The Forum's year-long exploration of religion launches with a program featuring distinguished philosopher and cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett and noted evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson.
They are joined by additional participants to discuss questions such as: What is the nature and purpose of religion? Is it a product of our evolution and something we can now do without? Is it a system of belief and practice that humans require in order to build communities and construct meaning for their lives? What in human make-up renders religion possible? How has religious belief developed and changed over the years, and how does it continue to do so?
Dr. Daniel Dennett received his B.A. in Philosophy from Harvard University in 1963, and earned his Doctorate in Philosophy at Oxford University in 1965. After teaching at U.C. Irvine for six years, Dennett joined the faculty at Tufts University in 1971, where he is now a Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University.
Dennett has written extensively about the mind, consciousness, and evolution. He published his first book, Content and Consciousness, in 1969 and is perhaps best known for his 1995 book, Darwin's Dangerous Idea, which explores the implications of natural selection on humanity's place in the universe. He has also published more than one hundred scholarly articles in professional journals, ranging from Behavioral and Brain Sciences to Poetics Today.
John F. Haught (Ph.D. Catholic University, 1970), is Senior Fellow, Science & Religion, Woodstock Theological Center, Georgetown University. He was formerly Professor in the Department of Theology at Georgetown University (1970-2005) and Chair (1990-95).
His area of specialization is systematic theology, with a particular interest in issues pertaining to science, cosmology, evolution, ecology, and religion.
William P. Kelly
William P. Kelly was appointed president of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York on July 1, 2005. From 1998 through June 2005, he served as the Graduate Center's provost and senior vice president, a tenure that was marked by the recruitment of a remarkable cadre of internationally renowned scholars to the school's faculty.
A distinguished American literature scholar and an expert on the works of James Fenimore Cooper, Dr. Kelly's books include Plotting America's Past: Fenimore Cooper and the Leatherstocking Tales (Southern Illinois University Press), and a work in progress, Exhibiting Nature: Scientific Culture and The American Museum of Natural History.
His numerous articles and reviews have appeared in a broad range of publications including the New York Times Book Review, The American Scholar, and the Journal of Western History, and he is the editor of the Random House edition of The Selected Works of Washington Irving and the Oxford University Press edition of The Pathfinder.
Dr. Kelly graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University in 1971, where he won the David Bowers Prize in American Studies. He was named Outstanding Graduate Student in English at Indiana University, where he received his Ph.D. in 1976. Dr. Kelly also holds a diploma in intellectual history from Cambridge University and in 1980 received a Fulbright Fellowship to France, where he subsequently became visiting professor at the University of Paris.
He was also executive director of the CUNY/Paris Exchange Program and, in 2003, was named Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Palmes Academiques by the French Ministry of Education in recognition of his contributions to Franco-American educational and cultural relations.
Gustav Niebuhr is an associate professor of Religion and the Media, director of the Religion and Society Program, director of the Carnegie Religion and Media Minor, and co-director of the Luce Project in Religion, Media, and International Relations at Syracuse University.
Over a twenty-year career in journalism, most recently at the New York Times and, prior to that, at the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and the Atlanta Journal/Constitution, Gustav Niebuhr has established a reputation as a leading writer about American religion. He is a frequent guest blogger on the Washington Post's "On Faith" column, and he also does occasional commentaries on religion for the National Public Radio program "All Things Considered."
His most recent book, Beyond Tolerance: Searching for Interfaith Understanding in America, will be published in August.
David Sloan Wilson
David Sloan Wilson uses evolutionary theory to explain all aspects of humanity in addition to the rest of life, as he recounts for a general audience in Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin's Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives (Bantam 2007). He is a distinguished professor of biology and anthropology at Binghamton University, part of the State University of New York.
He publishes in anthropology, psychology, and philosophy journals in addition to his mainstream biological research. His academic books include Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior (with Elliott Sober, Harvard 1998), Darwin's Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society (Chicago, 2002), and The Literary Animal: Evolution and the Nature of Narrative (co-edited with Jonathan Gottschall, Northwestern 2005). Wilson also directs EvoS, a campus-wide program that uses evolutionary theory as a common language for the unification of knowledge.