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General Conference

Faith, Religion, and Scientific Research

Scientific research offers contributions to society, including religion. Find out more about this through the following interview with Dr. Allan Novaes.

Brazil | Felipe Lemos

What is the importance of scientific research? The question becomes even more pertinent in times of so much discussion about the role of studies produced in universities. And within faith-based higher education institutions, such as the centers maintained by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, how can scientific research be viewed?

On October 22–24, the second edition of the Congress of Adventist Scientists will take place, completely online (https://linktr.ee/IICCA). It is a meeting, organized by Adventists with strong academic credentials in Brazil and other countries, with an approach to different areas of human knowledge, always from the perspective of Adventist researchers.

Taking advantage of this event, the South American Adventist Agency (ASN) decided to talk about the issue of faith and scientific research. The interviewee is Allan Macedo de Novaes. He is a theologian and journalist who graduated from the Adventist University Center of São Paulo (UNASP), attained a master’s degree in Social Communication from the Methodist University of Sao Paulo (UMESP), and a doctorate in Science of Religion from the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo (PUC-SP). For a period, he was a visiting researcher at Andrews University and the University of Notre Dame. He currently works as dean of Research and Institutional Development and professor of the Master’s in Health Promotion and the Faculty of Theology at UNASP.

Contribution of Scientific Research

How do you see the contribution of scientific research, carried out in faith-based universities, benefiting people's spiritual development?

Spiritual development is associated with four dimensions of human-life relationships: relationship with oneself (self-awareness, self-assertion, and self-criticism), relationship with the other (human beings), relationship with the world (nature and social structures), and relationship with the divine (God and spiritual things).

Given this classification, scientific knowledge is a useful and important element to support and assist growth in these dimensions that I have described. Based on scientific investigations and the accumulation of knowledge in academic literature, we find not only the shared stories of those who have experienced mistakes, successes, and challenges of spiritual growth in these four dimensions, but we also find concepts, theories, and patterns that can point out paths and crucial approaches to understanding yourself, the other, the world around you, and spiritual things.

We must remember that in addition to the maximum revelation already given to humanity—the person of Jesus—together with the special revelation in the Holy Scriptures, God also revealed Himself through the natural world, the events of history, and human consciousness and thought. Though, in these last three cases, the revelation has become blurred by the phenomenon of sin. Since God's revelation is somewhat diffuse, with a different hierarchy and reliability in its forms, we understand that good science can promote a better understanding of the existence of the complex cosmic conflict between good and evil and God's plan to redeem humanity.

Impacts for the Religious Organization

At the institutional level, are there also impacts for a religious organization on scientific research? 

It is noteworthy that scientific knowledge and research collaborate not only on a personal level but also on an institutional level. The religious organization that uses a university as a producer of information, data, and research gains a strategic ally for planning, analysis, and decision-making.

The science produced by a faith-based university provides the church with tools, data, and a theoretical-critical repertoire to reflect more on itself—on its identity, mission, theology, and role in society. In the end, to produce and trust the discoveries of science carried out under the biblical-Christian worldview is to recognize, as the saying goes, that "God will not do for us what He has given us the ability to do for ourselves."

Significant Advances 

In which areas have you noticed great advances in terms of research carried out in Adventist institutions in Brazil and around the world?

In terms of Brazil, due to contacts with peers and participation in church events, among other observations, it seems to me that the areas of theology, health, and education are still the fields with the largest number of allocated Adventist researchers and the largest amount of studies and publications.

This trio has its strength linked to the history of our pioneers and the development of the church in its first decades, and this is reflected, even today, in terms of scientific production in Adventist institutions around the world. However, in Brazil, it is possible to say that, in the last two decades, some emerging areas are forming a consistent body of researchers, with publications that have sought to dialogue with our faith, highlighting social communication, law, management/administration, and technology.

Interestingly, if we look at the Brazilian scientific production that has as its object the study of Adventism and which is carried out outside our institutions, the theology-health-education tripod remains as the areas where most are studied about our church. More details about this survey carried out in public and private universities in Brazil can be found in the book O Adventismo na Academia Brasileira, edited by myself and Dr. Rodrigo Follis.

This work ended up giving rise to a project that UNASP will launch later this year and that will bring together, in an online platform, with a search engine, dissertations, and theses that have studied Adventism in Brazil since the 1970s until today. Thus, in addition to scientific production data made by Adventist institutions, we will soon have a mapping of what non-Adventist Brazilian academia has researched about us—which areas are most recurrent, which themes are most investigated, and so on.

Improvements in the Future

Where exactly can Adventist institutions still advance when it comes to scientific research regarding the quality, dissemination, and engagement of young researchers?

I believe that, in addition to strengthening the traditional theology-health-education tripod, it is important to consolidate new areas of research through which the church can be blessed more diversely. For this, it is necessary to continue training new researchers, training them in the most diverse areas of knowledge, always keeping the focus on integrating the Adventist faith with the field of knowledge in question.

Investing in human capital is, without a doubt, imperative for the development of both universities and the church itself. It is up to faith-based universities to train the intellectuals and researchers of the future, who will help the church to think for itself in the face of the challenges that each generation has to deal with. Another key point is scientific dissemination. There is still a very long distance between church and university. They are distinct ecosystems, with their own logic and languages, but with the same mission and purpose.

Therefore, it is necessary to invest in the “translation” of scientific knowledge into a language that administrators, pastors, servants, and, especially members understand and [in which they] see the usefulness and practical, community, and/or ecclesiastical relevance. Pastoral and member access to the great research and studies generated by Adventist universities provide a number of benefits. Among them is the strengthening of the notion that the set of Adventist beliefs always allows for new insights and depth, [as well as] the encouragement of the constant study of the Bible and fundamental themes of Adventism.

Acquiring confessional scientific knowledge in an accessible and popular language, so to speak, allows the church to adjust routes in a faster and more balanced way in the face of important challenges and demands and also to strengthen and/or renew already agreed practices, but which lack more foundation, among other advantages.

This article was originally published on the South American Division’s Portuguese news site

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