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University receives £3.4m grant to explore science and Christianity

by Ruth Sax

Durham University's St John's College has been awarded £3.4 million to help Christian leaders engage with the latest scientific developments and ideas shaping society.

Grants for people training for the priesthood in the Church of England are to be made available as part of the Equipping Christian Leadership in an Age of Science (ECLAS) project aimed at transforming the relationship between science and faith.

Organisers hope that up to half of all people training for ordained ministry will eventually benefit from sessions where they will discuss topics such as Artificial Intelligence and the questions it raises for society. 

The project will also provide more conferences for senior church leaders and clergy on areas of scientific interest. This follows eight conferences for church leaders on subjects ranging from neuroscience to cosmology that have taken place over the past four years.

The project will be led by Professor Tom McLeish from the University of York and Revd Professor David Wilkinson, Professor of Theology and Principal of St John's College, Durham University, he said: "The size of this project shows great confidence in the fruitfulness of the ECLAS approach and also great confidence in St John's College and the international status of Durham University."

There will also be research exploring attitudes to science and faith within the church and in wider society and public policy.

The planned work will be supported by both US and UK-based scientists and will be funded from a £3.4 million grant awarded by the Templeton Religion Trust.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby said: "I am delighted that this project is continuing to build on its considerable achievement in promoting the significance of healthy and informed engagement with science to church leaders of all levels, together with resourcing them in this increasingly demanding and important task.

"This new stage of the project with its combination of research and provision of resources will further deepen church-wide understanding of the challenges science and technology pose for society, and continue to contribute to the mission, ministry and theological reflection of senior church leaders as they respond."

The Bishop of Kingston, Richard Cheetham, who is also involved, said: "This project has transformative potential. I can see it contributing to the shaping of a future generation of church leaders who enjoy science and are unafraid of complexity, fully prepared to engage in conversation with the pressing questions raised by cutting edge research."

There will also be an expansion of the Scientists in Congregations scheme, awarding grants for local science and faith projects in churches and cathedrals including science festivals. The scheme will include a new emphasis on working with cathedrals and larger parish churches to pioneer projects that can be replicated by other churches.


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