Science & Orthodoxy around the World (SOW)



Mapping the dialog

Project SOW - Science & Orthodoxy around the World focuses on the dialog 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. It reaches out to all relevant scholars, researchers specializing in the study of Science & Religion throughout the world, as well as a wider audience with an interest in issues that arise from the relation of sciences with faith. SOW’s actions are presented through this web portal, three large international conferences with parallel workshops and proceedings volumes, two separate workshops, public lectures, one documentary and 45 peer-reviewed articles.


Open-access research

SOW aims at establishing a permanent platform of dialog on an international level between scientists and Orthodox thinkers, sparking a wider dialog, which, although existing, is not so apparent globally, and at bringing the Orthodox Christian world into the spotlight of Science & Religion studies throughout the world. SOW also aims at collecting, recording and presenting the views and positions that constitute today’s science-and-religion dialog in Greece, Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Georgia, as well as the United Kingdom, the United States of America, France and Australia through a special open-access database and a collection of personal interviews on digital media.


More information

Science and Orthodoxy today

Today, a science & religion dialog similar to Western Christianity has not yet been sufficiently developed in the Orthodox Christian world. Orthodoxy is the religion of more than 300 million people worldwide; it is dominant in Eastern and Southeastern Europe, while emerging communities flourish in many parts of the world as a result of the Orthodox diaspora.

This lack of interest on the part of contemporary Orthodoxy towards questions concerning science is due greatly to the flourishing of patristic studies. Patristic studies constitute the main theological current of research, focusing mainly on theological and spiritual questions. Notwithstanding their centrality, there have recently been some discussions on science and religion within some sectors of Orthodoxy. A renewed interest in ecumenical values within the Orthodox theological Tradition has developed in recent years, often outside the traditional geographical borders of Eastern Orthodoxy, giving birth to original approaches to the relations between Orthodoxy and the sciences. Today, Orthodox scientists and theologians living in the UK, the USA, Canada and Australia are frontrunners in promoting this dialog. A number of conferences and symposiums on science and religion have recently been organized, and, Orthodox theologians and scientists are displaying an increasing interest in the intersection of psychoanalytical and religious conceptions of the human soul.

These new approaches, however, are scarce and not yet organized on an international level. Eastern Christianity is constituted by autocephalous Churches often related to national states, following different, historically emergent, traditions. As a result, the relations between science and Orthodox faith are extremely diverse and complex. Different, sometimes contradictory, trends coexist regarding main scientific issues, such as evolution, cosmology or even the nature of scientific knowledge itself. In order to study and understand the variety of Orthodox attitudes towards science, a mapping of the field is long due.

At this moment, there is no such synthetic overview of the different trends concerning science and faith in contemporary Orthodoxy. To promote a comprehensive dialog between science and Orthodox faith this lacuna needs to be addressed, something which forms one of the main priorities of this project. Such a mapping of the different trends will be an essential addition to our knowledge about the relation of science with Orthodox religion. It will constitute a solid ground for any further research on the subject and, hopefully, it will introduce new ideas and approaches towards contemporary science to our system of ideas.

The project also intends to bring Orthodoxy into the mainstream of science-religion scholarship. Recent global literature virtually ignores this field. John Hedley Brooke's influential Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives (1991) has nothing to say about Orthodox Christianity. God and Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter between Christianity and Science (1986), edited by David C. Lindberg and Ronald L. Numbers, devotes only a page or so to the Greek church fathers, as does their more recent When Science and Christianity Meet (2003). Gary B. Ferngren’s The History of Science and Religion in the Western Tradition: An Encyclopedia (2000) includes a five-page overview of “Orthodoxy”. Ronald L. Numbers’ iconoclastic Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion (2009) makes no reference to Orthodoxy other than a two-page debunking of the Hypatia myth. Despite its comprehensive title, Peter Harrison’s The Cambridge Companion to Science and Religion (2010) completely bypasses Eastern Christianity – except to apologize for doing so – while Thomas Dixon, Geoffrey Cantor, and Stephen Pumfrey, the editors of Science and Religion: New Historical Perspectives (2010), do not even apologize for their neglect. John Hedley Brooke and Ronald L. Numbers’ innovative Science and Religion around the World (2010) mentions Orthodoxy only in passing. Efthymios Nicolaidis’ Science and eastern Orthodoxy, from the Greek Fathers to the age of globalization (2011) is, perhaps, a first effort to fill this gap.

