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Research Initiative | 2006-2008

Science and the Spirit:
Pentecostal Perspectives on the
Science/Religion Dialogue


Research Timeline

Based on the dissemination of a Request for Proposals and a competitive, refereed grant competition, Amos Yong and Jamie Smith, directors of the the Science and Spirit Initiative, formed a core research team of 10 more scholars from a range of disciplines including chemistry, biology, psychology, sociology, anthropology, theology, and philosophy.

The research team will conduct individual research during 2006-2007, working on specific projects (described below). The team will then gather for a two-week colloquium at Regent University School of Divinity in June 2007 to discuss key issues in the science-religion dialogue from a Pentecostal perspective, as well as share the initial fruits of their research. That research will then be developed and submitted for publication as articles in peer-reviewed journals across a range of disciplines and fields. Team members will then turn to a second element of their work for the initiative: writing chapters for a book that will introduce issues at the intersection of science and religion for students as Pentecostal and charismatic colleges and universities around the world.

Research Team and Projects


Amos Yong, Associate Research Professor of Theology, Regent University School of Divinity

Project: "God's Action in the World: The Divine Action Project in Pentecostal-Charismatic Perspective"

Amos Yong is Associate Research Professor of Theology at Regent University School of Divinity in Virginia Beach, Virginia. His graduate education includes degrees in theology, history, and religious studies from Western Evangelical Seminary and Portland State University, Portland, Oregon, and Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts. He has published four books – on theology of religions, theological method, pneumatological theology, and Pentecostal theology – and is presently pursuing research on theology and intellectual disability, and on religion and science. He and his wife, Alma, currently reside with their three children – Aizaiah (15), Alyssa (12), and Annalisa (11) – in Chesapeake, Virginia.

Project Abstract

This research project will overview the results of the Divine Action Project which has taken place between scientists and theologians over the last two decades. Various models of divine action have been suggested, focused on the problem of the causal joint (e.g., at the level of quantum indeterminacy, of chaotic-dynamical systems, of “top-down” or whole-part causation of wider and wider environments on their sub-systems, of the input of information, or of neurobiological, neuropsychological, and psychosociological processes). A trinitarian theology would offer both an incarnational and a pneumatological (or “Pentecostal/charismatic”) model for rethinking divine action in dialogue with these proposals in the theology-and-science conversation. Once the possibility of divine action in energetic terms is granted by way of taking the incarnation seriously, then a theologically thick and scientifically plausible account of divine action must be pneumatologically informed as well.

James K.A. Smith, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Calvin College

Project: "Is the Universe Open to Surprise? Naturalism and the Pentecostal-charismatic Worldview"

Jamie Smith (PhD, Villanova) is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Calvin College, having previously taught at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. His research grapples with issues in philosophical theology in conversation with the Continental philosophical tradition--with particular interest in hermeneutics and interpretation, epistemology, and ontology. The author of five books, Smith's work in the science-religion dialogue has focused on issues of altruism and ontological questions regarding naturalism. He and his wife, Deanna, live in the East Hills neighborhood of Grand Rapids, MI with their four children: Grayson (14), Coleson (12), Madison (10), and Jackson (8).

Project Abstract

Elsewhere I have argued that one of the core components of a Pentecostal-charismatic (PC) worldview is a sense of radical openness to God, with a distinct emphasis on the continued operation of the Holy Spirit in the world and the church. However, this clearly has ontological implications that need to be worked out, as well as implications for PC participation in (and appropriation of) regnant paradigms in the natural and social sciences. If it is an essential feature of PC belief and practice to be open to God’s surprises, this presupposes a sense that the universe and natural world must also remain open systems. But if science qua science requires that one at least affirm methodological naturalism, and perhaps even metaphysical naturalism, could there be such a thing as a Pentecostal scientist? My project aims to unpack the ontological and scientific implications of the PC worldview, and then interrogate the regnant paradigms of naturalism in the sciences. I will argue that the PC notion of the Spirit's dynamic presence in creation can also undo the traditional natural/supernatural dichotomy.

