Pari Dialogues in Science and Religion

F. DAVID PEAT

LSI (Local Societies Initiative) Report 2004-2005In addition to the formal LSI talks and roundtables listed below, the Pari Center LSI group has been involved in a large number of outreach and networking activities.

LSI Talks and Roundtables

The 2004-5 season began with an international conference The Next Horizon: Re-examining Deep Values in Religion and Science.

On 22 September, Dr. Paul Buckley spoke on ‘Reaching the Public.’ For many years Buckley had been a producer responsible for science, religion and philosophy programming for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation series Ideas (each program consisted of a 55 minute in-depth exploration often with interviews of key international figures on a particular theme). Buckley stressed his belief that there is a public need for presenting serious ideas without resorting to ‘dumbing down.’

On 18 October, Shantena Sabbadini, as our LSI representative, attended the inaugural meeting of SPES (the European Forum on Spirituality in Economic and Social Life) and the Pari Center became a founder association.

25-26 October saw a study weekend where Shantena Sabbadini reported on the SPES conference and our future links with the association and Arnold Smith reported on the results of his research into the limits of AI, which he felt to be closely related to the limits to scientific enquiry in general. He also discussed the distinction between those areas best served by science and those best served by religion.

On the 25 November, Professor George Coyne SJ, director of the Vatican Observatory visited Pari. In roundtable discussions he pointed to the danger of turning Science or Religion into Sacred Cows. He also proposed a closer link between the Vatican Observatory and the Pari Center. Following a dinner, Coyne spoke on the scientific account of the Big Bang, the evolution of stars, the elements, life and consciousness. While the picture Coyne painted was breathtaking, he also cautioned that it should not be used as a ‘proof’ for the existence of God. Our relationship to God depends on the gift of faith and not on scientific reasoning. Several members of the audience found Professor Coyne’s lecture to be highly controversial and it generated a debate within Pari that still surfaces from time to time!

September 8 saw a rededication of the Palazzo where the Pari Center has its conference and talks center. The day began with a mass, then a ceremony of dedication, speeches by local politicians and an exhibition including posters of LSI talks and Pari Center conferences, slide show, and videos of our LSI talks.

On the 25, January Wanda Hurren presented her results on a scientific study on ways in which the structuring of space and time in public places—such as schools, hospitals, etc—can effect our behavior, ability to relate to others, our sense of self-worth, the ways we learn and even our ethical behavior. Additional contributions were made by Warwick Fox, who is Professor of Ethics at University of Lancashire, Kim Williams who edits Nexus, a journal of architecture and mathematics, and Wilson Winnitoy a supervisor of schools in the Province of Alberta, Canada.

On 12 February, Professor Virginia del Re of the University of Pisa spoke on ‘The Miracles of Creation: Sufism and Science.’ It was also the occasion for del Re to launch her new book on the Persian mystics.

19 February saw a roundtable, public lecture, and audiovisual presentation by Andrea Calabresi, Alessia Cervini and Fabio Severo from Rome on ‘The Metaphysical Object.’ Their approach was based on the theoretical writings of Giorgio de Chirico and Roland Barthes. They discussed material objects from the perspectives of science, sociology, art and as manifestations of the sacred and mystical. Their audiovisual presentation explored, in part, the meaning of God’s command that Abraham should sacrifice his son. Following the meeting it was decided to apply to the Province of Grosseto for funding in order to create a Study Circle and invite the speakers to return.

During 28 February to 8 March, David Peat was in London for discussions on spiritual capital and on ethics, trust and loyalty in the worlds of economics, investment and commerce, also to hold discussions on a possible conference relating to the work of David Bohm. Discussions were held with a director of Diagio Plc, with the New Economics Foundation and with Lord Layard of the London School of Economics. Thanks to the generosity of Lord Stone of Blackheath, roundtable meetings were held at the House of Lords.

On Sunday 13 March, Professor Silvana Procacci, University of Perugua and co-coordinator of Pisa/Perugia LSI group spoke on ‘The Anthropic Principle and the Work of Theilhard de Chardin.’ Several members of the audience expressed great interest in Chardin’s work and asked the Pari Center to add his books to our library on religion and science.

On 15 March, Professor Hendrik Opdebeeck spoke of ‘Building Towers, Ethics and Globalization.’ Professor Opdebeeck is one of the founders of SPES the European Forum on Spirituality in Economic and Social Life. During his talk Opdebeeck spoke of the importance of the spiritual and ethical dimension of globalization and the need for dialogue between different traditions.

7-12 April saw a visit from Siraj Izhar of Public Life, London. Siraj had been an active participant during the talks in London and during discussions in Pari proposed ways in which issues of trust, ethics and spirituality could be taken to a more practical level.

During April Arnold Smith, as representative of the Pari LSI group, visited the new Pisa/Padova LSI group, held discussions, and invited one of their members to speak at Pari.