In the Orthodox Christian world, during the last three centuries, Science was imported from the West and was developed as a conceptual instrument to shape modern systems of thought and acting in the world. In Russia, this process emerged with Peter the Great’s modernization efforts at the beginning of the 18th century, while in South-East Europe it started as a movement towards the emancipation from the Ottoman Empire in the mid-18th century. During the 20th century, the USSR used science and technology as an important tool for development and propaganda, whereas south-east European States ascribed them a crucial role in promoting modernization within the local cultures oscillating between East and West.

In both cases, the Orthodox Church encouraged mostly philological studies rather than the Sciences and turned to patristic studies at the expense of the dialog between religion and modern science. In Greece, after the 1950s, the Orthodox Christian Brotherhoods Zoë and Sotēr, under a certain influence by Protestantism, failed in their attempt to promote science among Orthodox believers. The Orthodox intelligentsia, being rather hostile to innovation and critical methods of interpretation, focused on sacralized and hence rigid approaches of the patristic tradition and Byzantine and post-Byzantine spirituality. The recent history of Science-Orthodox relations indicates that the idea of scientific innovation, which is related to Christian conceptions regarding the significance of the human participation in a permanent evolution, was not part of the main stream of Orthodox thought. Even though this idea was initially framed by Byzantine theologians and scholars [e.g. Maximus Confessor, Ambigua], it remained rather unexploited by Orthodox Spirituality. In this perspective, one task that SOW seeks to accomplish is to investigate how modern Orthodoxy conceptualizes the idea according to which salvation requires human contribution to the perfection of a provisory and incomplete world, and how contemporary Orthodox theological thought changes in the light of modern scientific understandings of the humankind and the world revisiting its own sources and inhibited dynamic.

Adding to the complexity of the present science - Orthodoxy relations is the independence of the Orthodox Autocephalous Churches and their relations to the states to which they belong. For the best part of the 20th century the Patriarchate of Moscow was under tight state control, as were the Churches of Romania, Bulgaria, and the former Yugoslavia after World War II. Even in Greece, which belonged to the Western camp, the Church was linked to the state and dominated by it, often becoming a chief vehicle of nationalism. These close relations affected the theological approaches to science, or to be more precise, prevented the Church from being able to openly express specific positions on scientific matters.

Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, where scientific issues are being discussed in the Vatican, and various Protestant churches, which are concerned with and participate in the science-religion dialog, there has not been such an organized dialog at a high hierarchical level among the Orthodox Churches, which tend to overlook science because it seemingly concerns only the secular part of society. Patristic studies, flourishing in all Eastern Churches, concentrate purely on theological and spiritual issues. Notwithstanding this trend, however, some discussion of science and religion has taken place in certain sectors of Orthodoxy.

A renewed interest in the Orthodox Tradition related to ecumenical values arises, often outside the traditional geographical areas concerned, giving birth to original approaches on the relations of Orthodoxy to the sciences. A number of conferences and symposia on modern sciences and Orthodoxy have been organized over the last years around the world. Philosophers have investigated the anthropological impact of Orthodox spirituality as a significant and controversial factor in the formation of the mentality of modern Orthodox people during the current social crisis. Within this general framework, the discussion on evolution and/or intelligent design surfaces from time to time and we are able to detect various and contradictory attitudes by theologians as well as by Church dignitaries. Questions concerning the Universe, its birth and future, are being addressed, as well as questions on materialism, which, although raising less passion than in the mid-20th century, are not neglected. However, the crucial issue of artificial intelligence seems to not have yet attracted the attention it merits from the Orthodox Church, theologians and scientists. In addition, as scientific and technologic knowledge expand, the impacts of those discoveries are felt in all aspects of life including the Church; an appropriate reaction is important and should not be muted.


Posing questions

The main question of SOW is how Orthodox spiritual and theological tradition can respond to and assimilate concepts, methods and practices introduced by modern sciences.

