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  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: May 2010

12 - Sciences and religions: what it means to take historical perspectives seriously



It was by accident that I first encountered Science and religion: Some historical perspectives (1991). The monastic scholar's cell I had been assigned as a doctoral student crafting a dissertation proposal was in the university library. A rack of newly acquired books stood by the library entrance, and on my way in each morning I absent-mindedly scanned the fresh arrivals. One morning late in the spring of 1991 my eyes settled on the lime-on-black cover of Science and religion. The book had not been there the day before; since it had not yet been catalogued and bar-coded, I could not borrow it. Instead, I settled onto the carpet, where I remained until evening, when my wife, who was studying to be a physician, took me home.

The person she found crumpled on the carpet was different from the one she had kissed goodbye ten hours earlier. I knew immediately that, with this book, my world had shifted on its axis. In 1991 it was still possible for a graduate student to frame a research project asking the same questions as those posed fifty-five years earlier by Robert Merton. In my case, embarking on a dissertation about Jews' attitudes towards sixteenth-century astronomy, I asked whether or not the ‘cultural soil’ of high central European Ashkenazi Jewish culture was – as Merton had found of seventeenth-century England – ‘peculiarly fertile for the growth and spread of science’.

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