Team Members

Donald F. Calbreath, Associate Professor of Chemistry, Whitworth College

Project: "Serotonin, Psyche, and Sin: Can We Develop a Pentecostal Theology of Depression?"

Donald Calbreath just recently retired as Associate Professor of Chemistry at Whitworth College in Spokane, WA. He earned his Ph.D. in Physiological Chemistry from the Ohio State University and specializes in the biochemistry of mental illness and biochemistry & behavior. The author of a textbook in Clinical Chemistry, Calbreath is the author of a number of articles and studies at the intersection of science and religion. He is married with two daughters, three granddaughters, and one grandson and is involved in ministry in the Foursquare church.

Project Abstract

This proposal will explore how modern neuroscience can bring better understanding to Pentecostal church leaders (who seem to encounter more depression in their congregations than do other types of churches) in the realms of depression and its treatment, in terms of antidepressant effectiveness, limitations and hazards. Pentecostal leaders can facilitate differentiation among depressed states due to natural causes, personal sin or supernatural (demon possession).
Another hoped-for outcome is a greater awareness on the part of scientists of the role of the transcendent in dealing with depression. There are clear indications that the reductionist “biology-only” paradigm must be expanded to allow for causes and effects outside the purely physical. The current biochemical explanations are incomplete and do not take into account emotional and spiritual situations that could possibly be the cause of the altered neurotransmitter concentrations, not the result.

Heather Curtis, Postdoctoral Fellow, Evolution and Theology of Cooperation Project, Harvard University

Project: "Pentecostal Christianity and the Science of Psychology"

Heather Curtis received her doctorate in the history of Christianity, with an emphasis on North American religions, from Harvard University in the spring of 2005. She is a postdoctoral fellow with the Evolution and Theology of Cooperation project at Harvard, and lecturer on American Religious History at Harvard Divinity School. Her research and teaching interests include exploring the intersections of religion and the natural, medical and human sciences; movements of religious healing; gender and women's studies in religion; the religious history of American children and youth; and the study of spirituality and devotional practice. She is currently at work on a book tentatively entitled, The Lord for the Body: Physical Suffering and Divine Healing in American Culture, 1860-1900.

Project Abstract

Pentecostal Christianity and the science of psychology originated and developed in the same historical period, yet the relationship between these two traditions has received little scholarly analysis. This project will examine the interchange between Pentecostalism and psychology from the late-nineteenth century to the present. By analyzing how Pentecostals and Charismatics have responded to various streams of psychological theory, such as Freudian psychoanalysis, Jungian depth psychology, behaviorism and psychopharmacology, I aim to show that the relationship between Pentecostal religion and psychology has been fluid, rather than static; that encounters between these two forces have been creative, contentious and complicated; that the story of science and religion in the twentieth century is one of innovative interaction, not one of steady secularization. In particular, I seek to illumine the ways in which Pentecostal understandings of personhood, as well as of mental and spiritual illness, have integrated both theological insights and psychological perspectives. In so doing, I hope to invite reflection upon the on-going interplay between “scientific” and “spiritual” models of the self in contemporary American culture, especially as these understandings are being challenged and revised in light of increasing globalization and cross-cultural exchange.

Paul Elbert, Adjunct Professor, Church of God Theological Seminary and Lee University

Project: "Genesis One and Two in Pentecostal Reception and Application"

Paul Elbert, physicist-theologian and New Testament scholar, is currently working in interpretive methods and narrative-rhetorical backgrounds with respect to Luke-Acts, with a particular focus on the fulfillment of prophecy theme in Lukan thought. He is co-chair of the Formation of Luke-Acts consultation within the Society of Biblical Literature and a member of the Tyndale Fellowship for Biblical and Theological Research. Paul has served as editor of two festschrifts for American Old Testament scholars, Essays on Apostolic Themes and Faces of Renewal, and his writings have appeared, for example, in Theologische Zeitschrift, Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Journal of Biblical Literature, Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft, Novum Testamentum, Refleks: Med Karismatisk Kristendom i Focus, and the Journal of Pentecostal Theology. He is a member of the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science and formerly served as chairperson of the Georgia Superconducting Super Collider committee. Paul now serves on the editorial board of the Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies, on the advisory board of the Foundation for Pentecostal Scholarship (, and on the research board of the Dominican Biblical Research Institute in Ireland.