A subsidiary question is whether Orthodoxy can be a relevant factor in the process of a mutual enrichment of both sciences and religion, in the perspective of a global and complex understanding of life.

Finally, can a broader and deeper dialog between Orthodoxy and modern Sciences, focusing on the intersection of secular knowledge and spiritual experience of faith, have an anthropological impact on the Orthodox world, providing new connections between rationality and spirituality?

We are nowadays able to acknowledge that the development of the modern sciences did more than only yield immense collections of new data. It did not simply illuminate hitherto obscure zones of human consciousness or annex topics traditionally considered as objects of inquiry for religious and philosophical scholarship. The development of the sciences affected the traditional forms of spirituality and had serious consequences on how humanity perceived the limits of its knowledge and the meaning of its activity in the world. Can forms of spirituality affected by the sciences, Orthodoxy included, function today as sources of meaning, capable of contributing to a fresh and deeper understanding of reality and the human condition? Can they become vehicles of fruitful criticism to the existing scientific mentalities, thus opening new horizons of knowledge, cultivating attitudes of humility and effectively inhibiting arrogant, intolerant or even discriminatory stances? Is it possible to reactivate today elements drawn from these forms of spirituality in order to ascribe a new meaning to the concept of genius, departing from the dominant egotistic implications attached to it by re-associating knowledge and virtue?

Thus, by fostering a collective scholarly discussion and by organizing three major conferences, two workshops and a permanent discussion forum, the research project aims to provide at least partial answers to the following questions:

  • What is the impact of modern conceptions of nature upon Orthodox doctrines concerning the relation of God to human beings and to the world? How do Orthodox scientists and theologians understand the relation of faith to scientific knowledge? What is the image of science emerging from the dialog?
  • To what extent do Orthodox theologians consider theology as a scientific discipline and where do they locate it within the modern architecture of scientific disciplines?
  • To what extent does the Orthodox tradition facilitate critical thinking and the endorsement of epistemic values? What potential obstacles to scientific literacy may arise within its currently dominant form? Conversely, may the Orthodox system of beliefs stimulate science as a vocation for an Orthodox believer?
  • Have Orthodox scientists developed distinctively pro-Orthodox re-interpretations of modern scientific theories? In such cases, how do they justify the application of background assumptions or motives associated with religious concerns? The following domains will be especially investigated: cosmology, theories of matter, genetics and mind sciences.
  • To what extent have the currently dominant Orthodox responses to science been influenced by the establishment of modern educational institutions and, in the case of the ex-communist countries, of political regimes critical to religious faith?
  • To what extent do Orthodox theologians and thinkers invoke elements drawn from the Patristic tradition whenever they discuss the relation between science and religion? Is this use of the Patristic tradition selective? What currents of this tradition are most frequently referred to?
  • What forms of rational criticism of modern sciences and scientific mentalities can be issued from an Orthodox point of view?


More precisely: Is the tradition that originates in the Orthodox Theology and Spirituality and the religious practices of Orthodox believers living in pre-modern societies, pertinent only to personal moral edification? Do the Orthodox problematics on human subjectivity (on the worldliness and godliness of human soul, on the integration of inner and outer human living, on the yearning for justice, unification of humanity, and a better world) have something essential to contribute to some urgent questions considering the nature and the limits of science itself? What is the relevancy of these problematics to questions addressing the ways scientific research is linked with philosophical inquiry, the moral/political dimensions of scientific agency, the conception and assessment of human genius?


Main Objectives

The aim of the project is to explore the current status of the dialog between Eastern Orthodoxy and Science all over the world, and to make it visible across all appropriate audiences. It will achieve this by mapping the various attitudes and opinions, making them widely available through an internet portal, and having them disseminated and discussed throughout the international community of scholars, clergy, theologians and others using a variety of venues. Thus, SOW, at its core, is a project of visibility, diffusion and communication.

Project Science and Orthodoxy around the World (SOW) is concerned with the impact of Orthodox Theology and Spirituality on the deeper understanding of the World, scrutinizing its potential contribution to questions considering the Nature and the limits of Science itself. It is also concerned with the way Orthodoxy could function today as a vehicle of fruitful criticism to the existing scientific mentalities, cultivating attitudes of humility. Finally, we aim to reconsider the given concept of Genius from the perspective of Orthodox spirituality, through the re-association of knowledge with virtue.

