Past Events

Facing the data: A Conversation on authority and truth

Dr. Kimberly Kay Hoang

May 5, 2022

YouTube link to presentation

What does it take to change your mind? What kind of relationship exists between our existing worldviews—that is, our guiding values and basic assumptions about the world—and new information that might challenge aspects of those worldviews? Each of us is regularly faced with these questions of how we might balance and relate the new and possibly challenging data with our already established worldviews. In our democratic society, there is a vast range of worldviews and approaches to data that have converged into a crisis of authority and truth. It seems like almost anyone can make “authoritative” declarations in political, religious, economic, and social institutions. Their legitimacy might be established by a credential or institution, but it also might simply be established by how many followers they have on social media or how many monthly listeners their podcast has. This is complicated by bad actors and social media troll farms that appear to be grassroots movements, but which have institutional agendas. As a result of this hyper-democratized moment, both religion and science face their own crisis of authority and truth.

At this Roundtable event, we dexplore these crises with the help of Dr. Kimberly Kay Hoang. In her book Dealing in Desire: Asian Ascendancy, Western Decline, and the Hidden Currencies of Global Sex Work, Dr. Hoang investigates the sex work industry in Vietnam. While Dr. Hoang’s research followed well-established protocols of social scientific research, her conclusions challenged prevailing notions of human agency held in the West. We heard from Dr. Hoang both about her research as well as how the research was received differently by communities based on their existing worldviews. Through this discussion, we sought to better understand our own relationship between our preexisting worldviews and how they filter and process new data and information.

Dr. Hoang's presentation can be viewed here. After hearing from Dr. Hoang, participants engaged in conversation at dinner tables surrounding these questions:

  1. Have you had an experience of information changing your worldview? If so, what was the tipping point?

  2. What is the value of holding onto a worldview when data can change it?

  3. How do you weigh the authority of data and the authority of your worldview?

  4. How can we allow data to inform our worldview and our worldview direct our interpretation of data?

  5. How would you describe the relationship between the data generated by research (particularly yours) and your worldview?

Worlds To Explore: Astrobiology and the Wonder of Not Knowing (Yet)

The Rev. Dr. Lucas Mix

November 9, 2021

YouTube link to presentation

Why explore space? Because we don’t know what we’ll find. Astrobiologists have yet to find evidence of alien life, but the search has yielded tremendous benefits for planetary science and terrestrial biology. It has prompted truly global, deep-time thinking about life and our place in the cosmos. Lucas Mix will share his experiences from 25 years working with NASA on interdisciplinary communication in the search for life, an endeavor that requires collaboration across the natural sciences as well as serious input from the humanities. He will talk about the role of humility, curiosity, and wonder when looking for life “but-not-as-we-know it.” We balance confidence in current knowledge with delight in opportunities to update it. A similar balance will be necessary as we develop spaceflight and the unpredictable trajectory of humans in space.

Dr Mix studies broad life-concepts – including plants, fungi, and bacteria as well as humans and other animals – at the intersection of philosophy, theology, and science. His academic work includes an introduction to astrobiology science (Life in Space: Astrobiology for Everyone, Harvard Press, 2009), a history of definitions of life (Life Concepts from Aristotle to Darwin: On Vegetable Souls, Palgrave, 2018) and a primer on teleology for biologists (The End of Final Causes in Biology, Palgrave, in editing). As this year’s Blumberg Chair in Astrobiology at the Library of Congress, he is working on the interaction of science and science fiction as we imagine the future of life in the cosmos.

We enjoyed Lucas' presentation and lively conversation over dinner. You can find Lucas' presentation here.

We invited participants to reflect on the following questions:

1. What’s the coolest thing you know about the universe?

2. What would you most like to know, but suspect you won’t be able to discover in your lifetime?

3. What are you most excited about that you don’t know now, but think you may know within 5 years?

4. What are you curious about that motivates your own work?

During the pandemic, all Roundtable events were offered online. The following events were hosted by our partner Roundtable sites.

What is human nature?

Moral Challenges for Genetic Engineering Research Today

June 17, 2021

Details coming soon...


February 10, 2021

View the Roundtable recording here.

In this discussion, Shelly Kagan (Philosophy, Yale | Death) and Lydia Dugdale (Medicine, Columbia | The Lost Art of Dying: Reviving Forgotten Wisdom) shared their relatively recent reflections on living in light of our mortality. This topic was both timely and highly requested in our faculty feedback over the past few Roundtables. There were no suggested pre-event readings.

The suggested discussion questions were as follows:

  • How does the fact/reality of death make you think about your living?

