About the Trust Institute
In 2006 Stony Brook University was awarded one of two annual Templeton Research Lectures grants, administered by the Philadelphia-based Metanexus Institute. The grants fund three-to-four year projects, providing up to $500,000 to promote important conversations at the forefront of the field of science and religion through interdisciplinary study groups and an annual distinguished lectureship. Projects are selected through an international competition.
The Stony Brook University project is headed by Dr. Robert P. Crease, Chairman of the Department of Philosophy. Stony Brook is taking advantage of this opportunity to establish a Trust Institute, to foster interdisciplinary inquiry into the nature of trust, its theory and practice. The Institute will assist scholars in several different fields seek grants, host conferences, set up curricula, and develop out other initiatives into the theoretical and practical dimensions of this fundamental human affective attunement to others.
The Templeton Research Lectures are made possible by a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation. The mission of the John Templeton Foundation is to pursue new insights at the boundary between theology and science through a rigorous, open-minded and empirically focused methodology, drawing together talented representatives from a wide spectrum of fields of expertise.
Science and religion potentially have much to teach each other about the issue of trust. Yet, for the most part, only religious authors and theologians have addressed the subject consistently and at length. Because the effectiveness of both scientific and religious institutions depends on trusting relationships, clarifying the nature of trust is not only theoretically interesting but has potentially significant practical ramifications.
Trust is central to the practice of both science and religion on many levels: personal, public, and institutional. On a personal level, trust permeates the scientific process insofar as scientists must rely on data, techniques, theories, colleagues, and collaborators. Without trust, the scientific process would grind to a halt like a machine drained of oil. Trust, which lies at the heart of faith, is also omnipresent in religion: between individuals and God, among members of a congregation, and between individuals of congregations and leaders.
Trust also has a public dimension in both science and religion. For personal trust is made possible by publicly encouraged practices and habits of thought that foster trust by encouraging perceptions of integrity.
Finally, both modern science and religion also confront institutional trust issues insofar as their institutions depend on a stable relation with the social world in which they are embedded. Trust is essential to the success of religious institutions at ministering to communities. Trust is essential to the relationship of a scientific institution and the surrounding community because of the capacity of research activities to affect public health and safety.
The issue of trust and modern science has particular urgency. Over the past few years, the issue of trust has erupted into controversy with many scientists charging that the government cannot be trusted to manage science, to accurately portray scientific information, or to accurately describe the risks of hazardous materials. For example, many of America's greatest scientists charge the White House with politicizing scientific research regarding issues as different as global warming and stem cell research. The scars---and the political and policy decisions--- from this debate are unlikely to heal soon.
Religious institutions, unlike scientific institutions, produce no potentially hazardous material product or research, yet recent scandals, involving sexual abuse and financial malfeasance have created perceptions of danger and undermined relations between institutions and their constituencies. Breakdowns of trust in religious institutions are different from those involving science, though some remarkable parallels emerge, especially among institutional reactions. The differing experiences of science and religion underscore the need to understand trust and trusting relationships in a fundamental way.
Stony Brook's Templeton Research Lectures are based on the idea that important inroads to understanding trust can be made by exploring the intersections of this theme in religion and science within an interdisciplinary framework. Our program consists of a three-year, evolving seminar/lecture series with numerous special events and outreach opportunities. The first year program examines a range of personal experiences of trust throughout science, religion, and other human activities. The second year program analyzes the public dimension of trust; the publicly encouraged practices and habits of thought that foster trust, erode it, and help restore it once lost. The third year program extends the work of the first two to institutions, examining problems of trust, both scientific and religious, that have developed in the contemporary world.
Upcoming Lectures and Activities
Stony Brook University's proposed program for the Templeton Research Lecture Series evolves progressively over three years. The aim is to build an interdisciplinary framework with which to approach the subject of trust by moving from examining personal experiences, to analyzing the public dimension, to studying institutional cases and contexts. Lectures generally given by guest speakers will alternate weekly with lunch meeting seminars generally led by Steering Committee members — ten lectures and seminars per semester. The Templeton Research Fellow and guest speakers are chosen in accordance with the theme of each year.
