Global Perspectives on
Science and Spirituality
he original project “Global Perspectives on Science and Spirituality” began in 2003 and was completed in late 2006. Its success generated a further initiative in the form of a Major Awards Program that will now run until 2009. “The overall concept at the beginning,” explains Dr. Pranab Das, who directs the program, “was to identify a large group of potential scholars and we did find about 150 applicants in our global talent search.”
The aim of the program is to reach top-level scholars, research groups and institutions in Asia and Eastern/Central Europe and to support their innovative research into science and spirituality. The co-sponsors are the Université Interdisciplinaire de Paris and Elon University, supported by funding from the Templeton Foundation. Initially the program awarded 18 grants of one year’s duration, their spread reflecting the global outreach of this project: four to China, three to India, two each to the Czech Republic, Russia, and Japan, and one each to Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Korea.
Das, chair of the department of physics at Elon University, says: “That group refined its work and engaged in a further competition along with a select group of other new competitors, until finally we were able to give seven of the very best support for three years’ work, which is now ongoing.” This follow-up project is the Major Awards Program and, like the preceding scheme, was widely dispersed among the target regions. Two of these Major Awards went to China and one each to India, Japan, Russia, the Czech Republic, and Romania.
Das believes that, without the GPSS program, some of the best contributions would not have found their way into Western currency. “One of our groups in the Major Award Program, in Japan, does deep research into the question of what is the meaning of the soul,” he says. “They are working on the Japanese term ‘kokoro’. The entire project centers around this one word—a word that speaks to the essence of life with depth and subtleties of meaning that belie translation.” This work is being conducted at the Nanzan Institute in Japan.
Another ambitious research project by a winning team in the Major Award Program, entitled “The Construction of a Harmonious Relationship Between Science and Spirituality from a Postmodern Perspective,” is being conducted at Huazhong University of Science and Technology, in China. It is drawing upon such apparently disparate disciplines as Taoism and quantum mechanics to investigate the current interface of science and spirituality in China.
A distinctive feature of the GPSS program is that it follows an innovative modular grant structure, the success or failure of which could have implications for other research projects. Das is ambivalent about the outcome. “The essential, certain benefit of it is that you get a chance to help people refine their programmatic ideas and break down the resources they are requesting into a more structured group of proposals. On the other hand, it does make for a rather more complicated judging and selection process.”
The philosophy behind the GPSS project is that Western culture, in the context of science and religion, can itself benefit from offering support to insightful scholars in economically less developed parts of the world. “The challenge for Western scholarship in general is to be aware of, and actively integrate, the conceptual frameworks that are developed in other scholarly traditions,” says Das. “So, focusing on Eastern Europe and Asia, our intention was to mobilize some of the idea structures that are innate to those regions, to bring them to bear on questions that have already been worked on in the West.”