  • How are we to make sense of what is worth doing in life (that is, what are the "other matters" that Kagan says we need to reflect upon)?

  • What role might religion play (or not play) in helping you prepare for death?

  • How would you console a student or patient who receives a life-threatening diagnosis or who recently lost a parent/sibling/child?


How Do Cognitive Science and Neuroscience Interface with Religion?

January 27, 2021

View the Roundtable recording here.

This discussion focused on some of the latest research regarding the cognitive science and neuroscience of religion and what implications those findings might have for religious belief. Featured panelists included Tania Lombrozo (Cognitive Science, Princeton), Jordan Grafman (Neuroscience, Northwestern), and Justin Barrett (Cognitive Science, Blueprint 1543).

Having reflected on intellectual humility as the way we explore the interface between science and religion, and after taking a sociological look at how scientists in the academy perceive religion, we now turned our attention to an area at the cutting edge of the interface between science and religion.

Suggested pre-event readings and videos:

Additional (short) readings and journal articles that might be of interest:

The suggested discussion questions were as follows:

  • When and why might religious phenomena be regarded as being beyond the scope of science?

  • What can neuroscience contribute to our understanding of the biological basis of religious belief?

  • How does the scientific study of religion parallel other scientific studies of human thought, values, and behavior? How do these parallels bear on whether the scientific study of something 'explains it away'?


November 12, 2020

View the Roundtable recording here.

In this event, Elaine Howard Ecklund and David R. Johnson presented core findings from the largest and most comprehensive international study of scientists' attitudes toward religion, ethics, and gender ever undertaken, including a survey of 20,000 scientists and in-depth interviews with over 600 of them. They explored the nuances of what scientists think about ethics, religion, and spirituality as well as opportunities for scientific and religious communities to better understand and appreciate each other. Attendees then participated in mixed discipline and mixed university breakout rooms to discuss critical questions regarding the science-religion interface.

After laying a foundation of intellectual humility in our inaugural event, this second Roundtable gave an overview of how scientists in the academy view the interface between science and religion. Slides from the presentation can be viewed here.

To prepare for this Roundtable, the following two optional items were suggested:

  • Journal Article - Ecklund, Elaine Howard, David R. Johnson, Christopher P. Scheitle, Kirstin R.W. Matthews, and Steven W. Lewis. 2016. “Religion among Scientists in International Context: A New Study of Scientists in Eight Regions,” Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World 2:1-9.

  • Book Feature Interview - Secularity and Science: What Scientists Around the World Really Think About Religion Book Feature in the INCHE September 2019 Contact Newsletter.

The suggested discussion questions were as follows:

  • How do you see the relationship between science and religion? Why do you think collaboration is a minority view even among religious scientists?

  • How might scientific and religious communities better partner to encourage women to enter scientific careers? How might scientific and religious communities better partner to encourage racial minorities to enter science careers? Who in the scientific community should lead such partnership?

  • Vocal atheist scientists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris espouse a rhetoric of atheism that does not align with what most atheist scientists think about religion. Do you believe this is a problem? What, if anything, could done to address the myth that most atheist scientists are hostile to religion?


Exploring The Mysteries of Existence, From Microbes to The Cosmos

July 22, 2020

View the Roundtable recording here.

Faculty Roundtable communities came together from all over the country for this virtual event with a total of 686 attendees. Virtual presentations were given by Dartmouth’s Marcelo Gleiser (Physics & Astronomy) and MIT's Cullen Buie (Mechanical Engineering) followed by mixed discipline and mixed university breakout rooms.

Intellectual humility is a foundational value of Faculty Roundtables, which made this event particularly important to discuss across universities.

To prepare for this Roundtable, the following three optional items were suggested:

The suggested discussion questions were as follow:

  • How would you describe intellectual humility? What does it look like in your day-to-day world? In what ways do your personal religious or philosophical views and experiences shape this understanding?

  • What is an example where intellectual humility — a willingness to recognize you might be wrong — helped you resolve a sticky problem or see something in a new way that released you to move forward?

  • What does intellectual humility look like in your academic discipline or leadership responsibilities? Where do you think your endeavors could benefit from more intellectual humility — or from less.

  • In an interview with Scientific American, Marcelo Gleiser — who considers himself an agnostic — said, “Physics has allowed me to think deeply about some of the most fundamental questions we can ask … I guess I’ve always been a metaphysician disguised as a theoretical physicist.” Q: What do you love about your work? What aspects of it (if any) touch on metaphysical or spiritual realms? How do those aspects and experiences strengthen your capacity for intellectual humility?