The main hypothesis behind project SOW is that the current dialog between the sciences and Orthodoxy is not as visible as its importance demands. Different interested audiences and parties discuss a variety of subjects across a wide range of disciplines, venues and languages. SOW has at its core the hypothesis that if the status of dialog is consolidated and made available to all interested parties, a gradual shift of the current Paradigm will ensue, and Science and Orthodoxy will emerge as a fruitful and dynamic component of public and academic discourse. Thus, SOW intends to map the status of the field, make its findings as visible available as possible and bring together the best scholars across disciplines to frame at least partial answers to the current problematic of Science and Orthodoxy.

The project aims to tackle its desiderata through activities that include the research and collection of sources (texts of the last twenty years and oral testimonies-interviews) relevant to the dialog between the sciences and Orthodoxy and the organization of the dialog (Conferences, Portal). Through these actions we hope to provide answers concerning the reciprocal impact of modern science on Orthodoxy and vice-versa and on the forms of criticism towards modern sciences which derive from the Orthodox tradition.

The target audience comprises theologians, scientists and thinkers, the international community of scholars specialized in Science and Religion, as well as the wider public and stakeholders interested on the questions of the relations between science and faith.

The project outputs include an open-access database of texts and interviews providing an overview of the subject, three collective volumes resulting from the edited papers of the conferences to be submitted to a distinguished international publisher, two workshops, six public lectures, 45 peer-reviewed articles authored by collaborators, a documentary on the relations between Science and Orthodoxy and the portal of the project.

The results of the project’s research and the participation of eight researchers as the project’s research team are expected to contribute to the future development of the important, but yet unexplored, scholarship on Eastern Orthodoxy and science studies. It is further expected that the involvement in this project of distinguished specialists of Western Christianity and science relations will also greatly contribute to this development. The research will lead to the construction of a digital, online database of relevant texts and oral testimonies and to a survey of the various Orthodox attitudes based on this data.

The mapping of the field is a fundamental action for SOW but not the paramount. The main scope of the project is to facilitate the international dialog and institute a permanent international forum of discussion. This forum is intended to foster the dialog between science and religion across the Orthodox world. To establish and encourage such a forum, important public and dissemination events are planned: a series of three International Conferences, six Lectures in different countries, two workshops and a documentary film on science and Orthodox faith planned to be diffused worldwide.


Research: mapping the dialog

The research will focus on countries with a strong majority of Orthodox believers, i.e. Russia, the Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece, Georgia, Montenegro, Moldavia, Belarus, and Cyprus, as well as on countries with an important Orthodox Diaspora, i.e. Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada. It will emphasize on the last 20 years and will profit from the results of the NARSES research project (2012-2015), which gave an overview of science & religion in south-eastern Europe from Late Antiquity until the 20th century, implemented by the team of Efthymios Nicolaidis. To map the present relationship between science and Orthodoxy and to answer the questions foregrounded in the above section, the project will develop an open access database in English containing the data described below along with their metadata. This will be incorporated into SOW’s portal, rendering it accessible to all.


Textual and multimedia sources

The research team will collect, critically examine and catalogue the following categories of sources (printed and web sources).

  1. Sources concerning the relationship of Orthodox scientists with faith.
  2. Sources concerning the ideas of Orthodox theologians and thinkers about science and scientific knowledge.
  3. Canonical texts about science.
  4. Sources concerning debates on specific questions of science and science education.
  5. Bibliographical sources on the relationship between science and Orthodoxy.
  6. For each source, a short description in English will be provided.

These texts will be archived through an online searchable database, organized according to the above categories, but also according to scientific field, country and language. This database will also be searchable by keywords provided for each text in English. For each entry, an abstract in English will be provided. Following the completion of the project, the database will have open access.


Interview sources

A series of interviews of Orthodox scientists, theologians and thinkers will be produced. The research team in collaboration with advisers will determine the list of people to be interviewed and will elaborate a number of questions to be answered by the interviewees. The interviews will be translated (subtitled) in English and will also be integrated with the database.



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