November 29, 2005

Olivia Fermano
(215) 349-5653


PENN Medicine Sponsors First Templeton Research Lectures
on the Constructive Dialogue Between Science and Religion
Events are Free and Open to the Public

(Philadelphia, PA) — The first of the University of Pennsylvania’s Templeton Research Lectures on the Constructive Dialogue Between Science and Religion will take place on Wednesday, December 7th at 10:00 am in the Hirst Auditorium and Thursday, December 8th at 7:00 pm in the Biomedical Research Building (BRB-II) Auditorium. This exciting lecture series entitled, Mind, Religion, and Ethics in Dialogue will be the first of its kind to explore the relationship between the mind and religious and spiritual concepts. This program begins with Dr. George Vaillant, Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and the Templeton Research Fellow for the 2005-2006 year. Dr. Vaillant has performed some of the most important work in evaluating psychological problems over the life span and more recently, he has devoted his efforts to exploring how religion and spirituality are interwoven into the psychological landscape.

Vaillant's lectures use the new disciplines of neuroscience, cultural anthropology and ethology-disciplines that have matured only over the last 50 years-to create a unifying vision of spirituality. Vaillant suggests that the popular belief that places spirituality in our huge, thinking part of the brain is wrong. Rather the newer scientific findings place spirituality in our emotional brain. Indeed, spirituality can be equated with the positive emotions: hope, love, joy, awe, gratitude, forgiveness and faith. Scientific and spiritual “truths” are both valid; but they exist in two separate, and sometimes conflicted, parts of the brain-the neocortex (or higher brain areas) and the limbic system. Since religious dogma, like science, lives in our thinking, analytic neocortex, Vaillant demonstrates that spirituality and religion can be teased apart. Religious observance and belief arises from culture; the intensity of our spiritual feelings arises from our genes. All the world’s myriad religions must be learned; spirituality is biologically “hard wired” in us all.

Vaillant's intent is to suggest that mammalian evolution has prepared the human brain for spiritual experience. Indeed, Vaillant takes issue with the notion that humanity is doomed through "selfish genes." He offers evidence that over time human beings are becoming more socially responsible through the evolution of genes, culture and individual maturation.

Vaillant suggests that our spirituality is made up of those positive emotions that produce social connection. In contrast, negative emotions like fear, anger and grief isolate us from others. By focusing on the positive emotions, Vaillant tries to perform for spirituality what the science of nutrition performed for the world’s discordant diets. Just as nutrition identified the vitamins and the four basic food groups that make other peoples’ “disgusting” ethnic diets nourishing; just so by focusing on neuroscience and ethology, Vaillant tries to identify the love, community building and positive emotions that everyone’s spirituality, have in common. Hope, faith, love, joy, forgiveness and compassion all have a neurobiological basis, and an evolutionary architecture that will be explored in individual lectures.

Perhaps Vaillant's most revolutionary-and commonsensical- conclusion is that spirituality is based more upon community than upon individual survival. In an evolutionary sense, spirituality reflects humanity’s biological press for connection and community building more than humanity’s need for revelation or selfsoothing. Prayer and meditation are means not ends, and at the end of the day spirituality is more about us than me.

The two public lectures will be as follows. The first lecture entitled, “Is Spirituality Just Another Word for Positive Emotions?” will be presented in conjunction with the Spirituality, Religion, and Health Interest Group, and will be held on December 8th, from 10:00-11:30 in the Hirst Auditorium on 1 Dulles in the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. The second lecture entitled, “Hope: The Magic Bullet?” will be held on Thursday, December 9th from 7:00 to 8:30 in the BRB-II Auditorium at the University of Pennsylvania. Both talks are free to the public. Additional information regarding the topics, venues, and directions can be found at

George E. Vaillant is a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of Harvard’s Study of Adult Development. Over the last 10 years he has given many keynote addresses on the relation of spirituality to medicine at the Harvard, Baylor and Duke medical schools, at The Institute of Religion at the Texas Medical Center and at The American Society for Addiction Medicine. He is on the advisory board of Case Western’s Institute for Research on Unlimited Love and a former Class A (nonalcoholic) trustee of Alcoholics Anonymous. He is the author of several books on adult development including Aging Well and Adaptation to Life.


PENN Medicine is a $2.7 billion enterprise dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and high-quality patient care. PENN Medicine consists of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine (founded in 1765 as the nation's first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System.

Penn’s School of Medicine is ranked #2 in the nation for receipt of NIH research funds; and ranked #4 in the nation in U.S. News & World Report’s most recent ranking of top research-oriented medical schools. Supporting 1,400 fulltime faculty and 700 students, the School of Medicine is recognized worldwide for its superior education and training of the next generation of physician-scientists and leaders of academic medicine.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System comprises: its flagship hospital, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, consistently rated one of the nation’s “Honor Roll” hospitals by U.S. News & World Report; Pennsylvania Hospital, the nation's first hospital; Penn Presbyterian Medical Center; a faculty practice plan; a primary-care provider network; two multispecialty satellite facilities; and home health care and hospice.

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