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2006 - 2009: Stony Brook University

Trust:  Prospects for Science and Religion


Upcoming Lectures and Activities
    • Year 1 Theme
    • Year 2 Theme
    • Year 3 Theme
Project Leaders
Organizing Committee/Working Group
Additional Information



Stony Brook University is pleased to present this proposal to the John Templeton Foundation to support an interdisciplinary discussion that will examine trust as a central issue facing science and religion today.  The proposal is innovative in three respects.  First, it creates a dialogue between science and religion about a rarely discussed subject that is at the core of both fields.  Second, it brings a fresh set of participants to the dialogue from a broader spectrum of disciplines.  Third, it makes an important and fertile shift in the conduct of the dialogue by focusing on concrete practice rather than on abstract belief.

Science and religion potentially have much to teach each other about the issue of trust.  Yet, for the most part, only religious authors and theologians have addressed the subject consistently and at length.  Because the effectiveness of both scientific and religious institutions depends on trusting relationships, clarifying the nature of trust is not only theoretically interesting but has potentially significant practical ramifications. 

Trust is central to the practice of both science and religion on many levels: personal, public, and institutional.  On a personal level, trust permeates the scientific process insofar as scientists must rely on data, techniques, theories, colleagues, and collaborators.  Without trust, the scientific process would grind to a halt like a machine drained of oil.  Trust, which lies at the heart of faith, is also omnipresent in religion: between individuals and God, among members of a congregation, and between individuals of congregations and leaders.

Trust also has a public dimension in both science and religion.  For personal trust is made possible by publicly encouraged practices and habits of thought that foster trust by encouraging perceptions of integrity. 

Finally, both modern science and religion also confront institutional trust issues insofar as their institutions depend on a stable relation with the social world in which they are embedded.  Trust is essential to the success of religious institutions at ministering to communities.  Trust is essential to the relationship of a scientific institution and the surrounding community because of the capacity of research activities to affect public health and safety. 

The issue of trust and modern science has particular urgency.  Over the past few years, the issue of trust has erupted into controversy with many scientists charging that the government cannot be trusted to manage science, to accurately portray scientific information, or to accurately describe the risks of hazardous materials.  For example, many of America’s greatest scientists charge the White House with politicizing scientific research regarding issues as different as global warming and stem cell research.  The scars---and the political and policy decisions--- from this debate are unlikely to heal soon. 

Religious institutions, unlike scientific institutions, produce no potentially hazardous material product or research, yet recent scandals, involving sexual abuse and financial malfeasance have created perceptions of danger and undermined relations between institutions and their constituencies.  Breakdowns of trust in religious institutions are different from those involving science, though some remarkable parallels emerge, especially among institutional reactions.  The differing experiences of science and religion underscore the need to understand trust and trusting relationships in a fundamental way.

Stony Brook's Templeton Research Lectures are based on the idea that important inroads to understanding trust can be made by exploring the intersections of this theme in religion and science within an interdisciplinary framework.  Our program consists of a three-year, evolving seminar/lecture series with numerous special events and outreach opportunities.  The first year program examines a range of personal experiences of trust throughout science, religion, and other human activities.  The second year program analyzes the public dimension of trust; the publicly encouraged practices and habits of thought that foster trust, erode it, and help restore it once lost.  The third year program extends the work of the first two to institutions, examining problems of trust, both scientific and religious, that have developed in the contemporary world.

Stony Brook University is an exceptional place to conduct such an inquiry, given its strength in the sciences and humanities, and its numerous collaborations with key scientific institutions in the New York metropolitan area.  It is the premier research campus of the State University of New York (SUNY) system and serves approximately 22,000 undergraduate and graduate students.  Stony Brook shares responsibility for managing Brookhaven National Laboratory for the U.S. Department of Energy in partnership with Battelle Memorial Institute.  The University seeks to foster a culture of interaction between the sciences and the humanities. Its faculty members have been recipients of prestigious honors and awards including the Nobel Prize, the Fields Medal, the National Medal of Science, the National Medal of Technology, and the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring.



