Is science part of spirituality?

Forum at the U of W wades into age-old philosophical discussion

Are science and spirituality mutually exclusive categories, or are they inclusive? Anupam Sharma, organizer of a public forum held at the University of Winnipeg’s Convocation Hall from 1:00 - 4:30 pm on January 29, is asking just that. 

The forum, entitled “Science within Spirituality: Harmonization or Compartmentalization?”, features a panel discussion with members representing different world perspectives such as First Nations, Christian, Hindu and Islamic.

“Basically the idea is to explore the proposition [of] science within spirituality. It’s not a religious discussion per se, but it’s more a scientific and philosophical discussion about science within spirituality,” Sharma explains.

Sharma is the Director of Operations at the Dakota Ojibway Tribal Council, and the Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors of the India Centre for Academic, Business and Community Excellence at the University of Winnipeg. Both organizations are partnering to present the event. 

The idea for the forum began to develop during a conversation with one of Sharma’s colleagues, Robert Daniels, Chief Executive Officer at the Dakota Ojibway Tribal Council.

Their discussion centered around the “similarities that you saw between aboriginal cultures; first nations on one hand, and Hindu culture, or Indian tradition on the other,” says Sharma. 

Another conversation, between Sharma and Dr. Singal, the Director of the Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences, sparked dialogue around the role of rationality in spiritual practices. An example is the similarity between the aboriginal traditions of smudging, and the use of incense in Hindu spirituality. 

“The underlying reason for them is the same; its purification,” he says. The forum will discuss more similarities between spiritual practices, and the scientific rationale behind them.

The forum is free and open to the public, providing anyone interested a chance to engage in the discussion. The panel includes First Nations perspectives from John Salabye and tentatively Dr. Leroy Little Bear; a Christian perspective from Dr. Jane Barter Moulaison and also Hindu Priest and pundit Venkat Machiraju.

“In many ways religions have given rise to science as we know today,” says Moulaison, who hopes the event will challenge the stereotype that religion and science are polar opposites.

Apart from Sharma’s philosophical conversations with colleagues, the forum takes its “cue” from the book A Fair Country by John Ralston Saul. Saul argues that the societal makeup of Canada, including our values, are strongly rooted in Metis and Aboriginal ideas.

“The other layer to this, I think a fascinating layer, is the fact that you have a Canadian society that is in a major transformation by way of immigration on one hand and the play of multicultural policies over the last forty years,” Sharma says. “So what is this future society going to look like? It’s a richer, diverse society.”

Published in Volume 68, Number 17 of The Uniter (January 22, 2014)

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