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ECST Conference 2024, Split, Croatia

“Sciences, Theologies, fictions. The construction of narrative in science and religion”
Wednesday, 28 August to Sunday, 1 September 2024 - held at the University of Split, Croatia

The conference logo intricately weaves together the realms of science and theology, emphasizing their interconnectedness through narratives and fiction. It features the timeless Christian symbol IHTIS (ἰχθύς - the fish sign that served as a clandestine identifier during early persecutions of the Christians in Roman empire), Darwin's fish (an evolution of the IHTIS sign with added legs), and the DNA spiral in vibrant liturgical colors. This design deliberately highlights the profound connection between science (embodied by evolution and DNA) and theology (represented by IHTIS and liturgical colors) by embracing the rich tapestry of narratives and fiction that seamlessly draw upon both disciplines.

The academic study of science and religion has been dominated by theological, historical and philosophical approaches since its inception (roughly the 1960s). In recent decades other disciplinary perspectives have become prominent, especially anthropology, psychology and social sciences. But there are still other approaches from the arts and humanities that are now starting to make their mark and are yet to be fully explored; approaches such as literary criticism and textual studies. Indeed, viewing the science-and-religion dis-course as a human social, political and existential problem foregrounds the particularities of context, time and place; particularities that are amenable to analysis in terms of story and narrative. Genres such as film and creative literature become important. Poetry and fiction contain far-reaching and imaginative explorations of issues at the heart of the science-and-religion dialogue. Classic examples in the English canon might be John Milton’s Paradise Lost (creation, cosmology, the human condition), or Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (creation, human uniqueness). Mining these works requires a sensitivity to the methods of literary and textual criticism, while also allowing for a whole new mode of dialogue between the sciences and religious belief, a mode where the analysis of narrative, character, and literary devices takes centre stage.


ECST XX will explore these themes and more. Our hope is that scholars will bring their interests in science and religion to look at diverse questions and genres, such as sci-fi, music, creative literature, film, drama, and the analysis of narrative and story, along with the socio-political stories of science and religion in our world. Clearly, we have in mind literary and imaginative con-struals of the science-and-religion debate, but we are equally interested in the historiography of important moments in the debate, along with how the arts have been or might be used to explore social and political aspects of the debate. And of course, there are many other related issues within the humanities and sciences that might be appropriate to explore.


We will meet in the University of Split in Croatia, and will hear 4 plenary speakers who are experts in the analysis of narrative in science and religion, both literary and media scholars, social scientists and natural scientists with interests in theology.

HERE we issued a Call for Papers for the short paper sessions, where individuals will be able to explore perspectives from their own interests. We are looking forward to a full gathering of ESSSAT friends and members in 2024.


Keynote speakers
Dr Franziska Kohlt

Dr Franziska Kohlt

University of Leeds, UK

‘Parables for the future’: An integrated approach to narrative in history of science and religion and science communication


When Scottish writer George MacDonald died in 1905, he left an astonishing legacy. His literary fantasies inspired J.R.R. Tolkien, who called him his ‘master’; his theology inspired C.S. Lewis’s conversion to Christianity; MacDonald’s writing on the science of polarisation was admired by H.G. Wells, who thought it ‘neat in the extreme’. Likewise, his friend, Lewis Carroll, inspired not only innumerable writers and artists, but, as theologians and even eminent figures in science, from Alan Turing or Rachel Carson.

Carroll and MacDonald are exemplary of a much greater fluidity between the fields of science, religion, and storytelling in Victorian Britain. But although their intersections have recently become the subject of greater scholarly attention, the pre-eminence, and continuity of this intellectual mode is still habitually eclipsed by popular notions of ‘progressive industrialisation and secularisation’, ideas such as the irrevocable rise of science, reason and rationality. These echo in historiographies that habitually canonise the relationship between these fields as “two cultures”, in the case of literature and science, or even “warfare”, in the case of science and religion – a struggle for the fittest, in which science is pitched to win.

Such historiographies however, obfuscate the integral dependency of science upon narrative, and a history of productive polymathy, or, interdisciplinarity, which, in the current age of polarisation and crisis, has much to offer, to mend relationships, and build understanding and attachments. But it also subdues the sinister history of covert utilisation, instrumentalization, and even weaponisation of narrative in science communication settings, to distort and even silence – an ill understanding of which leaves us vulnerable to how and where narrative acts on us, shaping our understanding, emotions and actions in damaging ways.