Upcoming Lectures and Activities

Stony Brook University’s proposed program for the Templeton Research Lecture Series evolves progressively over three years.  The aim is to build an interdisciplinary framework with which to approach the subject of trust by moving from examining personal experiences, to analyzing the public dimension, to studying institutional cases and contexts.  Lectures generally given by guest speakers will alternate weekly with lunch meeting seminars generally led by Steering Committee members – ten lectures and seminars per semester. The Templeton Research Fellow and guest speakers are chosen in accordance with the theme of each year.

Year 1 Theme: Exploring Trust and Personal Experiences
The first year program aims to present a range of personal experiences of trust throughout science, religion, and other human activities.  Thus the criterion we shall use in selecting this year's Templeton Research Fellow is the ability to address the experience of trust in science and religion within the broadest possible perspective.  Guest speakers will be selected with the aim of illustrating the largest possible spectrum of experiences of trust. 

Key Questions:  What is it like to trust a teacher?  A collaborator?  A mentor?  A theatrical director?  Data?  A technique?  Oneself?  Another human?  A poet's voice?  In God?  What is similar and different about these experiences?  How do they shed light on each other, deepening our understanding of trust?  What is the relation of trust to other forms of human behavior?  What is the distinction between trust and related concepts such as distrust, trustworthiness, reliability, belief, faith, conviction, confidence, certainty, honor, and credibility?  What are characteristics of the dynamic equilibrium established in trusting relationships?  How does one show oneself as trustworthy?  How is the trust equilibrium disrupted?  How, once disrupted, can it be regained?


Year 2 Theme: Examining the Public Dimension of Trust
Trust also has a public dimension.  Personal trust can only take place within a community of others who share habits, methods and practices of seeking, recognizing, and accepting truth.  What are the publicly encouraged practices and habits of thought, in science and religion, that can foster trust, erode it, and help restore it once lost?  In the second year we deepen and extend our understanding of trust by bringing to bear the insights of different fields on specific issues. The criterion used in selecting this year's Templeton Research Fellow, as well as the guest speakers, is the ability to address trust insightfully from a specific perspective.

Key Questions.  Questions that arise in a historical unit include:  How is trust in "fact-finders" involved in constituting scientific knowledge?  What is the relation between fact-formation, authority and trust in early modern science, and how was this shaped by religion?  Is the relation different in modern science?  Questions in a psychological unit include: What are the complex of feelings of dependence, reliance and comfort involved?  What are the variables in the trust relationship, and with what methods and measures can it be empirically analyzed?  Questions in a unit devoted to religious authors include: How is the trust relationship ­lived concretely by human beings in real situations?  How do people evaluate and assess another's ability to honor commitments and their reliability?  What are the complex of feelings of dependence, reliance and comfort involved?

Year 3 Theme:Trust in an Institutional Context
The third-year program extends the work of the first two years to institutions, both scientific and religious.  Trust involving medical technologies, and environmental science and policy, will also be discussed.  The third-year Templeton Fellow will be expected to address not only trust with respect to institutions, but also to address problems of trust, scientific or religious, that have developed in the contemporary world.  

Key Questions:  How does trust appear empirically and on a large scale in the contemporary world, specifically in relation to groups and institutions?  What are the key groups and institutions that have an impact on trust in democratic societies.  What are the various roles of trust in contemporary medicine?  How does trust function differently between an individual clinical researcher and patient, and between a hospital and community?  Why is medicine an area that has been able to generate a large amount of public trust?  How do the relations between Stony Brook Hospital and its neighbors compare to those between Brookhaven National Laboratory and its neighbors?  What are the special issues involving medical experts and expertise?  What are the specific issues regarding trust that arise in connection with environmental policies?   What is the impact on trust of advocacy groups, and of an “informed counterculture” ded­icated to questioning scientific testimony?  What is the role of highly publicized instances of failures of large technological facilities, such as Three Mile Island, Bhopal, and Chernobyl?  What role has the media had in shaping the formation of trust/distrust?  What mechanisms drive/inhib­it rumor, and what role do these play in the formation of trust and distrust?  How are trust and credibility involved in the construction of an “expert”?  Must appraisal of or deference to experts involve trust?  How can the need for expert­ise in a society dependent on science and technology be reconciled with democratic pluralism?  What are the specific issues regarding trust that arise in connection with contemporary physics institutions and projects?  What is the impact on public trust of their huge size and scale?  What is the nature and role of the special fears associated with radiation?  What is the impact of the extreme risks associated with -- or alleged to be associated with -- contemporary physics, such as the (purported) possibility that heavy ion accelerators might be able to create black holes?  What are the specific issues regarding trust that arise in connection with religious institutions?  What is the impact of the recent scandals involving sexual abuse by priests?  How have institutions reacted to these scandals?  How effective have these reactions been?



