International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

Introduction to the Contents of the Library

The ISSR Library was born out of the notion that it might be possible to assemble a shelf of books that, taken together, would offer the foundation, background, and essential insight necessary to delineate the main, thematic contours of inquiry in science and religion. Achieving this goal has been a labor of many years that began with a compilation of thousands of texts ranging across a myriad of disciplines, faiths, philosophies, and perspectives. The ISSR membership and outside experts winnowed the expanse of scholarly works down to a few hundred nominees for a foundational library – books that seemed most central, informative, accessible, and/or useful. A dedicated editorial team then reviewed each volume to settle on final selections. This was a Herculean, sometimes seemingly Sisyphean, undertaking; one which would rightly prompt those who read this volume and consult this Library to reflect with gratitude on the commitment and service of senior colleagues who served on this board.

Of course, no selection process will please everyone and many readers and authors will take exception with some of our selections. Any opprobrium should be directed at yours truly, the Executive Editor of the Library and Companion, with much-deserved credit for the many successes of this project directed to the indomitable members of our Editorial Board.  We do not contend that these books represent a new “canon” for the field of science and religion – nor, for that matter, that such a “field” actually exists. Rather, we hope that this collection can fruitfully serve students, scholars, and lay readers by offering the most important idea systems, underlying information, and categories of analysis relevant to each of the main strands of dialogue in science and the human spirit. Religious and theological perspectives are widely represented here, but so are naturalist and non-religious ones. Deep scientific background is available, as is philosophy. And cultural locations range as widely as can reasonably be expected in a library built of volumes in English and published primarily in the West.

Studies in science and religion span a tremendous range of disciplines. Amidst this interdisciplinarity, great challenges arise. It can be immensely difficult, for example, for an expert in one field to appreciate the depth and quality of thought that takes place in another. The barriers of methodology, mindset, and dialectical mode are high and the learning curves steep. Enthusiasts of science and religion, aspiring and accomplished interdisciplinarians, can all suffer from the same devastating affliction. Because of the breadth of work and multiplicity of voices, we often end up repeating introductory analysis, recapitulating basic study, and tromping down well-trod paths. The editorial team hope that the ISSR Library will help students and scholars better understand the current contours of scholarly exploration and avoid replicating work that has gone before, creating an opportunity for them blaze new trails, find new insights, and produce new results. This library should offer a bridge of disciplinary referents and a map of accessways into the worlds of thoughts beyond each of our various fields and subfields. The introductory essays here are signposts to guide the explorer around this rich and varied topography.

Bearing in mind this idea of spanning a diverse territory, selections were made on the basis of the usefulness, expansiveness, and representativeness of each volume. First and foremost, we selected for excellent scholarship and clear writing. Sometimes we also chose not to include books that retraced material (however well) that was covered by other selections. Because our project simultaneously selected these books and obtained physical copies to distribute to select institutions worldwide, we faced a natural limit to the number of books we could include. This limit proved to be fruitful as it forced us to be as parsimonious as possible with the slots provided. Ultimately, this means that judgment calls were made and texts were left out that, when standing alone, are evidently excellent books.

As we proceeded through the selection process, we kept two main categories in mind. On the one hand, many books have been written about “science and religion” as such, frequently from writers with particular theological or spiritual interest but also in many cases penned by interdisciplinarians who undertake overarching explorations with true expertise in a variety of fields. The books introduced by the first group of essays in this volume and the books categorized as “General Science and Religion” on our website represent the core of our selections. To the extent that there is a true field of science and religion, they span it. This core collection comprises work by the most recognized and renowned writers in science and religion. Foundational work by Ian Barbour, John Brooke, Philip Clayton, Willem Drees, John Haught, Alister McGrath, Nancey Murphy, Ronald Numbers, Arthur Peacocke, John Polkinghorne, Michael Ruse, Robert John Russell, and Keith Ward, among others, is joined by important contributions from key thinkers from Judaism and Islam, from historians, philosophers, theologians, and scientists. Readers will recognize many of the authors represented here and likely be drawn instantly into the richness of this part of the collection.

Still, the editorial team wanted to do more than represent work focusing explicitly on “science and religion” as a subject of inquiry in and of itself. We thus sought to contextualize this work and offer the kind of referential foundation that could help a reader delve deeper into cross-disciplinary conversation via the selection of interdisciplinary contributions. However, the tendrils of science and religion reach so far afield that it became an incredibly complex matter to typify and characterize the areas, fields, and subfields that needed representing.

At the end of the process, we had arrived at ten “categories” – if only for the purpose of physically shelving the library – and twenty searchable, overlapping, multiplicitous lists for website organization. Some of these are easily distinguishable. For example, readers looking to dive into subjects related to physics or biology will find groups of texts shelved together that offer varying levels of background in each. Similarly, books that focus on ecology and the environment, medicine and biotechnology, and essential philosophical foundations are all strung together. However, other groupings proved to be more fluid.  For instance, while a set of history books is collected in one group, some of the books in what we deemed the core collection are histories as well. Likewise, books about psychology, personhood, and neuroscience are shelved in one group while their close siblings – treatments of the scientific study of religion, anthropology, ethology, and the social sciences – are grouped elsewhere. Suffice to say, the physical layout of both this Companion and the shelved library unit prompted difficult choices. Happily, our website faces no such limitations and readers are encouraged to scan the categories and lists presented there – wherein single volumes can appear in many places reflecting their multifarious content. While it feels a bit unfaithful to the tradition of the physical book, it is clear that this aspect of the web-based, hypertext Companion is potentially more useful in the face of limitations endemic to the physical text. Yet, on the other hand, we offer the book in your hand with a hint of nostalgia and in honor of that wonderful, time-honored tradition of browsing the stacks. Leaf through the pages here and you will come across introductions to related texts and stumble onto fruitful and sometimes unexpected connections.

For the time being, this collection stands complete.  However, we hope to someday gather the resources to update and expand it. Already one finds excellent and important new books that roundly deserve due attention but which appeared, sadly, after our process of review had closed. Those omissions notwithstanding, we hope you will find in this ISSR Library, and the Companion to it, a unique and thrilling resource. We also hope it will be a wellspring for many great and important works to come.