Using MacDonald and Carroll as springboard, this keynote explore how a more interdisciplinary understanding can reshape our understanding of contemporary relationships between science, religion and narrative. This talk will offer a revised history of how their works were a product of their engagements with science and theology, and show how this gave rise to meaningful narrative, and thus semiotic patterns, metaphors and narratives that still shape scientific discourse in often un-noted ways – an understanding and harnessing of which can teach us to navigate, defuse our current tensions and weave connection, restore community and empowerment, in ways these narratives attempted it in their time.  

Zoë Lehmann Imfeld

Dr Zoe Lehmann

University of Bern, Switzerland

Science Fiction and Communities of Agreement: Using literary criticism to explore science and theology

In his 1930 novel Last and First Men, British writer and philosopher Olaf Stapledon writes: ‘Today we should welcome, and even study, every serious attempt to envisage the future of our race. […] To romance the far future, then, is to attempt to see the human race in its cosmic setting, and to mould our hearts to entertain new values.’[1] Today’s discussions in the field of science and theology are interested not so much in unpacking the ‘two cultures’ debate further, as in finding the tools for reconciling the various discourses, finding points of contact between what Stanley Fish calls ‘communities of agreement’. One of these tools, of course, must be language. Practitioners must find ways of translating concepts into terms understandable to (and accepted by) each other. This lecture will make the suggestion that science fiction is a suitable negotiator in this process of translation. The readings of science fiction that I will propose reveal the discourses of the natural sciences to be imbued with narrative structures. Such narratives are often ideological and teleological, describing the discourses of natural sciences and those of  philosophy and theology as perhaps not such different languages after all.

However, I will not argue, as is so often the case, that fiction can act as some sort of congenial bridge between the disciplines. Rather, that fiction, and science fiction in particular, posits a challenge to both science and theology to become alert to the narrative structures underpinning their discourses, and will suggest that it is the tools of literary criticism that can help to navigate these challenges.  The lecture will provide readings from several contemporary science-fictional texts, in order to show what the use of such tools might look like in practice.

[1] Olaf Stapledon, Last and First Men (London: Penguin, 1930), 11.

Dr Renny Thomas

Dr Renny Thomas

Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Bhopal, India

Possible Ethnographies of Science and Religion


Following my recently published book, Science and Religion in India: Beyond Disenchantment (2022), my talk will address some methodological questions and concerns in anthropology of science and religion. In this talk, I argue that an anthropology of science and religion opens up new insights in making sense of the non-dual worlds of science and religion; and it offers a grammar to understand the ‘negotiations’, ‘strategies’, and ‘collaborations’ of these categories. For an informed global anthropology of science and religion, it is necessary that we shift the focus of discussion from the West to the non-Western sites as it enriches the discussion and gives new narratives and vocabularies to talk about science and religion. In this lecture, I will specifically discuss my ethnographic experience of studying Indian scientists and their religious-scientific worlds.


Dr Petar Tomev Mitrikeski

University of Zagreb, FAculty of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Croatia

How we allowed reason to dominate faith: historical transitions


Reason (λόγος) and faith (πίστις) are inseparable parts of the human mind (i.e., intellect, νοῦς). Additionally, our mind bears the faculty for discursive thinking (διάνοια), without which cognition would rely entirely on the mind’s intuitive capacity. Although modern philosophy may have departed from the original meaning of these classical terms, they still offer great explanatory power regarding the ever-open science vs. Christian faith debate omnipresent in both modern academia and society. Western Christian theology is historically shaped by the scholastic paradigm, in which philosophy should serve theology, creating the foundation of theism that implies bottom-up pondering (i.e., from the created towards the Creator). Consequently, this has opened the door to science but gradually made reliance on Divine Revelation obsolete. In contrast, eastern Christian theology has always been defined by top-down reflection (i.e., from the Creator towards the created) contemplating a panentheistic reality deprived of philosophy or science as necessities for true cognition. Such theological West-East division poses ontological, epistemological, and ethical dilemmas that might also be important for sciences relying on positivism, which reveals a need for deeper academic insights.

All info about possible scholarships will be published here in March/April 2024.