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Biology professor meets with Archbishop of Canterbury

Discussion concerned environmental justice and collaborations between scientists and faith-based groups.


The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.

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As an outgrowth of her years of work to build relationships between science and faith-based groups, on June 23, University of Utah biology professor Nalini Nadkarni presented on environmental and ecological justice to the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.

The archbishop, spiritual leader of 85 million Anglicans and Episcopalians, is on sabbatical visiting the Virginia Theological Seminary and invited Nadkarni, along with two theologians and a water rights attorney, to speak on issues of ecological justice, reconciliation and forgiveness.

The group met virtually with the archbishop and with Ian Markham, dean of the Virginia Theological Seminary.

“It was meaningful for me to experience the respect and open-minded language and behavior that surrounded this encounter,” Nadkarni said. “The fact that he initiated this, and is making the learning about social and environmental justice during his sabbatical to study and understand the processes of ‘reconciliation’ impressed me as just what is needed in leaders of all kinds, and it was a welcome signal from one of the major religious leaders of our time.”

Nadkarni spoke about the complexity of interactions in nature, drawing on her own research in forest ecology. She suggested ways for scientists and faith-based groups to work together to address environmental issues, including inviting scientists to religious conferences and encouraging interactions with local groups such as citizen science projects on church and seminary grounds.

Nalini Nadkarni

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“I concluded by saying that there are many scientists who would be interested in contributing to positive actions and interactions with faith-based groups, and offered whatever help I might provide,” Nadkarni said. “The archbishop expressed his gratitude for this information and will be in touch with the participants in this conversation to get feedback on action items he plans to take.” He will also include Nadkarni’s input in a book he is writing during his sabbatical.

Nadkarni said she was glad to learn that the archbishop and Markham were aware of environmental conservation and environmental justice issues, including initiatives to save existing wildlands.

Locally, the meeting has led to discussions with Tyler Doherty, the dean of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Salt Lake City. Doherty and Nadkarni will be exploring opportunities to discuss with congregants about care for the Earth from an Episcopalian perspective.

Also in June, Nadkarni gave a keynote address at a conference organized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion (DoSER) titled “Forward Together: Where Science, Ethics, & Religion Intersect in a Changing World.”

Recorded talks from the conference are now available.

The conference celebrated the 25th anniversary of DoSER and the common ground and concerns of scientists and faith-based groups. “There are many intersection points for engagement at this time,” Nadkarni said, citing her own efforts, those of other DoSER scientists, and the participation in the conference by scientific leaders such as Sudip Parikh, CEO of AAAS, which is the largest science professional society in the world. Others have been initiated by religious individuals or groups, including Interfaith Power and Light, which disseminates information about climate change via leaders of faith-based groups.

Nadkarni’s keynote address has been highlighted in the National Catholic Reporter, and the conference as a whole was featured in the journal Science showing, Nadkarni said, a breadth of influence from a single presentation.

“It would be impossible to sit in on this conference and not be impressed with how many scientists and faith-based people are involved with these exchanges,” Nadkarni said. “A quote from Nancy Adelman, a member of the faculty of Catholic University, stated ‘Scientists and people of faith speak a common language, which is awe and wonder at the world at large. Meet on common ground and consider our common interest.'”

Read more about Nadkarni’s work with faith-based groups here.