Project Abstract

A reading of the Genesis creation narrative in Pentecostal thought will be explored. Potential contrasts and differences between that reading and that prevalent in some sectors of Evangelical Protestantism, namely the "Young Earthism" or "Physical Cessationism" sector, will be drawn. Reasons for these contrasts and differences will be proposed in light of Pentecostal hermeneutics and community. Given the tension between the claim of naturalistic macroevolution, as proposed within contemporary evolutionary biology, and a literary interpretation of the biblical account of creation , some analysis of this controversy will be proposed within the framework of Pentecostal identity.

Robert L. Moore, Clinical Psychologist, Director, Robert Moore and Associates

Project: "Towards the Scientific Efficacy of Pentecostal Healing Praxis"

Robert Moore is a licensed psychologist with 20 years of clinical practice. His practice in various settings has been distinctively Christian and has been a catalyst in the formation of a theology and praxis for “Spirit-filled” counseling. Seeking a scholarly outlet for his observations and psychotherapeutic techniques, he entered Church of God Theological Seminary in 2004 for further study and research. His research gained attention at COGTS and he was subsequently encouraged to present his ideas at the recent 35th Annual Meeting of the Society for Pentecostal Studies. He was honored with the Student Achievement Award by the Practical Theology division of SPS. Dr. Moore has also published a study in a scientific journal in which he designed a test for children. Moore obtained his doctorate from Vanderbilt University in 1987 and conducted research on attention deficit disorders and moral development while at Vanderbilt. He currently serves as an adjunct instructor in two different graduate psychology programs teaching research-related courses. He is married, has a married daughter and a 16-year old daughter.

Project Abstract

Although there is a clearly identifiable continuum of opinion reflected by the inordinate amount of theological debate regarding the efficacy of Pentecostal healing from both within Pentecostalism and outside, there is a sparse corpus of literature dedicated to examining the scientific efficacy of Classical and Neo-classical Pentecostal healing praxes. The rationale for this project is quite simple: The tensions that exist among theologians, pastors, and congregants regarding why some get healed and others apparently do not exemplifies the need for further investigation and data that move Pentecostal healing theology toward a more biblically and theologically sound praxis for Spirit-filled believers. This project will further attempt to objectively define, qualify, and quantify the ministry of healing, and subsequently examine prevailing theological thought against empirical research. It is therefore hypothesized that most Pentecostal theological perspectives and praxes on healing can withstand scientific scrutiny even when theologies of healing appear to be in opposition to one another. This attempt at integration will potentially lead to increased clarity and provide direction for ministry, training, and additional research as a part of greater developing theology of Pentecostal ministry.

Margaret Poloma, Professor of Sociology Emerita, University of Akron

Project: "Pentecostal/Charismatic Prayer as a Complementary Healing Remedy: The Case of the International Association of Healing Rooms"

Margaret M. Poloma has written extensively about the Pentecostal charismatic movement, with her most recent work focusing on the role that charismatic spiritual experiences play in empowering “unlimited love.” The larger worldview of Pentecostal/Charismatic (P/C) Christianity and the challenges it faces from modernism has been an underlying theoretical theme of her research endeavors, including studies on the Assemblies of God, the P/C revivals of the 1990s, divine healing, and P/C inner city ministry. Now a professor emerita of sociology at The University of Akron, she taught at the Ohio institution for twenty-five years. She is a graduate of Notre Dame College of Ohio and earned her Ph.D. in sociology at Case Western Reserve University in 1970. Since her retirement, she has served as a visiting professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, Ashland Theological Seminary, Oberlin College, and Vanguard University of Southern California. A member of the steering committee of the Christian Sociological Society (CSS) and of the advisory board of the Lewis Wilson Institute for Pentecostal Studies, Dr. Poloma formerly served as newsletter editor of the CSS, as a member of the council and secretary of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, as a director of the Religious Research Association, and on the executive council of the Association for the Sociology of Religion. She has been the guest editor of a special issue, as well as co-editor of Sociological Focus, an associate editor of the Review of Religious Research, Sociological Analysis, Sociological Inquiry, and the Review of Religious Research, and an advising editor of Spirituality & Health. She is currently an associate editor of Pneuma: The Journal for the Society of Pentecostal Studies and a contributing editor of the Journal of Psychology and Theology.