On May 18, Prof Allan Combs brought a group of colleagues to Pari and spoke on the evolution of consciousness as seen both via the path of science and through various mystical and religious traditions.

On 16 June Edy Altes, former Dutch Ambassador to Spain, and President of the World Conference of Religion and Peace as well as vice-president of the Dutch branch of Pugwash, visited Pari for a roundtable and a discussion. The roundtable involved a discussion of the faith of the religious person in comparison by the feelings of awe and respect in the face of the cosmos as experienced by the agnostic scientist, and to what extent these were universal expressions of the sacred. The second motive was to discuss and revise the wording of Potsdam Declaration which was to be issued by a group of German scientists on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the declaration made by Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell.

On 30 June, Lisa Jacobson presented a series of scientific and artistic images in the form of slides and large format prints. She discussed the way structures emerge and the underlying laws relating to the appearance of forms. She discussed the sense of awe, wonder and respect that is engendered by contemplating the universe in the very large and very small and asked to what extent this related to a religious sense. She also asked how this relates to images that have been produced by human beings. Following her talk she proposed a joint research project with herself and Brian Greene (The Elegant Universe), part of which would be carried out in residence at Pari.

On 16 July, Rhea Quinn presented the result of her work to ‘photograph light’ in the laboratory. While her work is scientific in nature, she also pointed out that in many religious traditions light has been taken as a metaphor for the divine. Manuella Minacci, who paints Icons in a contemporary style, also contributed to the discussion. The meeting ended with the proposal to hold an exhibition in the Palazzo of Pari during 2006 consisting of the scientific images of light, Manuella’s contemporary icons and icons painted in the traditional manner by a monk from the community of Siloe, located near Pari.

Outreach Program

Pari Network

The LSI group has begun a ‘Pari Network’ to explore issues in the field of spirituality, trust and ethics in the world of business, commerce, economics, spiritual capital, globalization and concern for the earth. We have held several informal meetings both here in Pari and, thanks to the kind offer of Lord Stone of Blackheath, in the House of Lords, London as well as via an active exchange of emails and telephone calls. Participants come from the worlds of business, banking, investment, economics, and social organization. We are now moving to the next stage of this project, building a section of our website and defining practical proposals which we will seek to implement. The Network will play an important role in suggesting issues to be discussed at the March 2006 meeting on Ethical Choices in Society, the Economy and the Environment 

EFA-Pari Center

The Pari Center entered into a joint agreement with the Siena-based association Etica, Finanza, Ambiente, (Ethics, Finance and Environment) to implement joint projects. Members of EFA are drawn from the University of Siena’s School of Economics, Monte dei Paschi di Siena bank and a number of other organizations.

Ethical Choices in Society, the Economy, and the Environment. Along with EFA, the Pari Center is organizing an international meeting to be held near Siena, 10-11 March 2006. Between 100-150 participants are expected and the Pari Center is responsible for most of the speakers. The meeting will end with a roundtable where some practical issues and proposals will be discussed. Following the meeting the Pari Center will be responsible for producing a book based on the proceedings.

San Tommaso d’ Aquino

The Center is in discussion with San Tommaso d’Aquino University, Naples on the development of a Master’s program in Science and Religion.

European SPES Forum

The Pari Center is a founder organization of the European Forum on Spirituality in Economic and Social Life. Shantena Sabbadini went to the inaugural meeting in the fall of 2004 as representative of the Pari LSI group. David Peat will be speaking at the October meeting in Lovain, 2005.

California Institute of Integral Studies

July saw a visit from Joseph Subbiondo who is President of the California Institute of Integral Studies. In discussions at Pari, Subbiondo proposed forging a link between the Pari Center and CIIS and his colleague, Alfonso Montuori, to establish a formal association.

The Graduate Institute

Allan Combs visited the Center, in part to speak on Conscious Evolution and in part to explore the facilities. His colleague, A. H. Stone, president of the Graduate Institute of Connecticut has now proposed that part of their Masters’ program should be carried out in Pari.

Siloe

Following the disruptions brought about by the monks moving to a new location, the Pari LSI group has resumed talks with the monastic community at Siloe with the possibility of exploring a mutual area of study and research.

 Pari Publishing

During the summer of 2005 discussions were held on the creation of a publishing company at Pari whose publications would arise out of the activities of the Pari Center and its LSI program and lead to books published in English and in Italian. Work has begun in collecting together essays based on the Pari LSI talks on religion and science as well as commissioning several new essays. Pari Publishing was created as a legal entity in Italy in September 2005.

Study Circles

In the discussions following some of our LSI talks it was proposed that the Pari Center formally apply to the Province of Grosseto for funding to set up a series of Study Circles. Funds are specifically given for the purchase of books and other research material and to pay fees to an expert who guides the initial period of study. Awards will be announced in October 2005.