CASIRAS and Its Partners by Karl E. Peters
The Center for Advanced Study in Religion and Science is a sister organization of IRAS, the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science. With IRAS it co-publishes Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science through a Joint Publication Board. CASIRAS also is a partner with the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, in founding and overseeing the Zygon Center for Religion and Science (ZCRS). This article shares some of my thoughts on the relationship of these organizations and sketches some of the history of CASIRAS. i
To begin it may help to clarify the difference between IRAS and CASIRAS. While the fundamental purposes of the two organizations are the same, according to Ralph Burhoe (who may be regarded as the founder of IRAS, CASIRAS, and Zygon)ii there is a “difference in institutional character and function . . . . IRAS is an open-membership, voluntary organization which holds conferences and which may be joined by persons concerned with meetings and conferences for general purposes of integrating religion and science. . . . CASIRAS is a closed, self-perpetuating group, established more specifically to cooperate as an agent affiliated with educational institutions and theological schools for conducting advanced studies and teaching at various levels from postdoctoral, to predoctoral, to professional-degree programs involved in developing religious understanding and practice in the light of the sciences, more or less akin to the development of medical understanding and education in the light of the sciences”iii. In other words, CASIRAS is an educational and research center. This is borne out by its early history.
How did this relationship between IRAS and CASIRAS come to be? For the first decade of its history, IRAS was the only organization devoted to constructively reforming religious thought and practice in the context of current scientific understandings. Even before the founding of IRAS in 1954, in fact since about 1949, Burhoe and others like Henry Nelson Wieman were interested in establishing a journal of science and religion.iv Funding was not available for this. IRAS leaders did publish two books based on IRAS Star Island Conferences: Science Ponders Religion ed. Harlow Shapley, and Religion Ponders Science, ed. Edwin Prince Booth. Still, the dream of a journal for publishable papers from IRAS conferences and elsewhere remained unfulfilled.
Then, in the early 1960s Meadville/Lombard Theological School, under the leadership of its president Malcolm R. Sutherland, Jr., became interested in the work of Burhoe and IRAS. Meadville was a Unitarian-Universalist Seminary affiliated with the University of Chicago, and Sutherland, Sanborn Brown, Burhoe and others became interested in establishing a Center for Advanced Study in Theology and Science at the school. With the approval of the Meadville Board of Trustees this Center (CASTS) was established with an inaugural symposium in 1965. Burhoe moved from Boston, where he was the Executive Director of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, to Chicago to become a Meadville Professor and the Director of CASTS. At the same time CASTS and IRAS joined together, with the support of Meadville, to establish Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science with Burhoe as the Founding Editor.
The Center itself was established in its own home at 5700 S. Woodlawn in October, 1966. Its first Fellows arrived that autumn. The first full-time, full-year Fellows were George Riggan, Riley Professor of Systematic Theology at Hartford Seminary Foundation; Donald Gentner, professor of chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley; Kenneth Cauthen, professor of theology from the Crozer Divinity School faculty in Rochester, NY; Henry Nelson Wieman, professor at the University of Chicago; and John Ruskin Clark, a Unitarian-Universalist minister from San Diego.” vi
A part of CASTS’s mission was to co-publish Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science in partnership with the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science (IRAS). This publishing venture was through a Joint Publication Board with representatives from both CASTS and IRAS. Thus at its inception the organization now known as CASIRAS was related to two other organizations, Meadville and IRAS. Yet, it had its own purpose as a center for advanced study, namely to develop research and educational programs for faculty and students in science and religion.
In 1972-1973, when Meadville/Lombard could no longer support CASTS, it was reorganized as CASIRAS, an independent non-profit center for advanced study, incorporated in the State of New York. At that time the editorial office of Zygon moved from Meadville/Lombard to the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, and there CASIRAS offered an Advanced Seminar in Religion and Science headed by Ralph Burhoe and Philip Hefner. The seminar began at Meadville in the late 1960s. CASIRAS also continued the CASTS tradition of Fellows, and with IRAS it continued to co-publish Zygon.
In 1979 Karl Peters became editor of the journal, and the editorial office of Zygon moved to Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. Rollins joined IRAS and CASIRAS in the publishing venture, while LSTC continued to be the home of CASIRAS and the Advanced Seminar.