Project Abstract

The failure to deconstruct the general concept of “prayer” (or the “active process” referred to in the CAM definition) has left studies of “healing prayer” with weak measures and often inconclusive findings. The proposed work is intended as a pilot study to assess the feasibility of conducting more extensive research on the efficacy of Pentecostal/charismatic healing prayer in a specific context. Its focus is on healing prayer as practiced by affiliates of the International Association of Healing Rooms, with most of the data collection being conducted at the Healing Rooms of Greater Cleveland (HRGC). It will explore how visitors make use of the free prayer offered in the healing rooms, describe the role such prayer plays as a complementary and/or alternative medical practice and seek self-reported evaluations of the perceived efficacy of that prayer. It will also study how (paying special attention to “active” and “receptive” forms) the volunteer pray-ers pray and how clients perceive the fruits of their prayer.

Craig Scandrett-Leatherman

Project: "Knowledge and Indeterminacy in Science and Ritual Aesthetics: Anthropological and Afropentecostal Perspectives"

Craig Scandrett-Leatherman is an anthropologist, pastor of a multicultural Free Methodist Church, and poet. Craig’s research focuses on ritual theory, African diaspora, Church of God in Christ cultural history, and medical anthropology. Craig has degrees from North Park Theological Seminary, University of Chicago, and University of Kansas. The title of his dissertation is: “Can’t Nobody Do Me Like Jesus: The Politics of Embodied Aesthetics in Afro Pentecostal Rituals.” Craig has directed an urban studies program for colleges and seminaries in Chicago, and planted a church there. Craig lives in St. Louis with his wife, Beth, and two children, Luke and Cara.

Project Abstract

The hypothesis of this project is that bodily or sensate perception is a common base of knowledge in natural science, social science, and religious experience. Specifically, this project seeks to initiate a conversation between scientific epistemology and Afropentecostal experience based on ethnographic research. The central question is, what kinds of conversations can emerge between anthropology, with its method of participant observation, Afropentecostalism, with its embodied rituals, and science with its empirical epistemology?
Afropentecostal origins, rituals, social engagement, and inter-subjective and embodied styles, all resist the object-constant hypothesis of positivistic science. Afropentecostal rituals assume object-indeterminacy as do streams of post-modern epistemology. Drawing from ancient African roots, Afropentecostalism becomes a fascinating dialogue partner with post-positivistic scientific perspectives.

When body-based perceptions are seen as the base of knowledge, then new relationships and conversations may develop. Afropentecostal perspectives can be articulated so they contribute to knowledge, theories of science and society, and healing therapies. Ethnography becomes a practice of radical empiricism whereby the subject, perspective, and theory is changed through observant participation. Scientific knowledge moves beyond functional objectification in similar ways. Developing a unity of knowledge may increase the contributions of diverse perspectives for new conversations, theories, methods, therapies, and relationships.

