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Vol.26, No. 19 Apr. 9, 2001

Hoffman Speaks on Science, Judaism In Final Talk in Lecture Series April 17

By Suzanne Trimel

The fourth and final lecture in the Center for the Study of Science and Religion’s spring lecture series, “Experiencing the Mysterious,” will be presented on Tues., April 17, by Roald Hoffmann, a Nobel laureate in chemistry. He will explore how science, religion and art shape human understanding. Hoffmann, a visiting professor at Columbia this spring, will draw upon his 1997 book, Old Wine, New Flasks: Reflections on Science and Jewish Tradition, co-authored with Shira Leibowitz Schmidt, to make specific connections between Jewish tradition and scientific findings.

In the context of the tale of an ancient pigment, Tyrian purple, which played a ritual role in Jewish religious practice and in a critical biblical rebellion, Hoffmann will examine how scientific knowledge, aesthetics and faith cohabit the human mind. “They speak to each other in the human soul,” he explains. “Yes, sometimes their dialogue is uneasy but it is their intertwined voices which shape true human understanding.”

Hoffmann, a professor at Cornell University since 1965, won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1981. A published poet and playwright, he was born in Poland and is a Holocaust survivor. At Cornell, he has taught primarily undergraduates and nearly every year since he began teaching he has instructed first-year general chemistry.

The Center for the Study of Science and Religion’s lectures, supported by the Templeton Foundation, have received a tremendous public response and interest from major media organizations. Robert Thurman, professor of religion, and the leading interpreter in the West of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, drew more than 500 people on April 3 for his inspirational talk on Buddhism and science. More than 400 people each attended the first two lectures in the series last month by bioethicist Ruth Fischbach and Philip Kitcher, philosophy professor. Lectures are Webcast at www.columbia.edu/cu/cssr.

The goal of the series, according to Robert Pollack, professor of biological sciences and director of the center, is to promote inter-disciplinary and inter-religious dialogue and research between humanistic disciplines and the physical, biological and human sciences. “As the pace of scientific discovery and technological innovation accelerates, there is an urgent need to reflect thoughtfully about these epic changes and challenges in a constructive dialogue involving the humanistic disciplines and the world’s religious traditions,” said Pollack, author of the newly published, The Faith of Biology and the Biology of Faith.

The Hoffmann lecture begins at 6 p.m. in the Davis Auditorium of the Schapiro Center for Engineering and Physical Science Research.