Mar 17, 2015

Tibetan Monks Go to College: STEM and Religion

Six years ago, I stumbled across a New York Times article about Tibetan monks and nuns learning science. It was part of the Dalai Lama's attempt to keep "modern and relevant" while honoring the Buddhist tradition. In a time when religion is often pitted as the antithesis of science and math, it was inspiring to see a spiritual leader articulate the commonalities, citing "investigative approaches with the same greater goal of seeking truth."
image by ndigit, via

Since then, more has been publicized on the experience of the monks as they journeyed to Emory University to learn more and of the professors who were challenged by students with limited English and formal education but who are "sophisticated adult learners" who are used to working through difficult ideas and analyzing contradictory observations and teachings. One of the most fascinating things is how do you teach students with no former experience with the scientific method.

You can see samples of the lessons and activities on their Science for Monks website, and a video about the experience at Emory University. While the monks certainly learned (and challenged) their science professors, the professors learned quite a bit from the monks as is documented by Chris Impey's Humble Before the Void which certainly looks like an interesting read for those interested in the intersection of religion, science, and philosophy.

So for those who have added R to their coursework in STEM, this project may provide an interesting resource and perspective.