Tag Archives: Science and Religion

Science Communication, Faith & the Climate Crisis: In Conversation at COP26

I will be one of the participants of “Catholics at CoOP26”, where I will reflect on science communication at COP26, effective climate communication, and how to overcome the challenges in this field, sharing insight from my work at the ECLAS project and science-religion narratives in Science Communication.

I am honoured to be in conversation alongside: 

  • Dr Lorna Gold is a climate campaigner and author. She is vice-chair of the Laudato Si’ Movement, and a member of the Vatican Commission on the post-Covid World.  
  • Dr Carmody Grey is Assistant Professor of Catholic Theology at Durham University. She specialises in theology and science, with particular interests in life sciences, ecology and evolutionary biology.  
  • Dr Franziska Kohlt is a researcher in science communication and the history of science at the University of York and an ECLAS postdoctoral research associate.
  • Fr Joshtrom Kurveethadam is Coordinator of Ecology and Creation at the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. 
  • Cardinal Pedro Barreto (To be confirmed) is Archbishop of Huancayo, Peru, vice-president of the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network, and an advocate for the rights of indigenous peoples. 

The panel will be chaired by Bishop John Arnold, Bishop of Salford and lead bishop for environmental issues for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. The meeting will be livestreamed & recorded.

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Science, Imagination & Communication at Bristol Festival of Technology and more

I’m incredible honoured to be discussion why Science, Imagination and Communication are inseparable in conversations with two brilliant physicists at events over the next two weeks recordings of the Science & Imagination event on MacDonald and the Bristol Festival are now available.

I will be exploring this theme together with Professor of Natural Philosophy and Fellow of the Royal Society, Prof Tom McLeish through the life and works of George MacDonald – a trained scientist, theological thinker, educator and writer. Even though he is recognised in his literary influence, as the major source of inspiration for H.G. Wells, the Inklings J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis – and often credited with the conversion of the latter to Christianity – we rarely speak about his as a scientist, because of preconceptions that lead us to believe the two as contradictory or mutually exclusive. Exploring the ways in which MacDonald believed they were, rather, mutually constructive, can prepare us to challenge and interrogate our own ways of understanding science, and how we think we know “science” and “scientific fact” – especially, when these are understood as opposition to “fantasy” and “storytelling”.

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War, sacrifice, and swallows that tell of summer: the narratives and metaphors of the Covid-19 pandemic

A line from Vera Lynn's WW2 song, also quoted by Elizabeth II during the Covid-19 pandemic, in a pub window

Since joining the University of York, I have been applying my background in communication and media science, history of science, and comparative literary studies to analyse the narratives of the Covid-19 pandemic. A preprint of my first research article ‘Over by Christmas: The impact of war-metaphors and other science-religion narratives on science communication environments during the Covid-19 crisis’ is now available. In it, I outline the prevalence, and the reasons and implications of the UK’s cultural preference for framing Covid-19 as warfare, but also explain its shortcomings in a science communication context. I have spoken about this research to German news Channel WDR.

This research touches on medical communication, history of science, theological themes. In a forthcoming book chapter ‘When words are poison: Toxic narratives in health communication‘, I explore how ill-chosen narratives in health scenarios pollute science communication environment, acting in a way analogous to polluting toxins. In a recent conference paper, I explore also what the history of science, science communication, and religion of past epidemics can teach us about the use of narrative in a public health crisis through a comparison of Covid-19 with the Victorian cholera epidemic, which also shows us what narratives and metaphors might be preferable. I have also written an article on the science communication of Christian ministers in the Victorian cholera epidemics for the Methodist Recorder. I expand on the comparison with the Victorian cholera epidemics in my contribution to a Historicising Covid-19 collection, forthcoming in 2021 with De Gruyter. If you’re pressed for time, I also wrote a shorter blog piece, which you can read here.

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New Job & Affiliation!

I am incredibly excited to have joined the University of York’s Department of Sociology as a Research Fellow on their “Narratives of Science and Religion” project in March, to work with Professor Tom McLeish (Physics) and Dr Amanda Rees (Sociology), who are both utterly brilliant.

This is the narrative-based branch of project of the collaborative ECLAS project, based at Durham, London and York, which brings together scientists, science historians, communication scientists, theologians and professional clergy to investigate effective ways to understand and communicate science, asking all “the Big questions”.

In a rather tumultuous start to the post, I have hit the ground running, researching religious narratives in the Covid-19 crisis in, but especially outside religious discourses, in politics and science journalism (wonder why we keep hearing baout the “sacrifice” of health workers, Covid as a “punishment for x”, from which “lessons” must be learned, and all this being a “war” in which various actors are fighting a “virtuous” fight?). I examine what happens when religious language is instrumentalised by politicians and journalists in a medical crisis, why and when they decide they do so, when they have historically done so, and what can be learned from that about the uses and pitfalls of such rhetoric.

To view the effect of such communication not only in a theoretical framework, but to also understand its dynamics in action, I examine this not only in a Science Communication framework, but also through responses to epidemics in the past. The Reverend Charles Kingsley, for instance, harnessed rousing Biblical imagery to communicate the findings of modern population health sciences – but also to hold governments and institutions to account – during the nineteenth-century cholera crises, to draw equally substantial audiences to his “Cholera sermons” at Westminster Abbey, his lectures at Cambridge University or at the Ladies’ Sanitary Association (which went by such attention-grabbing tiles as “The Pharaoh’s Heart” or “The Massacre of the Innocents”).

I am looking forward to draw on my experience with effective science communication in media and museums, and my previous academic work on the role imaginative and fantastic literatures played in digesting, contextualising and communicating new scientific findings, and their practical societal and epistemological implications (Lewis Carroll, George MacDonald, and indeed Kinsgley were all critical and unconventional clerics – and science communicators).

Watch this space for upcoming conference and journal papers, as well as some shorter public pieces, which are already in the works (and soon hopefully even more thrilling stuff, when we move on to the environment, AI, genetic engineering – and more)!

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