Special Issue "The Mutual Influence of Religion and Science in the Human Understanding and Exploration of Outer Space"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (15 October 2020).

Special Issue Editors

Prof. Dr. Deana L. Weibel
Website
Guest Editor
Anthropology Department and Religious Studies Program, Grand Valley State University, Allendale, MI. 49548, USA
Interests: religious aspects of and motivations for space exploration; sacred places and objects; pilgrimage; tourism; expeditions; experiential religion; awe
Mr. Glen E. Swanson
Website
Guest Editor
The Center for Scholastic Programming in Aerospace Education (CSPACE)
Interests: history of space exploration; history of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration; history of science fiction; public history; history education

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Ever since human beings first began to stand upright (and possibly even earlier), they have exhibited a strong curiosity about the sky, particularly the night sky with its spread of Milky Way stars, ever-changing moon, wandering planets, predictable constellations, and surprise appearances by comets and meteorites. Because the sky was unreachable, outer space was often synonymous with mysterious supernatural entities thought to influence human life, whether gods, spirits, or ancestors.

By the twentieth century, not only did humans understand more about the sky and space, they had reached the once-impossible goal of going beyond the Earth’s atmosphere and actually beginning to venture, slowly and hesitantly, into space itself. Space lost some of its mystery and became a sphere better explained by science. Religious belief did not disappear, however, and new human understandings of and experiences in outer space had an impact on religious practice. In the United States, the longing for a lost time of westward movement and trail-blazing may have stoked an interest in space as a “new frontier” or “new Jerusalem” (Newell 2019), with the “race for the moon” against the Soviet Union further encouraging Americans to think about space in religious terms while also, perhaps, appearing to contribute to the secularization of a nation (Oliver 2013). The experience of venturing into space may have led to epiphanies among astronauts (White 1987, Mitchell 1996) or have parallels with pilgrimage (Weibel 2015a, 2015b). Russian cosmonauts in recent years have placed icons of Russian Orthodox saints on the walls of the International Space Station (Gorman and Walsh 2018). Even the dedication of thousands of space workers and supporters of space exploration can be understood in religious terms (Launius 2013, Harrison 2014). Finally, a few have made an attempt to predict the characteristics of religious life in human settlements beyond the Earth (Waltemathe 2018, Oviedo 2019, Smith 2019).

At the same time, supernatural and religious understandings of space among lay people remain strong. Astrology influences many (Campion 2012), various societies interpret space through a religious lens (Govender 2009, Tomaquin 2013), certain religious groups are more likely than others to see a future in space (Ambrosius 2015), and science fiction movies and television frequently consider what religion in space settlements might look like some day (Neumann 2011). The exploration of the relationship between ideas about religion and ideas about space can focus, then, on humans currently living in space, but also on humans on Earth.

While good preliminary research has been carried out on the relationship between scientific and religious notions about outer space, this topic is fairly new, relatively under-studied, and important to investigate. Religious and scientific thought are two major arenas where humans speculate and seek answers, and both are often aimed at understanding the place of Earth, and human society, in the greater cosmos. We know little about how these two realms of conjecture interact to inform each other, but the point where they overlap in our ideas about the unearthly, the celestial, and the ethereal is a good place to concentrate our efforts.

The articles in this Special Issue of Religions will contribute to this project by examining how religious and scientific notions held about outer space work together in human societies and in the minds of individual human beings. Some of the questions considered in this endeavour include:

  • What does the practice of religion in space look like, and how will it change if and when humans permanently reside in space?
  • How do we use religion to help us understand space, and in what contexts do we do so?
  • How might religious ideas help us conceptualize and plan for the human exploration and settlement of space?
  • In what ways is the human effort to explore space religious in nature?
  • Will the activity of space tourism ever transform into (or be accompanied by) space pilgrimage?
  • To what extent do ideas about outer space, the stars, and space travel exist within contemporary and past religious communities?
  • What is the relationship between symbolic and factual representations of outer space?
  • How do religious and scientific notions about space inter-relate in non-Western societies?
  • How would finding evidence of past or current life beyond our own planet affect religious views or teachings?
  • How does the pro-space movement’s utopian vision of building a better society in space relate to religious or secular visions of utopia? Are they unique or do they borrow from others?

