Global Perspectives on
Science and Spirituality

Metanexus Global
Network Initiative

“Some aspects of reality may be unknown to us simply because we have never thought to invest time and resources to try to learn.”
—Sir John Templeton
ometimes at Metanexus we say that we’re after ‘the whole story of the whole cosmos for the whole person.’ We say we’re after it because we do not possess anything like the whole story. We say it, though, because the whole story is more like our motivating hope, our ‘regulative idea’, so to speak, that informs our thinking and our work, even though we do not possess it. It’s what gets us up and moving in the morning. There are plenty of stories—good stories—but we want the whole story.”
With those words, Dr. Eric Weislogel, executive director of the Metanexus Institute for Science and Religion, introduced his proposal for “The Quest for Wholeness” to readers of The Global Spiral, the recently launched online magazine of Metanexus. This e-publication has already attracted more than 150,000 page views per month and been selected as a winner of the American Graphic Design Award. It is currently being enhanced with podcasts for downloading, blogs, and special issues.
Metanexus fosters an intellectual and transformational endeavor of more than 11,000 scientists, theologians, philosophers, and others trying to offer an alternative to narrow ideologies and “the fragmentation that comes from compartmentalizing our lives,” in Weislogel’s words. In promoting a transdisciplinary approach, Metanexus is working to counter what it sees as the negative effects of excessive academic specialization.
Its flagship project since 2007 has been the Metanexus Global Network Initiative (MGNI), which has a $9 million grant from the Foundation. This is a logical groundbreaking extension of Sir John Templeton’s visionary Local Societies Initiative (LSI). It is through interdisciplinary groups of scholars at colleges and universities around the world that the Institute pursues its mission. The MGNI will increase participation in the global network by targeting key educational institutions. The ultimate objective is to promote interdisciplinary research into the major questions that transcend the borders of traditional academic disciplines.
The key elements of the project include devoting $2.25 million to provide up to 75 three-year grants aimed at inspiring university scholars to re-engage with the big ideas and profound questions that transcend disciplinary boundaries in concert with their colleagues at leading educational institutions in the U.S. and abroad; $1.5 million to support the top-performing existing local societies; $1.6 million to fund the annual Metanexus conference; and $750,000 in additional grants to incentivize institutional matching support for exceptional interdisciplinary groups.
These local groups are the main activity and raison d’être of Metanexus, forming the network that gives the Institute a truly global outreach. There are now 239 groups in 42 countries, whose remit is to “lay the groundwork for reconsidering long-held assumptions and beliefs, helping to establish the preconditions for paradigm shifts and intellectual breakthroughs. They will articulate the ‘really big questions’ and collaboratively develop methods and approaches for addressing them,” according to Weislogel.
The forum in which this worldwide collaboration can demonstrate the range of its interests and investigations is the annual Metanexus conference. In 2007, it was held on the theme “Transdisciplinarity and the Unity of Knowledge: Beyond the Science and Religion Dialogue.” Speakers, who included Dr. William Grassie, the founder of the Metanexus Institute, addressed a wide range of topics. These ranged from the contribution by Nikolaus von Stillfried, who pursues research into systems-theoretical interpretation of quantum mechanics at the University of Freiburg, in Germany, on “What About Transdisciplinarity? Its Past, Its Present, Its Potential,” to Javier Martinez Contreras, who teaches the metaphysics and history of Medieval philosophy and ethics at the University of Deusto in Spain, on “Beauty: A History of ‘Oblivion’ in Aesthetics.”
The ninth annual Metanexus conference at the Universidad Pontificia Comillas, Madrid, Spain, in July 2008 was entitled “Subject, Self, and Soul: Transdisciplinary Approaches to Personhood,” to which philosophers, biologists, physicists, cosmologists, neuroscientists, cognitive scientists, theologians, historians, educators and community leaders were invited. The delegates from more than 40 countries included more than 200 representatives of the local societies linked in the Metanexus Global Network. The central theme of the conference was summarized as: Who are we? Why are we here?
Another important activity is the Metanexus Senior Fellow Lecture Series. The post of Senior Fellow was created in 2003 to engage a broader audience in the Metanexus effort. The 2007-2008 Metanexus Senior Fellow was Professor Norbert Samuelson, of Arizona State University. His lecture series under the title “Light and Enlightenment” concerned Jewish philosophy, correlating traditional and modern Jewish views of the days of the Messiah and the world to come both with the predictions of modern evolutionary psychologists about the future of humanity and with physical cosmologists’ speculations about the end of the universe.
At the same time, the Templeton Research Lectures have continued to explore a broad spectrum of inquiry. These grants are awarded to individual universities. Seven universities are currently running lecture series. Arizona State University has a program entitled “Facing the Challenges of Transhumanism: Religion, Science, and Technology,” which considers the implications of the confluence of new developments in the life sciences and technology (e.g., robotics and artificial intelligence), running from 2006 to 2009. Over the same period, Stony Brook University is offering a lecture series on “Trust: Prospects for Science and Religion,” which attempts to extend the notion of trust from its well-established religious base into a scientific context. The most recent lecture awards, for 2007-2010, have gone to Boston University for its program “Religious and Psychological Well-Being,” which examines the healthcare of the human soul, and to Johns Hopkins University for a series on “Evolution, Cognition, and Culture,” which explores research in the cognitive science of religion.
The Metanexus ethos is a contrarian determination to liberate intellectual and spiritual insights from the strait-jacket of intensive specialization. “We have become enthralled—and paralyzed—by the so-called ‘expertise’ of the few and the relativism of the many,” wrote Weislogel, in an article whose title echoed the poet T. S. Eliot in posing the big question that engages Metanexus: “Whatever happened to wisdom?”