Jeffrey P. Schloss, Professor and Chair of Biology, Westmont College

Project: "Signs of the Kingdom & Signals of Commitment: Charismatic Manifestations, Costly Display Theory, and the Embodiment of Love"

Jeffrey P. Schloss, Professor and Chair of Biology at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, received his undergraduate training in biology at Wheaton College and his Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Washington University. He has taught at the University of Michigan, Wheaton College, and Jaguar Creek Tropical Research Center. Professor Schloss has been awarded a Danforth Fellow and a AAAS Mass Media Fellow in Science Communication, is a charter member of the International Society of Science and Religion, and has served on the editorial and advisory boards of numerous journals and organizations relating science and religion, including Zygon, the Journal of Theology & Science, Science & Christian Belief, Science & Theology News, and Science & Spirit. His twofold interests are the ecophysiology of poikilohydric regulation and the implications of evolutionary theory for our understanding of ethics and human purpose. Recent projects include several collaborative volumes: Altruism and Altruistic Love: Science, Philosophy, and Religion in Dialogue (Oxford, 2002); Research on Altruism and Love (Templeton, 2003), Evolution and Ethics: Morality in Biological and Religious Perspective (Eerdmans, 2004).

Project Abstract

Cooperation, especially altruistic sacrifice, is a fascinating and unsolved scientific question. In current biological and economic game theoretic accounts of reciprocity and prosocial behavior, the “reading” of others’ cooperative dispositions (and avoidance of cheaters) is a critical challenge to overcoming commitment barriers, and is necessary for both individual survival and social organization. Signalling theory involves the utilization of hard-to-fake display that faithfully convey cooperative intent. The proposal I intend to explore is that much religious experience, and in particular visible manifestations such as those of Pentecostal worship, entail autonomically mediated external displays that reflect internal affective states, themselves linked to personal beliefs and dispositions that are crucial for social cooperation and community identity. For this to work, there must be sufficient integration of belief and its affective consequences to result in internalized benefits for authentic and disbenefits for inauthentic commitment. This presents the theoretical possiblity that man literally cannot live by break alone, and it in terms of life’s flourishing, it actually may be more blessed to give than to receive. In my project I intend to develop this theoretical account of the religious internalization of altruism through signs of the spirit, and assess empirical data on the extension of community boundaries across ethnic and social barriers via recognition of the spirit’s activity.

Wolfgang Vondey, Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology, Regent University School of Divinity

Project: "The Holy Spirit and Time: Investigations Into the Structure of Scientific and Theological Paradigm Shifts"

Wolfgang Vondey is Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at Regent University, where he currently teaches courses in systematic theology, pneumatology, charismatic renewal theology, and ecumenical theology. He holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Marquette University and a M. Div. from the Church of God Theological Seminary. Wolfgang also received a Master’s degree in Japanese Studies and Media Research from Philipps University, Marburg, Germany, and studied Japanese at Keio University, in Tokyo, Japan, before turning to theology. He served as organizing chair of the Ecumenical Studies Group of the Society for Pentecostal Studies and was the interest group leader until 2005. From 2003-2005 he taught in the theology department at Boston College. He is the author of Heribert Mühlen: His Theology and Praxis, and continues to examine the implications of Mühlen’s writings for questions of pneumatology, ecclesiology and science. His research projects focus on questions of renewal in ecclesiology and pneumatology. He is currently working on a theology of the Holy Spirit in the physical universe.

Project Abstract

This research project examines the theological appropriation of scientific paradigm shifts with particular focus on the replacement of classic Newtonian physics by Einstein’s theory of relativity. The operating research questions are if and how the operation of God as Spirit is also expressed in the scientific laws of physics and, in turn, whether contemporary pneumatology reflects the paradigm shift in the laws of science. The focus of this research is a pneumatological approach to the question of “time.” The phenomenological aspect of this research should reveal that it is not the content but the methodological differences in the scientific and theological approaches that present an impasse to the dialogue. A proposal shall be made that articulates a pneumatological perspective which invites scientific and theological dialogue about the relationship of a pneumatological approach to time and the laws of physics, the implications of the scientific perspective for contemporary pneumatology, and the formulation of a concept of time that is neither exclusively scientific nor theological yet does not abandon the principles of either perspective.

