History

Metanexus is an invented word to designate a new way of thinking. “Metanexus” literally means “transcending connections” and “transformational networks.” The approach is multi-perspectival and scientifically rigorous. Implied is an epistemology, ontology, ethics, and aesthetics that understands process and relationship to be foundational. 

Founded in 1997, the Metanexus Institute is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to promoting scientifically rigorous and philosophically open-ended explorations of foundational questions. This website is a record of that work and the people involved over many years from all corners of the Earth, faith traditions, academic and scientific disciplines.

Today, our knowledge and knowhow go deep into specializations, as our world becomes ever more fragmented. We believe this fragmentation lies at the root of many of the current threats to our wellbeing in the 21st century.

The mandate is to Think Big. We advocate a global conversation about Big History—the new scientific origin story of our species evolution on this restless planet in a vast universe. It is essential to solving Big Problems and productively debating Big Questions. We invite you to browse our website and follow us on Facebook and Twitter. 

William Grassie
Founder and Executive Editor

History

Image: William Grassie, John Templeton, and Holmes Rolston at first Metanexus Institute symposium in 1999 at the University of Pennsylvania.

1994

William Grassie completes his doctorate in religion at Temple University. His dissertation was titled Reinventing Nature: Science Narratives as Myths for an Endangered Planet, explored what it would mean to treat the epic of evolution as a mytho-poetic, creation story. Grassie begins teaching in Temple’s Intellectual Heritage Program, a two-semester, writing intensive, introduction to the Great Books tradition required of all undergraduates.

1995

Grassie attends the first Templeton Science and Religion Course Program (SRCP) conference in Tallahassee. He applies and is awarded a grant to teach a course at the University of Pennsylvania.

1996

Grassie teaches “Science and the Sacred” at the University of Pennsylvania. The course includes a number of innovations at the time, including a course website, a class listserv, and a public lecture series.

1997

William Grassie, still teaching in the Intellectual Heritage Program at Temple University, launches the “Meta-List,” a moderated listserv on science and religion that begins with 600 subscribers and quickly grows to several thousand.

1998

William Grassie and four faculty members from the University of Pennsylvania—Andrew Newberg, Sol Katz, Peter Dodson, and Steven Dunning—incorporate the Philadelphia Center on Religion and Science (PCRS).

1999

PCRS hosts a special symposium at the University of Pennsylvania with Holmes Rolston III on the subject of his Gifford Lectures and newly released book Genes, Genesis, and God: Values and Their Origins in Natural and Human History.

2000

PCRS is renamed the Metanexus Institute, and the Meta-List relaunches as a dynamic website with the support of a grant from the John Templeton Foundation, Metenexus then launches the $5.1 million Local Societies Initiative (which funds 200 groups worldwide) and hosts the “Genetics, Bioethics, and Evolution” conference at Haverford College

2001

Metanexus administers the $800,000 Templeton Research Lectures program (which awards grants for interdisciplinary studies and lecture series) and hosts the “Interpreting Evolution” conference at Haverford College.

2002

The organization receives a $3 million expansion grant from the John Templeton Foundation and hosts three conferences: “Interpretation Matters” at Haverford College, “Science and Ultimate Reality” in Princeton, New Jersey, and “Spiritual Transformation Research” at the University of Pennsylvania. Metanexus moves its offices to University City, Philadelphia.

2003

Metanexus launches the $3.3 million Spiritual Transformation Scientific Research Project and hosts two conferences: “Works of Love: The Science of Altruism” at Villanova University and “Spiritual Capital” at Harvard University.

2004

Metanexus launches the $3.75 Spiritual Capital Research Program and administers the $4.8 million renewal of the Templeton Research Lectures program. The organization also hosts the “Science and Religion in Context” international conference at the University of Pennsylvania

2005

Metanexus launches the $5.79 million Templeton Advanced Research Project and hosts the “Science and Religion: Global Perspectives” international conference at the University of Pennsylvania.

