This topic is an oldie but goodie in anthropology, and happens to be the current topic that we are exploring in my ANT 261: Science, Policy and Society class (essentially, an intro STS class). We are currently reading Stanley Tambiah’s book Magic, science, religion and the scope of rationality (a book I consider a classic, but I am biased as a former student of Tambiah’s). A discussion point that I use to get people talking in class comes from a Harvard medical school conference held in the early 1990s when I was a graduate student, where the Dalai Lama and some Tibetan monks were invited to Boston to present their techniques in controlling autonomic neurological functions to neuroscientists.
In light of our recent discussion of Stephen J. Gould’s nonoverlapping magisteria and Ian Barbour’s typology of the relationship between science and religion, the Dalai Lama’s Mind and Life Conference was featured in recent articles in the New York Times. One of the articles seems to stress the Dalai Lama’s approach as fitting the dialogue model in Barbour’s typology:
“In the Buddhist investigation of reality we traditionally employ four principles of reasoning: dependence, function, nature and evidence,” said the Dalai Lama. Not a far stretch from the way scientists look for evidence. “Both approaches seem to work in parallel,” he said.
The other article in the NY Times, however, seems to fit the integration model:
For example, he said, look at the Buddhist theory of impermanence, the idea that the physical world is changing by the second, which was later proved by quantum physics in the movement of atoms. “What modern science was proving, Bharat already found out 2,000 years ago,” he said, using the Hindi word for India.
Either way, there’s fruitful material here for trying to understand the relationship between science and religion and the wider impact of both on society, whether through the lens of culture or the lens of policy.