Frederick L. Ware, Assistant Professor of Theology, Howard University School of Divinity

Project: "African American Pentecostalism, Contemporary Science, and Narrative Constructions of Reality"

Dr. Frederick L. Ware, an ordained minister in the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), is assistant professor of theology at Howard University School of Divinity in Washington, DC. He earned his Ph.D. and M.Div. degrees from Vanderbilt University and his B.A. and M.A. degrees in philosophy from the University of Memphis. Prior to Ware's appointment at Howard University, he was assistant professor of religion and philosophy at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Other schools, at which he has taught, are Christian Brothers University, Memphis Theological Seminary, and the University of Memphis. He has taught also in COGIC's Bible college system. He has served congregations in Memphis and Middle Tennessee. Active in ecumenical affairs, he is a participant in the World Council of Churches and Pentecostals consultation. Ware is author of the book Methodologies of Black Theology. He and his wife, Sheila, have two daughters, Kayla and Megan.

Project Abstract

When science and religion meet, religion is construed to mean only mainline traditions. Seldom are the religious experiences of women and racial and ethnic minorities given the opportunity to interface with science. Seeking to address this problem, my project is a contextual approach to the religion/science dialogue. My project is a hermeneutical interpretation of consciousness from the perspectives of African American Pentecostal testimony (narrative) and cognitive neuroscience. My focus is on spirit as "consciousness" and how, through it, humans are oriented to reality. Cognitive neuroscience is at the forefront of the scientific initiative to understand human consciousness and the material bases that underlie it. My project ponders questions about (1) the epistemological status of Pentecostal religious language for shaping consciousness (i.e., awareness of self, the world, and God) and (2) the validity and truth of insights said to be derived from Pentecostal religious experience. A project like this, one that demonstrates Pentecostalism's value, may result in a recovery and appreciation of religiously induced states of consciousness that influence, in positive ways, human behavior, personality, awareness, and adaptation to the physical world.

[Photo: Brad Elliott]

Telford Work, Associate Professor of Theology, Westmont College

Project: "Science in the Pentecostal Cosmic Narrative"

Telford Work is associate professor of theology at Westmont College, author of Living and Active: Scripture in the Economy of Salvation (Eerdmans, 2002) and Exercises in Prayerful Theology (Eerdmans, forthcoming), and contributor and signatory of In One Body through the Cross: the Princeton Proposal for Christian Unity (Eerdmans, 2003). His articles have appeared in Oxford University Press and Eerdmans books, Theology Today, Scottish Journal of Theology, International Journal of Systematic Theology, Pro Ecclesia, Books & Culture, Christianity Today, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly, Perspectives, The New Pantagruel, Studies in Interreligious Dialogue, and Re:generation Quarterly. He is also an associate editor of Pro Ecclesia. His Ph.D. in religion (theology and ethics) is from Duke University. He maintains a website at He and his wife Kim have four children (Jeremy, Daniel, Junia, and Benjamin), making hobbies out of the question.

Project Abstract

Pentecostal sensibilities are trained by the last things rather than just the first things. What is in the universe is significant for the doctrine of creation, but not determinative. What is determinative is what the universe is becoming at the turn of the ages. Charismatic and Pentecostal theology thus offers potential contributions to the current science-and-religion conversation in its distinct respect for the relationship between God and the world in the Spirit’s powerful indwelling in the Church as the center (but not the exclusive terrain) of eschatological divine work. A specifically Pentecostal doctrine of Christ as healer and baptizer with the Holy Spirit funds not just the usual Christian conviction that God acts supernaturally, but a particular eschatology in which the natural and the supernatural are both distinct and incomplete and the Holy Spirit, dwelling in the earthly apostolic fellowship, brings about the cosmic telos among the nations through that fellowship’s normal exercise of his transforming power in signs and wonders. A twofold hypothesis follows: First, while Pentecostalism often suffers from an overly narrow sanctificationist soteriology and an anti-intellectual attitude toward science, in fact its eschatology supports the opposite. Second, the specifically ecclesial focus of the Spirit’s life and activity refuses to marginalize ecclesiology in God-world relationships.

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