Project Leader

Robert P. Crease (Chair, Ph.D. Philosophy, Columbia) is a Professor of Philosophy at Stony Brook University (SBU), where he will serve as Acting Chair of the Philosophy Department in Spring 2005, and historian at Brookhaven National Laboratory.  He was a Senior Fellow at MIT’s Dibner Institute for the History of Science and Technology (2002-2003).  His books include: The Prism and the Pendulum: The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments in Science; Mak­ing Physics: A Biography of Brookhaven National Laboratory 1946-1972; Peace and War: Re­flections on a Life at the Frontiers of Science (by Robert Serber with Robert P. Crease); Herme­neutics and the Natural Sciences (ed. Crease); The Play of Nature: Experimentation as Performance; and The Second Creation: Makers of the Revolution in 20th Century Physics (with Charles C. Mann).  He is the translator of American Philosophy of Technology: The Empirical Turn (ed. H. Achterhuis).   For several years, Crease organized SBU’s interdisciplinary Science Studies Forum.  He has taught ethics and science courses, and has directed “Social Dimensions of Science,” a course in SBU’s Women in Science and Engineering program.  For five years he has written “Critical Point,” a monthly column about science and society for Physics World.



Organizing Committee/Working Group

Click on the name of a committee member for biographical information.

  • Purushottama P. Bilimoria, is a Professor of Philosophy at Deakin University and Senior Fellow with the Department of Philosophy at the University of Melbourne.  He has been a visiting professor at Stony Brook since Fall 2003.
  • R. David Bynum is Associate Professor of Biochemistry at Stony Brook.
  • William C. Chittick is Professor of Religious Studies in the Departments of Asian and Asian-American Studies and Cultural Anthropology, Stony Brook University.
  • Robert P. Crease is a Professor of Philosophy at Stony Brook University and historian at Brookhaven National Laboratory.
  • Alfred Scharff Goldhaber is Professor in the C.N. Yang Institute for Theoretical Physics and Stony Brook’s Dept. of Physics and Astronomy.
  • David Hanson is Professor of Chemistry at Stony Brook University.
  • Sr. Margaret Ann Landry, RSHM is Chaplain at the Catholic Campus Ministry/Interfaith Center at Stony Brook University.
  • Gary Mar is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Stony Brook University.
  • Michael Marx (Ph.D. M.I.T. 1974) is Professor of Physics at Stony Brook University and Project Director, KOPIO.
  • Eduardo Mendieta is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Stony Brook.
  • Carol Ochs is Director of the Graduate School at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York.
  • Robert Pollack is Professor of Biological Sciences, Adjunct Professor of Religion, Lecturer in Psychiatry at the Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research at Columbia University and Adjunct Professor of Science and Religion at Union Theological Seminary.
  • Sheldon J. Reaven teaches in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Stony Brook University.
  • John D. Ryan teaches in the Religious Studies Program at Stony Brook and in the Dept. of Asian and Asian American Studies at Stony Brook University.
  • Carlos L. Simmerling is Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Stony Brook and a member of the Center for Structural Biology.
  • Peter Steinfels, a prominent Catholic writer, educator, and speaker and senior religion correspondent for the New York Times from 1988 to 1997, writes “Beliefs,” a biweekly column for the Times.
  • Clifford Swartz is Professor Emeritus of Physics at Stony Brook University.
  • Peter C. Williams is Professor of Preventive Medicine and member of the Division of Medicine in Society in the Department of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University.



Additional Information


Robert P. Crease, Ph.D.
Stony Brook University
Department of Philosophy
Stony Brook, NY 11794



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