Program on Science, Technology and Society at Harvard

Harvard Kennedy School of Government | Harvard University

Narratives of Hope: Science, Theology and Environmental Public Policy

Tom McLeish

Durham University

November 8, 2016, 4:00pm-6:00pm
Harvard University Center for the Environment, Room 429, 26 Oxford Street


Recent analyses of public debates on nanotechnology, GMOs and other environmental impasses have unearthed powerful, yet submerged, driving ‘narratives of despair.  Their religious resonances (e.g. ‘Pandora’s Box’, ‘Sacred Nature’) suggest a search for countering ‘narratives of hope’ within theological sources. A close reading of the ancient Book of Job, alert to resonances with natural philosophy, recasts ‘science’ as a deeply human, social and ancient. Job has spawned a rich literature of environmental commentary; we attempt to shape a deeper story of purpose in engaging nature, through classical, patristic, medieval, and early modern sources into a framework for late modern technologies. The resulting reconciliatory ‘Theology of Science’ meets the narratives of despair head-on.  It suggests a transformation of the way political discussions of 'troubled technologies' are framed, and pathway to mobilising religious communities in support of a healthier public debate

Introduced by

Sheila Jasanoff

Harvard Kennedy School

About the speaker

Tom McLeish FRS is Professor of Physics and former Pro-Vice-Chancellor for research at Durham University.  His research has contributed to the new field of ‘soft matter physics’ - interdisciplinary work with chemists, chemical engineers and biologists has connected molecular structure with emergent material or biological properties. He has led large international programmes and collaborations with industrial researchers developing molecular design tools for new polymeric (plastic) materials. Throughout he has also maintained an interest in public engagement with science, science policy and education including the underlying public narratives of science. He explores historical, sociological and theological approaches to contribute to a long cultural narrative for science in the recent book Faith and Wisdom in Science (OUP 2014).  He is currently Chair of the Royal Society’s Education Committee, and also chairs the Harvard Knox Fellowship committee for the UK.