Instructor: Mackenzie Brown
Office: Chapman Center 250 C
Hours: MWF 9:30-11:30; MW 2:00-4:00; and by appointment
Phone:  x-8429

Trinity University

This class is normally offered every other spring semester, in odd years


This course will examine a variety of selected issues related to the encounter between modern science and the religions of China and Japan, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. With each of these we shall briefly examine the historical, philosophical, political, religious, social, and traditional scientific/technological backgrounds relevant to the reception and impact of modern science (and technology) introduced into these cultures from the European West, often as an instrument of imperialistic and missionary enterprise.

Among the specific topics to be investigated are comparisons of traditional sciences, like traditional medical and astronomical/astrological systems, with their modern counterparts. Such comparisons will involve examination of underlying assumptions in the traditional and modern systems, for instance regarding views of human nature, the nature of illness, and the relation of society to the cosmos. To avoid simplistic analyses and miscomprehension, these comparisons must be embedded in an historically sensitive appreciation of the cultural contexts of traditional religious and modern scientific world views and their ideas relevant to an understanding of the physical world.

In addition to specific topics of comparison, five major themes will run throughout the course. The first is whether modern science is truly a universal human enterprise, transcending all cultural specificity, including its own cultural roots in the West. Or is modern science merely Western science, that is, merely one of many "ethnosciences"? And correlatively, what sense does it make to talk of Chinese science, or Islamic, or Hindu (Vedic) science?

The second question concerns the fact that the Scientific Revolution occurred in the West, not in the Asian cultures. Why was this so? This question is especially intriguing in that the Asian cultures were often, in many ways, more scientifically and technologically advanced in the several centuries immediately preceding the Scientific Revolution in the West than the European countries themselves. Scholars generally accept the legitimacy of asking why the Scientific Revolution occurred in Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. But there is little consensus as to whether the negative forms of the question--that is, why did the Scientific Revolution NOT occur in China, or in the Islamic Middle East, or in India--are legitimate questions.

Third, to what extent is modern science by its fundamental nature inextricably bound to an imperialistic imperative, to a will to power and violence, to an ammoral disregard for the sanctity of life? These are highly relevant issues given the role of modern science and technology in the colonial enterprises of European countries in Asia during the last few centuries. The embeddedness of modern science in European imperialism provoked complex responses among the colonized. In European civilization, the Scientific Revolution created a variety of major tensions and conflicts between traditional religious and philosophical ways of thinking and social values, on the one hand, and the world view underlying the emerging modern science, on the other. But modern science emerged internally in the West; it was not thrust upon European culture by a dominating foreign power. In Asia, modern science was a foreign commodity, and thus Asian responses to it often were as much responses to European domination as to the challenges modern science brings to any traditionally based culture. And the reactions were further complicated by the strong missionary effort that accompanied political and economic exploitation.

Fourth, the course will examine what illumination or insights the Asian instances can provide regarding the relationship between religion and modern science in general. Do the Asian examples suggest that religion and modern science are ultimately conflicting world views? Or are they simply involved in fundamentally different sorts of human inquiry and activity? Or do the Asian experiences suggest the need for some sort of fuller integration of religion and science?

Finally, is Darwinism as controversial for the Asian traditions of India, China, and Japan as it is for the Abrahamic traditions? Does the assumption that humankind is created in the image of God create a dilemma for the Abrahamic traditions that is absent in those Asian traditions that accept that human beings are simply reincarnated animals? Or in different words, is spiritual evolution (as manifested in the notion of karma and rebirth) compatible with Darwinian evolution?

It is the highest hope of the instructor that this course will provide a foundation for years to come of further inquiry, resulting in the ongoing reformulation of whatever tentative views and understandings are developed during the course of this semester.


There will be two different class formats throughout the semester: LECTURES and DISCUSSIONS, with a fair amount of overlap in the two.  That is, there may well be considerable discussion on a lecture day, and some lecturing on a discussion day.    

For most weeks, there will be two LECTURES and one DISCUSSION class.  On LECTURE days, the instructor will be responsible for presenting materials and for setting any discussion topic(s).   

There are eleven DISCUSSION days.  The topics for discussion will focus on the readings assigned for the day (including readings assigned for preceding days but relevant to the specific topic), along with any relevant prior class presentations.  Accordingly, it is essential that students be prepared for discussion on these days by having completed the readings pertaining to the particular day's topic, and having answered some preliminary questions about the reading.  To assure that students attending these DISCUSSION classes are indeed prepared to discuss, admission to these DISCUSSION classes is by ticket only.  These admission tickets are explained under the "WRITING AND SPEAKING REQUIREMENTS--2) Admission Tickets" below.

Lecture and discussions in all classes will be directed to the development of critical thinking and reflection.  Such an enterprise necessitates not only consideration of diverse and opposing viewpoints, but also an empathetic entering into--however temporarily and tentatively--those perspectives different from one's own.  At times, the discussion will focus on two opposing views or opposing cultural and religious interpretations of scientific theories and discoveries. Consideration of such opposing views will entail careful probing for the underlying assumptions, political, religious and metaphysical, of the authors, as well as investigation of the logical and rhetorical steps by which they construct their interpretations.  Such investigation is intended to engender a general intellectual humility with regards to the "certainty" we often feel about our particular viewpoints and world views, and thus to enhance respect for other perspectives.  Not infrequently the instructor may ask students for the evidence or grounds for a given assertion made in class, followed up by questions regarding the strengths/weaknesses of the evidence and/or the reasons why one has come to accept such grounds.  In these discussions, as throughout the class, there will be no right answers but only an insistence on critical reflection in an atmosphere of respectful, dialogic encounter, both with the authors we read and with the other participants in the class.


