Prisma (Newspaper Avgi) 13-5-2017

English translation follows

An interview about SOW of Efthymios Nicolaidis by Lida Arnellou

Journal Avgi May 13, 2017, section about science, technology and society Prisma

Translated from Greek by Krini Kafiri


1.  Dr Nicolaidis, please tell us a few words about the subject of research and the objective of the SOW (Science and Orthodoxy around the World) program.

The SOW programme ( studies the relations between Orthodoxy and the sciences of our era. Undertaken by the Institute of Historical Research of the National Hellenic Research Foundation, with funding by the Templeton World Charity Foundation, it is the “continuation” of the NARSES project which aimed to collect and study Greek sources referring to the relations between Orthodoxy and sciences, from the Greek Church Fathers up until the middle of the 20th century. The SOW programme will try to foreground the particular characteristics of the relationship between society and sciences in the modern Orthodox world and whether or not these characteristics are shared or differentiated in relation to the various Orthodox traditions. The goal of SOW is to map the field of  “sciences-Orthodoxy” around the world and to promote an organised dialogue between the sciences and Orthodoxy, as well as to integrate research on the relationships between sciences and Orthodoxy into the international research field of religion-sciences.


2.  How many researchers participate in program? From which countries? What are their areas of specialisation and which methodology is used?

Ten researchers participate from Russia, Greece, Rumania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Georgia, and Canada as well as fourteen specialists from other countries. The team is made up of historians of science, philosophers, sociologists, theologians and scientists. The mapping of the field, which consists of an open data base in English and relevant publications presenting the results of the research, employs an historical methodology. We try to address the present with the eyes of an historian.


3. Science and religion are usually referred to in the public sphere as two clearly demarcated worlds, or even as two conflicting worlds when it comes to Catholic dogma.  Does the same hold for the relationship between Orthodoxy and science?

First of all, historically this conflict between worlds is not accurate. Today's science was born from the transformation of ancient Greek science in Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries, due to the study of Creation by faithful Catholic and Protestant scholars. During the time of Galileo's trial, the Catholic Church was the biggest sponsor of scientists. The conflict concerned scientific theories (for example, the heliocentric system) and not the study of Creation in rational terms (and especially through mathematics), which was favoured by Western Christianity. In Orthodox Christianity, mediation between Man and Creation by the sciences did not always apply. It depended on the period of time and the protagonists. There were currents, such as that of Hesychasm (14th c.), which advocated that Man could perceive Creation through faith, not science. The fact that the Orthodox world did not participate in the development of new science, on the one hand did not result in great conflict over the new theories, but on the other, these new ideas were considered foreign to the Orthodox tradition by some. This was true up to the 19th century, during which science separated from faith and proposed its own philosophy and its own ethics. Since then, we can speak of a dialogue (and occasionally a dispute) between two different worlds, which sometimes coincided, as for example in the case of the Russian mathematicians at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th , or as in the case of Georges Lemaitre, the Belgian clergyman and father of the “big bang” theory.


4. What kind of texts will you collect in the context of the project which will capture public dialogue between science and religion? How could these texts be used in order to extract conclusions on the relationship between science and Orthodoxy?

We are collecting everything that has been written (in print form or on websites) after 1989 (we consider the fall of East European communist regimes a milestone), both from the side of Orthodoxy on the sciences, and from the side of the sciences on Orthodoxy: texts by Orthodox theologians and thinkers, texts by the Orthodox Churches, texts by scientists or thinkers who are part of the Orthodox world and refer to the relations between religion and sciences. Apart from texts, we are also collecting relevant broadcasts, interviews and websites. All the materials we collect are in the basic languages of Orthodoxy (Russian, Greek, Ukrainian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Serbian and Georgian) as well as in other languages which are used by Orthodoxy such as English, French and German. All the metadata will be in English. This collection will allow us to describe the relations between Orthodoxy and sciences in our time and also will form a “library” for further studies.


5. Ιs there any data from the research so far which you believe is of special interest?

Due its history, Orthodoxy is very complicated—with different traditions, autocephalous (self-governing) Churches connected with nation-states, and many different opinions within the autocephalous Churches. Recently, an Orthodox discourse has developed outside the Orthodox world, mainly in the UK, the US and France, which converses with the opinions which have been expressed in the context of other Churches. What is interesting is that almost all the trends which come from this very rich tradition express the desire to converse with the sciences. The relationship between Orthodoxy and modernity is also interesting in relation to the sciences. This involves three trends: one which claims that Orthodoxy, in order to reconcile with modern science, must pass through the phase of modernity, a second, which posits the Orthodox tradition against the acceptance of modernity, and a third, which claims that in the postmodern age Orthodoxy has the advantage of not having incorporated modernity, so it will overcome it more easily than other Christian dogmas.


6. What can the dialogue between science and religion offer?

The positivist tradition of the 19th century, cultivated the expectation of the societies of modernity that the sciences, connected with technology, would constitute a new Eden. Against this, during the Cold War, a movement of distrust towards the sciences gradually developed which took various forms. In our time, with religious sentiment being strongly revived, the dialogue between science and religion is of crucial importance. Historically, the sciences offered much to religion and especially to Christianity. The first explanatory texts by the Greek Church Fathers on Creation were based on ancient Greek philosophical theorisations about the world. The big question today is what  religion can offer the sciences. An ethical critique and some different ethical rules (or similar ones) with those posed by the secular side? Or also, something very important in my opinion, a contribution to scientific methodology, which could, to some extent, distance itself from the absolute, rationalist methodology which dominated with the positivist tradition?



Templeton World Charity Foundation
Institute of Historical Research
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Institute for Historical Research National Hellenic Research Foundation 48, Vasileos Konstantinou Ave

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