Science-Engaged Theology in Judaism: Historical Overview

23 March, 2023

We are deeply honoured to welcome Professor Hava Tirosh-Samuelson, Regents Professor of History, Irving and Miriam Lowe Professor of Modern Judaism, and Director of Jewish Studies at Arizona State University in Tempe, USA, to lead a session of the Science and Religion in Interfaith Contexts Reading Group.

Here are the details of this fascinating event.

Topic: Science-Engaged Theology in Judaism: Historical Overview

Abstract: Throughout their long history, Jews have interacted with their surrounding civilizations and these cultural exchanges consisted of both adoption and adaptation as well as polemics and rejection.  These complex, and at times deeply painful, encounters have generated the religious tradition we call “Judaism” that expresses itself through law, exegesis, philosophy, theology, mysticism, literature, liturgy, art, and even science.  The lecture offers an historical overview of the interplay between science and theology in Judaism from antiquity to the present. The lecture argues that there is no one science-engaged Jewish theology but a variety of approaches that can only be understood contextually by paying attention to change over time, the historical conditions of the Jewish minority, diverse strands of Jewish thought in a given period, the institutional context for the production and consumption of science-engaged theology, changing conceptions of ‘science,’ and the politics of exclusion or inclusion of Jews from non-Jewish institutions of learning.  The lecture explores the emergence of ‘science’ (in Hebrew, madda) as the hallmark of modern secular culture and the rise and fall of the Torah U-Madda movement centered at Yeshivah University in New York. Special attention is paid to the way the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (d. 2020) theorized and argued for science-engaged theology. The lecture argues that science-engaged theology is necessary for the future of Judaism in the 21st century. 

Speaker: Professor Hava Tirosh-Samuelson is Regents Professor of History, Irving and Miriam Lowe Professor of Modern Judaism, and Director of Jewish Studies at Arizona State University in Tempe, AZ.   She holds a Ph.D. in Jewish Philosophy and Mysticism from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1978), and a BA in Religious Studies from SUNY-Stony Brook, New York (1974).  

Professor Tirosh-Samuelson is a Jewish intellectual historian who focuses on the interplay of philosophy and mysticism, religion and science, and religion and ecology.  In addition to over 60 essays and book chapters, she is the author of Between Worlds: The Life and Work of Rabbi David ben Judah Messer Leon (1991) which received the award of the Hebrew University for the best work in Jewish history for 1991, as well as the author of Happiness in Premodern Judaism: Virtue, Knowledge, and Well-Being in Premodern Judaism (2003), and Religion and Environment: The Case of Judaism (2020). She is also the editor of several volumes, including: Judaism and Ecology: Created World and Revealed World (2002); Women and Gender in Jewish Philosophy (2004); Judaism and the Phenomenon of Life: The Legacy of Hans Jonas (2008); Building Better Humans? Refocusing the Debate on Transhumanism (2011); Jewish Philosophy for the Twenty-First Century: Personal Reflections (2014); Perfecting Human Futures: Transhuman Visions and Technological Imaginations (2016); and the Future of Jewish Philosophy (2018).  Professor Tirosh-Samuelson is the editor-in-chief of the LIBRARY OF CONTEMPORARY JEWISH PHILOSOPEHRS (2012-2018), a series of 21 books that features outstanding Jewish thinkers today.

Professor Tirosh-Samuelson explores the interplay of religion, science, and technology with a focus on transhumanism and religious environmentalism as expression of our post-secular age.  She is the PI or Co-PI of several large externally-funded projects: “Facing the Challenges of Transhumanism: Religion, Science, and Technology” (2006-2010); “The Transhumanist Imagination: Innovation, Secularization and Eschatology” (2012-14); “Beyond Secularization: Piloting New Approaches for the Study of Religion, Science, and Technology in Public Life” (2016-2018) and “Beyond Secularization: Religion, Science, and Technology in Public Life” (2019-2023); and “Fasting and Flourishing: Comparative Analysis” (2022-2025). These grants have funded symposia, public lectures, faculty seminars, and international conferences. Professor Tirosh-Samuelson is a member of the International Society of Science and Religion (ISSR) and serves on the academic board of Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science. As Director of the Center for Jewish Studies at ASU, Professor Tirosh-Samuelson manages the international society, Judaism, Science and Medicine Group (JSMG) and organizes its annual conferences. 

Chair: Rabbi Dr Norman Solomon, Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, UK.

Time: 18:00-19:00 GMT | 19:00-20:00 CEST | 11:00-12:00 PDT | 14:00-15:00 EDT

Venue: Online

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