Last year’s Althea W. and John A. Schiffman Lecture in Religious Studies came at the ethos of religion from a scientific standpoint. Dr. Brick Johnstone, professor of Health Psychology at the University of Missouri, explored neurological processes in humans as they inform their religious experiences and moral identities.
This year, Columbia College professor of History and Schiffman Chair in Ethics, Religious Studies and Philosophy Dr. Anthony Alioto wanted to flip the script. He wanted to seek out a speaker who could reconcile scientific theory and religious belief from a religious standpoint.
Dr. Larry Brown, an ordained minister as well as a former professor of Human Geography at the University of Missouri, seemed like the perfect choice.
“What if we had a minister to talk about how religion, especially Christianity, can deal with evolution?” Alioto says. “There are people I know, and he’s one of them, that don’t have to go off and reject what is one of the cornerstones of the biological sciences. He can actually live with it. How he does it, I’m not sure. That’s what is going to be interesting.”
Brown’s presentation, the 16th Schiffman Lecture in Religious Studies, is titled “Religion and Evolution” and takes place at 11 a.m. October 13 in the Brouder Science Center’s Bixby Lecture Hall, on the campus of Columbia College.
In his speech, Brown seeks to reconcile “the Christian valuing of intellectual curiosity with a century of antagonism between some scientists and some representatives of Christianity.” Brown believes that, while “much has been written about a conflict between faith and science, there is also a call for both communities to understand the common ground of appreciating mystery, integrity, diversity and a holistic approach to understanding the universe.”
Alioto says he got to know Brown through attending conferences together, and he hopes Brown’s lively lecture style will appeal to the Columbia College community as well as other spectators at his Schiffman lecture.
“He’s very good at communicating,” Alioto says. “I have no doubts it will be a worthwhile lecture for people to attend.”
Brown has been a storyteller and lecturer for more than 30 years, speaking to thousands of people and using original stories and songs of justice, courage and compassion. He has experience in public education, activism and as a pastor, and he brings those worlds together in his presentations, updating traditional themes with modern meaning and connecting with groups through humor, wit, inspiration and thoughtful challenges in stories and songs from the Midwest and around the world.
He has a doctorate in Policy Studies from the Department of Education and Policy Analysis at the University of Missouri’s College of Education, as well as a degree in Sociology from the University of Nebraska, a Master of Arts in Geography from the University of Missouri and a Master of Divinity from the Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, Indiana. Brown pastored congregations in Nebraska, Indiana and Missouri before becoming a full-time professor, and he has taught at Stephens College and the Missouri School of Religion along with his current courses at MU Extension’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.
Brown is the president of Missouri Storytelling (MO-TELL), co-founder of the Columbia-based Mid-Missouri Organization for Storytelling (MOST), a member of the River and Prairie Storyweavers (RAPS), a former board member of the National Storytelling Network (NSN) and past president of the Storytelling in Higher Education special interest group of the NSN.
Suffice to say, he can keep an audience’s attention.
Since the series began in 2002, the Schiffman Lecture in Religious Studies has challenged its audiences to view the intersection science, faith, culture and education and how those forces shape the modern world.
Alioto feels as if this year’s edition can take attendees further in-depth on issues that may only earn snippets of discussion in mass media.
“The study of religion, the way we do it as scholars, is like any other science. We’re looking at religion as human experience,” Alioto says. “We’re interested in how it has influenced the world. I hope people would come away saying to themselves, ‘I’ve never seen it approached like this before.’”