interdisciplinary endeavor.” Kosiorek agreed with Fuller that the biological body is “an integral part of the history of American religion” but Kosiorek expressed concerns,stating that the book “assumes that things that are now true were universally true in the past.”

Dr. Dave Schmitt added a psychologist’s perspective when he addressed the role and context of science on culture and religion.

“We need to think of science’s context in a cultural context,” he said.

He went on to state that humans are peculiar primates, and that humans use, “extended phenotypes of religion...as weapons.”

This panel, and panels like these, encourages an interdisciplinary approach to issues and subjects within academia. This is important to modern academia because, according to Fuller, “interdisciplinary discussion allows one’s discipline to be enriched and cross-fertilized with other fields.”  Professor Jost also noted “interdisciplinary discussion encourages excitement in one’s own discipline and this leads to new ideas in one’s own field.”