Fall 2017 Newsletter

Best Practices for Science Courses

Standing room only at Jesuit Consolmagno lecture at The Athenaeum.

Standing room only at Jesuit Consolmagno lecture at The Athenaeum.

Faculty who received course development grants to create new seminary courses in the sciences were asked, after teaching their courses for the first time, “what are some ‘best practices’ that you would identify?” From their insights, we have identified and collected eight common themes of “best practices.” Here, we share a few faculty insights about one of these best practices: “CALL IN THE EXPERTS.”

One of the most consistent themes across faculty respondents was the importance of bringing in experts in science who can engage students and faculty alike on new topics. Among the many invited scientist experts in these courses were Br. Guy Consolmagno, S.J., Ph.D., Director of the Vatican Observatory, who gave lectures on cosmology and the faith lives of scientists at the Oblate School of Theology and The Athenaeum/Mount St. Mary’s Seminary of the West (see photo); William Newsome, Ph.D., Director of the Neurosciences Institute at Stanford University; Christian Smith, Ph.D., sociologist and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of Notre Dame; and Michelle Francl, Ph.D., Professor of Chemistry at Bryn Mawr College and Adjunct Scholar at the Vatican Observatory, who spoke at Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary about doing science as a person of faith.

Several faculty members built on the effectiveness of their guest experts by sponsoring conferences, faculty book discussion groups, and programs open to the general public. Fr. Christopher Renz, O.P., of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology sponsored a conference on the anthropology of the human person to accompany his grant-funded liturgy course. The conference included experts — Agustín Fuentes among them — in evolutionary anthropology, philosophy, and theology.

While most seminaries engaged experts in traditional lecture programs, a few engaged scientists as integral parts of the courses themselves. As Dr. Christopher Baglow at Notre Dame Seminary states, “having actual scientists in the classroom was indispensable.” Dr. Christopher Anadale of Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary agrees strongly on the need for guest experts: “on my own I lack sufficient scientific expertise to take the class beyond a certain point with the science/philosophy/religion engagement.”

Dr. Cory Hayes of St. Joseph Seminary utilized grant funds to pay stipends to scientists who helped teach certain parts of course content. “They provided a level of expertise and a ‘first hand’ viewpoint regarding both theoretical knowledge and practical research experience that non-scientist instructors, i.e., philosophers and theologians, could not.” Dr. Edward Kaczuk and Fr. Michael Woost at Borromeo Seminary were fortunate to count several professional scientists among their enrolled students in the course, who “brought a wealth of scientific experience to the dialogue and, at the same, were enriched by the contributions coming from the fields of theology and spirituality.”

Selected Guest Speakers in US-RC Seminary Science Courses

Fall 2017 Newsletter Table of Contents