The oral and written requirements for the course are listed below, with percentage of the semester grade for each assignment indicated.  All written work for the course, including the exams, admission tickets, term project including the PowerPoint presentation, and notifications, must be submitted to the instructor on the T-Learn site for the course.

1) Class participation. Respectful and informed participation in class discussions is required. Participation will count for 10% of the semester grade (5% for the first half of the course, and 5% for the second half).

2) Admission tickets. As indicated in the Format of the Course section above, there are eleven DISCUSSION days throughout the semester.  Admission to these DISCUSSION classes is by ticket only. Three tickets are free: simply submit a free pass on the T-Learn site for the day's discussion. IT IS STILL EXPECTED THAT YOU WILL HAVE DONE THE READING FOR THE DAY. 

Once you have used up a total of three free passes, then you must submit a normal admission ticket to attend class on a DISCUSSION day.  It would be wise not to use all your free passes early in the semester, and to save some for late in the semester.   In any case, students are responsible for the materials assigned for DISCUSSION classes, as well as for the contents of the discussions themselves. Thus, consistent attendance at, and participation in, the DISCUSSION classes will contribute significantly to the grades on the exams, and on the term project.

The analysis of readings (normal admission tickets) will count 1 point (1% of final grade) each, for a total of 8 points.  

3) Exams.  Three section exams are required. Each of the section exams will count 20% each of the semester grade. The exams are to be done any time during a specified period extending over a few days. These specified periods for each exam are indicated below.

For these exams you will be responsible for a number of terms that are given in the Vocabulary (see navigation bar at the left on the home page for the course).

4) Term project. A term project is required.  It will count 20% of the final grade.

In preparing for your term project you will be asked to take an on-line assessment of your understanding of academic integrity, and to certify that you have taken the assessment and understand its meaning regarding what constitutes plagiarism.  This certification is due by Friday, March 25, at the latest. For further information on academic integrity, please see below. 

5) Attendance at two major University events, one of which must be Nobel Laureate John Mather's lecture on January 31, 7:30 p.m., Laurie Auditorium. The other event should be from any of the Lecture Series or Arts Enrichment Series listed in the Trinity University Calendar of Events for the Spring 2011. Each event will count 1% of the final grade.

The dates for the exams and for the term project deadlines (also included in the course outlines) are:


  • monday, february 14, 1:30 p.m. until FRIday, Febraury 18, 5:00 p.m. - FIRST section EXAM (ON introduction and chinese religion and science)
  • monday, march 21, 1:30 p.m. until friday, march 25, 5:00 p.m. - second exam (on islam and science)
  • friday, april 24, 1:30 p.m. until monday, 11:00 p.m.: third exam (on hinduism and science)

 Term Project:

  • friday, March 25: ACADEMIC INTEGRITY STATEMENT is DUE BY 5:00 P.M.
  • monday, april 18: Preliminary outline of issues, vocabulary terms, and critical questions on D. Lopez, Buddhism and Science, due by 5:00 p.m.
  • Monday through Friday, April 25-29: consultations with the instructor.
  • friday, may 6: term project due at 3:00 p.m.

Summary of writing and speaking requirements:

  • Class participation:  10% of the semester grade
  • Admission Tickets 8%
  • Three mid-course exams: 60% (20% each)
  • Attendance at two major Trinity lectures or presentations 2%
  • Term project: 20%

Schedule of discussion days (also included in the course outlines):

  • Friday, January 21          Western Science or Modern Science?
  • Friday, January 28          Traditional Chinese Cosmogony: religious, philosophical, or scientific?
  • Friday, February 4           Traditional Chinese Medicine: metaphyscial theory and effectiveness
  • Friday, February 11         The Needham Puzzle
  • Friday, February 25          Seeking a Usable Past and the Design Argument in the Islamic tradition
  • Monday, March 7             Anti-evolutionism and guided evolutionism in Islam
  • Friday, March 11               The absence of a scientific revolution in China and Islam
  • Wednesday, March 30     Ayur Veda meets the New Age
  • Monday, April 11              Atomic Ganeshas and other nuclear issues
  • Friday, April 15                  Is "Vedic Science" science?  
  • Wednesday, April 20         Is Modern Science simply one more "ethnoscience"?


Attendance is strongly encouraged but not required, with one exception. Friday, April 29, is required for course evaluations. Even though attendance is otherwise not required, there is a direct correlation between consistent attendance and the grade for the course. Since you are responsible for materials discussed both during presentation days and the discussion days, if you miss more than a class or two, you will be putting yourelf at a considerable disadvantage on the exams and for the term project. If due to illness or school sponsored activities you need to miss class, you should find out from classmates what was discussed and then contact the instructor with any questions you may have about the missed class.


Students are expected to be thoroughly familiar with Trinity's Honor Code. With increasing use of Internet sources and "cut and paste" technology, it is all too easy to plagiarize the work of others.  This can happen especially when you are rushed, tired, and in general stressed out. Whether intentional, or due simply to "forgetting" to include proper citations, or especially to failing to exercise due caution in using your own wording when paraphrasing another's words, or neglecting to indicate by quotation marks the actual words of another author, it is still plagiarism! 

Needless to say, there are other forms of academic dishonesty than plagiarizing from the Internet.  Please be aware of the behaviors that constitute violations of academic integrity in its various forms.  If you have any questions or doubts regarding a particular assignment for this class, whether how to document an Internet source properly , or what help you may or may not receive on an exam, or anything else, PLEASE, ASK THE INSTRUCTOR! 


There are three required texts for the class, available at the bookstore:

COURSE OUTLINE: Available only to students registered for the class. Please contact the instructor at if you wish further information.