2006

A Metanexus delegation attends the International Conference on Science and Religion in Tehran, Iran, and the organization hosts three conferences of its own: “Continuity and Change” at the University of Pennsylvania, “Amazing Light: Visions for Discovery” (including the Young Researchers Competition) at the University of California, Berkeley, and “Spiritual Transformation” at the University of California, Berkeley

2007

Metanexus launches the $8.9 million Metanexus Global Network Initiative (MGNI) and hosts the “Transdisciplinarity and the Unity of Knowledge” international conference at the University of Pennsylvania. There are also organizational changes: Eric Weislogel is appointed the new executive director; the offices move to Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania; and William Grassie leaves Metanexus to spend a year abroad as a Senior Fulbright Fellow in the Department of Buddhist Studies at the University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka (though he continues to serve on the Metanexus board).

2008

The organization hosts the “Subject, Self, and Soul” international conference in Madrid, Spain, and receives a Google Grant of $120,000 per year. Eric Weislogel resigns as executive director.

2009

Metanxus hosts the “Cosmos, Nature, and Culture” international conference at Arizona State University. William Grassie returns as Acting Executive Director.

2010

Metanexus launches a book series and publishes three books: Politics by Other Means, Advanced Methodologies, and Transhumanism and Its Critics. William Grassie also writes a book, The New Sciences of Religion, which is published by Palgrave Macmillan to critical acclaim. The organization hosts David Christian for lectures on “Big History” at the New York Academy of Sciences, the National Science Foundation, and Villanova University. Metanexus also receives a Salesforce Foundation grant of $15,000 per year and its offices move again, this time to Center City, Philadelphia

2011

The board of Metanexus adopts a new mission promoting scientifically rigorous and philosophically open-ended approaches to foundational questions. The organization closes its Philadelphia office and relocates to New York. It also creates a small offshoot organization at Chestnut Hill College. Metanexus publishes a new book, Indic Visions in an Age of Science by V.V. Raman, initiates a salon series in New York City, and launches a new website.

2012

Metanexus published a weekly e-newsletter with a circulation of approximately 9000 subscribers. Metanexus adopted the tagline “Exploring Big History, Solving Big Problems, Debating Big Questions.” The website and newsletter features original essays, books, aggregated content, and digital art exhibitions. During this time frame, Metanexus also began actively using social media—Facebook, Twitter, and Google+—where we have a growing readership. The website received 229,049 unique visitors and 438,716 during 2012. Metanexus hosted living room salons in New York City for Ursula Goodenough, V.V. Raman, and George Ellis.

2013

Metanexus distributed its e-newsletter with news, views, books, art, and opportunities on a monthly basis to some 9000 subscribers. At the same time, more of our readership moved to our fan pages on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+.  During 2013 we had some 190,000 visitors to our website from 206 countries.

Our major project in 2013 was trying to launch “One Day Universe: A Celebration of Big History.” Unfortunately due to lack of funding, we had to scale back the project. On September 21 we hosted a luncheon at the Harvard Club of New York on “Teaching Big History: Opportunities and Challenges.” Videos from that event are available on our website.

2014

During 2014 we had 144,000 visitors to the Metanexus website and 222,000 page views. Metanexus also has a presence on Facebook with 1774 likes and 611 followers on Twitter. During his last month on staff in June 2014, Grassie finished updating the archives of postings from before the website rebuild in 2011. The Metanexus board recommitted itself to keeping the website open, updated as possible, and the organizational structure intact in order to preserve the historical record and contributions of over 500 authors totaling some 6500 essays, book reviews, videos, and digital artworks.

2015

Grassie attended the International Congress on Religion and Sciences at Sigmund Freud University in Vienna, August 27-29, 2015. The conference was organized by Dr. Shiva Khalili with whom I collaborated with in convening conferences in Tehran in 2005 and 2006. About third of the participants were Iranian My paper was titled “Is your God big enough for Big History?” Grassie also presented at the annual research retreat of Canyon Partners in Los Angeles, in Septembe 2015. The title of his paper was “Your Hunter-Gatherer Brain”.

2016

In March, Grassie completed an extensive literature review—The New Narrative: Contemporary Sciences and the Possibilities for Spiritual Progress—for the John Fetzer Institute. In July, Grassie presented two papers at the International Big History Association bi-annual conference in Amsterdam, the Netherlands on “Big Money: Finance and Economics from the Perspective of Big History” and “Human Origins, Human Natures, and the Meanings of Big History”.