Year 1 Theme: Exploring Trust and Personal Experiences
The first year program aims to present a range of personal experiences of trust throughout science, religion, and other human activities. Thus the criterion we shall use in selecting this year's Templeton Research Fellow is the ability to address the experience of trust in science and religion within the broadest possible perspective. Guest speakers will be selected with the aim of illustrating the largest possible spectrum of experiences of trust.
Key Questions: What is it like to trust a teacher? A collaborator? A mentor? A theatrical director? Data? A technique? Oneself? Another human? A poet's voice? In God? What is similar and different about these experiences? How do they shed light on each other, deepening our understanding of trust? What is the relation of trust to other forms of human behavior? What is the distinction between trust and related concepts such as distrust, trustworthiness, reliability, belief, faith, conviction, confidence, certainty, honor, and credibility? What are characteristics of the dynamic equilibrium established in trusting relationships? How does one show oneself as trustworthy? How is the trust equilibrium disrupted? How, once disrupted, can it be regained?
Year 2 Theme: Examining the Public Dimension of Trust
Trust also has a public dimension. Personal trust can only take place within a community of others who share habits, methods and practices of seeking, recognizing, and accepting truth. What are the publicly encouraged practices and habits of thought, in science and religion, that can foster trust, erode it, and help restore it once lost? In the second year we deepen and extend our understanding of trust by bringing to bear the insights of different fields on specific issues. The criterion used in selecting this year's Templeton Research Fellow, as well as the guest speakers, is the ability to address trust insightfully from a specific perspective.
Key Questions. Questions that arise in a historical unit include: How is trust in "fact-finders" involved in constituting scientific knowledge? What is the relation between fact-formation, authority and trust in early modern science, and how was this shaped by religion? Is the relation different in modern science? Questions in a psychological unit include: What are the complex of feelings of dependence, reliance and comfort involved? What are the variables in the trust relationship, and with what methods and measures can it be empirically analyzed? Questions in a unit devoted to religious authors include: How is the trust relationship lived concretely by human beings in real situations? How do people evaluate and assess another's ability to honor commitments and their reliability? What are the complex of feelings of dependence, reliance and comfort involved?
Year 3 Theme:Trust in an Institutional Context
The third-year program extends the work of the first two years to institutions, both scientific and religious. Trust involving medical technologies, and environmental science and policy, will also be discussed. The third-year Templeton Fellow will be expected to address not only trust with respect to institutions, but also to address problems of trust, scientific or religious, that have developed in the contemporary world.
Key Questions: How does trust appear empirically and on a large scale in the contemporary world, specifically in relation to groups and institutions? What are the key groups and institutions that have an impact on trust in democratic societies. What are the various roles of trust in contemporary medicine? How does trust function differently between an individual clinical researcher and patient, and between a hospital and community? Why is medicine an area that has been able to generate a large amount of public trust? How do the relations between Stony Brook Hospital and its neighbors compare to those between Brookhaven National Laboratory and its neighbors? What are the special issues involving medical experts and expertise? What are the specific issues regarding trust that arise in connection with environmental policies? What is the impact on trust of advocacy groups, and of an "informed counterculture" dedicated to questioning scientific testimony? What is the role of highly publicized instances of failures of large technological facilities, such as Three Mile Island, Bhopal, and Chernobyl? What role has the media had in shaping the formation of trust/distrust? What mechanisms drive/inhib it rumor, and what role do these play in the formation of trust and distrust? How are trust and credibility involved in the construction of an "expert"? Must appraisal of or deference to experts involve trust? How can the need for expert ise in a society dependent on science and technology be reconciled with democratic pluralism? What are the specific issues regarding trust that arise in connection with contemporary physics institutions and projects? What is the impact on public trust of their huge size and scale? What is the nature and role of the special fears associated with radiation? What is the impact of the extreme risks associated with -- or alleged to be associated with -- contemporary physics, such as the (purported) possibility that heavy ion accelerators might be able to create black holes? What are the specific issues regarding trust that arise in connection with religious institutions? What is the impact of the recent scandals involving sexual abuse by priests? How have institutions reacted to these scandals? How effective have these reactions been?