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Symposium unites science and religion in harmony

Fields often pitted against each other came together peacefully over the weekend.

The first Duke-UNC Religion and Science Symposium was held at the Mary Biddle Duke Trent Semans Center Saturday to explore the intersection between the two fields. A team of approximately 10 students from Duke and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill organized the daylong event with a grant from the Kenan-Biddle Partnership.

“It started with conversations with other students where a lot of use were studying religion or were very religious and were also pursuing scientific knowledge and there was this sort of division, not necessarily in our religions or beliefs, but in how it was articulated in other areas,” said sophomore Abdul Rahman Latif, one of the main organizers and a Robertson Scholar.

Many of the students involved with planning the event are pursuing majors and minors that combine formal study of religion and scientific disciplines. Latif, for example, is majoring in religious studies with a minor in evolutionary anthropology.

Latif added that the event was intended to take an academic perspective rather than a devotional one. The abstract nature of the discussion and panel topics were intended to allow for the accommodation of numerous religious beliefs.

Topics addressed included the relationships between religion and medicine as well as roots of the divide between the fields.

“A religion and science symposium doesn’t really happen that often so we weren’t entirely sure how we wanted the discussion to go,” Latif said.

Approximately 90 people attended the conference including undergraduate, graduate students, professors and community members from both universities and diverse academic disciplines and belief systems.

“This place is pretty unique for [a religion and science symposium] because we have some of the best religion program here at Duke and UNC and we have the hospitals—it’s an interesting mix,” Latif said.

He added that the organizing team has hopes of making the event into an annual occurrence and expand to also include speakers from outside the Research Triangle Park area.

“We had a lot of questions and I don’t know if we necessarily got answers, but hopefully there was a kind of community fostered in discussing the topics and I think we hit on that,” Latif said.

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that mental health was not a topic discussed at the symposium. The Chronicle regrets the error.