Projects

 
The symposium honored the vision of theoretical physicist John Archibald Wheeler in his 90th year—and took it forward into a new century of increasingly expanding discovery.
 
 
 
 
The program at the University of California, Berkeley convened some of the greatest minds in physics and cosmology, including 18 Nobel laureates, for an exploration of some of the challenges in 21st-century science. The symposium was in honor of the 90th birthday of Charles Townes, the invention of the amazing laser, the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s “miracle year,” and the World Year of Physics.
 
 
This interdisciplinary social scientific research initiative on the economic and social consequences of religion and spirituality was made possible with funding from the John Templeton Foundation. The program sought to integrate the concept of spiritual capital into the human sciences by supporting rigorous and innovative research to build a network of scholars for a new field of study.
 
 
 
The research program supported investigations into various aspects of the sociocultural, psychological, and neurological factors that underlie the spiritual transformations of individuals and groups. The program sponsored conferences, awarded 24 research grants, and conducted special activities to help create an interdisciplinary field in the human sciences for researching spiritual transformation.
 
 
 
The primary goal of this research program was to foster innovation in research design as well as the scientific scope and impact of religion and spirituality. A second goal was to encourage the development of creative insights into the forces that shape and expand world religions and the human conceptualization of God.
 
 
 
The primary aim of the Templeton Research Lectures was to promote dialogue and research between the sciences (physical, biological, human) and religion, theology, and philosophy. Science can inspire great reverence, wonder, and awe. It also raises religious questions of meaning, purpose, and values. By probing the nature of reality through experiment and discovery, science changes our world and our worldviews. This project sought to create long-term scholarly networks for interdisciplinary research.

Conferences

2014

ONE DAY UNIVERSE
Big History is a single narrative account of the history of our universe, the evolution of our planet, the rise of our species, and the accelerating drama of human civilization. One Day Universe intended to bring together the brightest and most innovative minds for an inspired and entertaining conference featuring short-format talks, workshops, exhibitions, and Little Big History interactive experiences.
 

2010

 
We are after something like “the whole story of the whole cosmos for the whole person.” We are “after” it because we do not have it. What we do have are stories told to us and by us in our various academic fields, intellectual areas of expertise, diverse faith traditions, and cultural contexts.

2009

 
There is something within us that demands we pursue the whole story of the whole cosmos if we are to be whole persons, in order to know who we are, where we are from, where we are going, and how we should live.

2008

 
To understand ourselves, our place in the cosmos, and our relation to each other and the divine, we must adopt rich approaches that cut across fields of knowledge, institutional boundaries, cultural borders, and religious traditions.

2007

 
Does hyper-specialization produce significant problems? Does it, and must it, lead to disintegration, a fracturing of knowledge, of culture, and of the soul? What impact has it had on education? And what are its implications for the “science and religion dialogue”?

2006

 
The tension between continuity and change is not simply an ancient philosophical conundrum. It is also at the root of the most pressing questions of our time.

2005

 
Today more than ever before in history we have the opportunity to encounter and consider a panoply of perspectives from around the world on the most fascinating questions of science and the most pressing questions of justice and human flourishing.

2004

 
This international conference examined foundational questions in the natural sciences, new approaches to the human sciences, all with the aim of discerning the whereto and why of humanity, cosmos, and the divine in the 21st century.

2003

 
How do our complex brains, unique imaginations, communicative abilities, reasoning powers, moral sense, and spiritual and religious promptings give rise to the remarkable yet not at all uncommon practice of unselfish love for our neighbors, or those we do not even know?

2002

 
Interpretation is important. It matters what we mean by interpretation, how we come to our interpretations, and how we legitimate them. And we may find that interpretation is the key to enriching the dialogue between these two great pillars of culture: religion and science.
 

2001

 
Genetics, Bioethics, and Evolution
 
The sciences and technologies of genetics are revolutionizing our understanding of nature, including our own human nature. We are literally and figuratively reinventing nature and ourselves, as science and culture embark upon a new Lamarkian phase in evolution. The genetic engineering of our agriculture, other species and ourselves raises profound scientific, medical, ethical, legal, psychological, pastoral, religious, and metaphysical questions. In light of this genetic revolution, we will wonder about this new intensification of human creativity and power in conversation with different religious traditions. There is no website for this conference.