In 1989, Philip Hefner succeeded Peters as the Editor-in-Chief of Zygon and the editorial office returned to Chicago and LSTC. At the same time Burhoe, LSTC president William Lesher, and Hefner led an effort that established the Chicago Center for Religion and Science. CASIRAS and LSTC joined together as formal partners that sponsored CCRS.
In 1999 the Chicago Center was renamed the Zygon Center for Religion and Science (ZCRS) as a way to mark the large bequest made to CCRS by Ralph Wendell Burhoe (1911-1997) and to signify that it was not only a local center. CCRS had organized science and religion sessions at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago (1993). Reflecting further its international self-understanding, ZCRS organized PWR sessions in Capetown, South Africa (1999) and in Barcelona, Spain (2003).
From 1973 through 2000 the structure of CASIRAS consisted of people invited by the Board to be members, who in turn elected members to the Board. Some of the Board and the members also were Fellows. Then in 2001 when Solomon Katz was president, CASIRAS was reorganized into its present form in order to accommodate the legal requirements involved with the “Burhoe Trust,” which Burhoe set up before his death to support CASIRAS, the Zygon Journal and the Zygon Center. Always a self-perpetuating Board, CASIRAS entered into a special, although revocable, relationship with LSTC, which is empowered to select 25% of the Board members. The primary legal purpose of the Board is to oversee three endowments from the Burhoe Trust (one for the Zygon Center, one for the Zygon Journal, and one for CASIRAS itself). The former members of CASIRAS were made Fellows with occasional responsibility for advising the Board.
The developments from 1989 through 2001 strengthened the relationships between CASIRAS and ZCRS, so that some people regard ZCRS as the active program arm of CASIRAS. In many ways the program of ZCRS resembles that of the original CASTS and Meadville/Lombard. Both have educational, research, and community outreach components.
In the course of distributing funds from the ZCRS Burhoe endowment during its annual Board meeting, CASIRAS Board members engage in conversation with and offer suggestions to the leadership of ZCRS. Further, some members of the CASIRAS Board are on the Advisory Committee of ZCRS, while others regularly participate in ZCRS seminars and classes. The relationship between CASIRAS and ZCRS is both a legal arrangement but also a networking of persons who are involved in both organizations.
At the same time, CASIRAS continues its relationship with IRAS as the co-publisher of Zygon. The publishing enterprise is formally independent of any relationships with ZCRS and LSTC. However, the editorial office of the journal is located at LSTC—actually an office shared with the staff of ZCRS—and LSTC provides that office space, handles the Burhoe Endowment for the Zygon Journal, and does the accounting for the Journal.
Throughout its lifetime CASIRAS has been a significant part of a network of organizations that currently include the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science, the Lutheran School of Theology, and the Zygon Center for Religion and Science. Still, in the midst of these relationships, CASIRAS remains its own organization, legally incorporated in New York State as an independent Center for Advanced Study in Religion and Science.
i. This article is based on my 2009 President’s Report to the CASIRAS Board of Directors. An earlier version was published in the Fall 2011 Newsletter of the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science. Further details can be found in Ralph Wendell Burhoe, “Proposal to Establish and Independent Center for the Advanced Study in Religion and Science,” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, Vol. 7 (September 1972): 168-87, and in an issue celebrating twenty years of CASTS/CASIRAS and Zygon, with articles by Burhoe, “The Center for Advanced Study in Religion and Science, and Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science–a Twenty-Year View,” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, Vol. 22, Issue Supplement (December 1987): 5-19, and Malcolm R. Sutherland, Jr., “Reflections on the First Twenty Years of CASIRAS: a Personal View, Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, Vol. 22, Issue Supplement (December 1987): 20-27. Also of interest are the other articles in this special supplemental issue by George A. Riggan, Don Browning, William E. Lesher, and Karl E. Peters.
ii. Many others were involved in the founding of these organizations. However, in each case Burhoe was the catalyst, organizer, and promoter.
iii. Ralph Wendell Burhoe, “Appendix on the Publishers: IRAS and CASIRAS” in the “Note on the Institutional and Financial Support of Zygon,” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science (March 1975): 120-21.
iv. Ibid., 119.
v. Harlow Shapley, Science Ponders Religion (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1960); Edwin Prince Booth, ed. Religion Ponders Science (New York: Appleton-Century, 1964).
vi. Sutherland, “Reflections,” 23-24.