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Fostering dialogue between scientists and faith communities

BY Ananya Sen

There are several daunting challenges that our society has to collectively face in the coming decades, including climate change, food insecurity, and the spread of infectious diseases in an increasingly connected global community. Tackling these challenges will require scientifically-informed policies that also have to be shaped and welcomed by the public. To this end, the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, in collaboration with faith groups, will organize a workshop series—Genomics for Faith Leaders—to create an open dialogue between the local community and our scientists.  
Since a large majority of adults in the US attend religious services on a regular basis, their faith groups serve as community hubs that impact the views of their members on a range of social issues. By connecting scientists to faith leaders, who can guide and provide information to the communities they lead, the IGB can help local community members who are interested in addressing societal challenges.  
The IGB is uniquely positioned to create this unique, first-ever, dialogue. The IGB has almost a decade of experience in offering workshops that deliver genomic content tailored to the interests of various professional groups. These workshops are often offered in close partnership with other prominent scientific institutions, including the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Courts and Sciences Institute.
Genomics for Faith Leaders will be funded with a $100,000 grant from the Wayfarer Foundation, a philanthropic organization with the mission to “advance humankind spiritually towards a future peaceful world civilization.” The workshop series will be specially designed to meet the needs and interests of faith leaders. Each workshop will be planned with input from both scientific content experts and faith leaders to encourage frank and productive discussions. The information shared with faith leaders can then be disseminated to their various congregations, and interpreted through the lenses of their specific faiths to maximize understanding and relevance.  
Plans for a pilot workshop with a local Interfaith Alliance group are already underway. The faith leader members proposed several topics, including COVID-19 and other infectious diseases; stress disorders and epigenetics; advances in medicine; and climate change. Feedback from this workshop will be used to refine plans for working with other regional or national groups, including the national Interfaith Alliance.  
“Many people turn to either scientists or faith leaders as trusted sources of information, but scientists and faith leaders don’t often communicate with each other,” said Gene Robinson (GNDP), the IGB Director and Swanlund Chair in Entomology. “With Genomics for Faith Leaders, we aim to provide a new opportunity for these groups to interact and develop new understandings and ways of communicating so that they can work together to help address important problems.”

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