Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science

Ralph Wendell Burhoe, Zygon’s founding editor: An introduction

by
Willem B. Drees

As Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science is in its 49th year of publication, we may look back upon our first half century. Our first three editors – Ralph W. Burhoe, Karl E. Peters, Philip Hefner – helped define the multifacetted agenda for reflections on religion and science. As thinkers in their own right, they also contributed to the journal and the field. This year, three virtual issues honor them by pointing anew to their contributions, which may help us understand our past and prepare for the future.

Ralph Wendell Burhoe (1911-1997) was Zygon’s founding editor, serving from 1966 until the June issue of 1979 (Burhoe and Peters 1979). Burhoe had served from 1947 until 1964 as the Executive Officer of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, an organization based in the Boston area. He thus was in contact with major scientists from various disciplines. He worked with them on intellectual and social issues related to the sciences, for instance in the Academy’s Committee on Science and Values. Burhoe also became involved in the Conference on the Coming Great Church, a liberal Protestant and Unitarian network that had started to hold annual conferences on Star Island, a small retreat center on an island in the Atlantic Ocean, near Portsmouth (NH), north of Boston. The 1954 conference on ‘Religion in an Age of Science’ led to the founding of IRAS, the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science. In 1965 Burhoe joined the faculty at Meadville Lombard, a Unitarian Universalist seminary in Chicago.

A biographical discussion of Burhoe’s development has been published in five articles by David Breed (1990a, b; 1991, a, b, c; also as Breed 1992). In 1998, Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science published responses to the work of Burhoe in a series “Endmatter: Remembering Ralph Wendell Burhoe”, with contributions by Philip Hefner and Hubert Meisinger, Michael Cavanaugh, Karl E. Peters, Willem B. Drees, and Robert M. Glassman. I first heard of Burhoe at the first European Conference on Science and Theology in Loccum, Germany, in 1986 when the Danish theologian Viggo Mortensen expressed his sympathetic critique of this ‘expansionist’ programme (Mortensen 1987, 197; see also Mortensen 1995). Another European engaging Burhoe’s ideas has been Hubert Meisinger (1996, 257-281). More recently, in the September 2014 issue of Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science Philip Hefner returns to Burhoe and his vision, while Karl E. Peters quotes from letters exchanged beween Burhoe and University of Chicago theologian Henry Nelson Wieman on plans for a journal – letters exchanged already in 1952, fourteen years before the first issue of Zygon appeared!

Over the years, Burhoe has published vision statements, editorials, and more substantial contributions in Zygon – an overview can be acquired easily by searching the Wiley Online Library. Some have been republished just after Burhoe received the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion in 1980 (Burhoe 1981). In this virtual issue, we present a selection, grouped chronologically within in three thematic clusters, on the role of religion in human evolution, the evolution of values, and on the concepts of God and soul in the context of science. These were themes that seek to understand scientifically religion and its contribution to human nature and to society in an age of science, themes that are typical of Zygon in its first half century. No doubt these issues will continue to be central in the next fifty years.

References (Those references in bold type were brought together for the virtual issue on Ralph Wendell Burhoe and may be found here.)

Breed, David R. 1990a. “Ralph Wendell Burhoe: His Life and Thought: I. Perceiving the Problem and Envisioning the Solution.” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 25: 323-351.

———. 1990b. “Ralph Wendell Burhoe: His Life and Thought: II. Formulating the Vision and Organizing the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science (IRAS).” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 25: 469-491.

———. 1991a. “Ralph Wendell Burhoe: His Life and Thought: III. Developing the Vision among the Unitarians, 1954-1964.” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 26: 149-175.

———. 1991b. “Ralph Wendell Burhoe: His Life and Thought: IV. Burhoe’s Theological Program.” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 26: 277-308.

———. 1991c. “Ralph Wendell Burhoe: His Life and Thought: V. The Struggle to Establish the Vision as a New Paradigm.” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 26: 397-428.

———. 1992. Yoking Science and Religion: The Life and Thought of Ralph Wendell Burhoe. Chicago, IL: Zygon Books.

Burhoe, Ralph W. 1981. Toward a Scientific Theology. Belfast, Northern Ireland: Christian Journals.

Burhoe, Ralph W., and Karl E. Peters. 1979. “Editorial.” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 14: 99-102.

Cavanaugh, Michael. 1998. “Burhoe’s Second-Hand Influence.” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 33: 307-311.

Drees, Willem B. 1998. “Burhoe’s Legacy: Lessons for Europeans.” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 33: 489-495.

Glassman, Robert B. 1998. “Symbioses Can Transcend Particularisms: A Memoir of Friendship with Ralph Wendell Burhoe.” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 33: 661-683.

Hefner, Philip. 1998. “Ralph Burhoe’s Evolutionary Theory of Religion.” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 33: 165-169.

———. 2014. “Ralph Burhoe: Reconsidering the Man and His Vision of Yoking Religion and Science.” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 49 (September, in press).

Meisinger, Hubert. 1998. “The Heritage of Ralph Wendell Burhoe for the Dialogue between Science and Theology: A German Perspective.” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 33: 171-176.

———. 1996. Liebesgebot und Altruismusfoorschung: Ein exegetischer Beitrag zum Dialog zwischen Theologie und Naturwissenschaft. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

Mortensen, Viggo. 1987. “The Status of the Science-Religion Dialogue.” In Evolution and Creation: A European Perspective, eds. Svend Andersen and Arthur Peacocke, 192-204. Aarhus: Aarhus University Press.

———. 1995. Theologie und Naturwissenschaft. Gütersloh: Christian Kaiser/ Gütersloher Verlagshaus.

Peters, Karl E. 1998. “The Open-Ended Legacy of Ralph Wendell Burhoe.” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 33: 313-321.

———. 2014. “The Changing Cultural Context of the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science and Zygon.” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 49 (September, in press).


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initially prepared July 2014

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