Our goal in this project is to assemble a collection of multidisciplinary papers (drawing from the social sciences, physical sciences, religious studies, humanities, etc.) that will serve as a strong foundation for future research into the relationship between religious and scientific ideas about outer space. By incorporating a wide variety of fields and approaches, this Special Issue will help us to reveal the diverse ways scientific ideas about outer space inform religion and the varied means by which religious ideas influence scientific conceptions of outer space.

Prof. Dr. Deana L. Weibel
Mr. Glen E. Swanson
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Religions is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1000 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • religion
  • outer space
  • space exploration
  • cognition
  • culture
  • history
  • science

Published Papers (2 papers)

Order results
Result details
Select all
Export citation of selected articles as:

Research

Open AccessArticle
The Overview Effect and the Ultraview Effect: How Extreme Experiences in/of Outer Space Influence Religious Beliefs in Astronauts
Religions 2020, 11(8), 418; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11080418 - 13 Aug 2020
Abstract
This paper, based mainly on astronauts’ first-person writings, historical documents, and my own ethnographic interviews with nine astronauts conducted between 2004 and 2020, explores how encountering the earth and other celestial objects in ways never before experienced by human beings has influenced some [...] Read more.
This paper, based mainly on astronauts’ first-person writings, historical documents, and my own ethnographic interviews with nine astronauts conducted between 2004 and 2020, explores how encountering the earth and other celestial objects in ways never before experienced by human beings has influenced some astronauts’ cosmological understandings. Following the work of Timothy Morton, the earth and other heavenly bodies can be understood as “hyperobjects”, entities that are distributed across time and space in ways that make them difficult for human beings to accurately understand, but whose existence is becoming increasingly detectable to us. Astronauts in outer space are able to perceive celestial objects from vantages literally unavailable on earth, which has often (but not always) had a profound influence on their understandings of humanity, life, and the universe itself. Frank Wright’s term, the “overview effect”, describes a cognitive shift resulting from seeing the Earth from space that increases some astronauts’ sense of connection to humanity, God, or other powerful forces. Following NASA convention (NASA Style Guide, 2012), I will capitalize both Earth and Moon, but will leave all quotations in their original style. The “ultraview effect” is a term I introduce here to describe the parallel experience of viewing the Milky Way galaxy from the Moon’s orbit (a view described reverently by one respondent as a “something I was not ready for”) that can result in strong convictions about the prevalence of life in the universe or even unorthodox beliefs about the origins of humanity. I will compare Morton’s ideas about humanity’s increased awareness of hyperobjects with Joye and Verpooten’s work on awe in response to “bigness”, tying both to astronauts’ lived experiences in order to demonstrate the usefulness of ethnographic data in this context, discuss how human experiences in outer space might influence religious practices and beliefs, and suggest that encounters with hyperobjects hold the potential to be socially beneficial. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Religion, Science, and Space Exploration from a Non-Western Perspective
Religions 2020, 11(8), 397; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11080397 - 03 Aug 2020
Abstract
Religion and science are often set up as polar opposites in Western philosophical and religious discourse and seen as representing different epistemological perspectives that juxtapose rationality with faith. Space exploration is largely viewed as a scientific and engineering problem and, thus, has tended [...] Read more.
Religion and science are often set up as polar opposites in Western philosophical and religious discourse and seen as representing different epistemological perspectives that juxtapose rationality with faith. Space exploration is largely viewed as a scientific and engineering problem and, thus, has tended to set aside the issue of religion as it relates to human movement off-planet. However, as we have moved increasingly toward the idea of colonization of the Moon and Mars, social scientists and philosophers have increasingly come to recognize that human movement into space also needs to be understood as a social phenomenon. As a social phenomenon, there is an inherent necessity to consider how religion may play a role in or influence the process of human exploration and settlement of space. However, what do we mean when we say “religion?” One of the fundamental problems of thinking about the relationship between religion, science, and space exploration is that the meaning of the word religion is rarely well-defined. Do we mean faith-based religions such as Christianity or Islam? Or do we mean practice-based religions such as Shinto and some forms of Buddhism? This paper will explore the question of religion and science from the perspective of Japanese religions as a way of problematizing the manner in which we think about and define religion as it relates to the practice of space exploration. Full article
Back to TopTop