Willem B. Drees
holds the chair in philosophy of religion and ethics, in the Leiden Institute of Religious Studies, Faculty of Humanities,Leiden University, since 2001.
Drees is also editor of Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, a scholarly journal, produced by Wiley-Blackwell, that publishes yearly 1000 pages of articles on all aspects of 'religion and science'. He is the immediate past-president of ESSSAT, the European Society for the Study of Science And Theology.
The Leiden Institute for Religious Studies has bachelor programmes focussing on Christianity (since 1575), Islam (since 2006), and World religions (since 1999). Master programmes in Religious Studies and a Ph.D.-programme allow for further study on topics related to religion in antiquity or in the modern world. Willem B. Drees is espeially interested in reflections on the interactions between religious convictions and practices and contemporary culture, modern science and technology.
Drees was trained in theoretical physicis (Utrecht, 1971-1977) and theology/philosophy of religion (Amsterdam & Groningen), with doctorates in theology (Groningen 1989) and philosophy (Amsterdam, 1994). From 1995 until 2001 he held at the Nicolette Bruining Chair for Philosophy of Nature and of Technology from a Liberal Protestant Perspective, at Twente University, the Netherlands. In 2001 he served as Executive Director of ALLEA, the association of ALL European Academies - an organization which has its members the academies of science and of arts in almost all European countries in Europe, before being appointed to the chair in philosophy of religion at Leiden University.
From 2005 until 2008 Drees served as dean of the Faculty of Theology, renamed Faculty of Religious Studies and now transformed into the Leiden Institute of Religious Studies. In those years the Faculty developed an accredited programme on Islamic Theology, acquired an endowed chair from the Sultanate of Oman, and raised funds for a chair for the study of Judaism as a living tradition; the Faculty had very positive assessments of its teaching and research. Full professors were appointed in New Testament, the Old Testament in the Eastern Christian Traditions, Buddhism (jointly with Asian studies), Islam, Judaism, World Christianity, and Comparative Religious Studies. Drees chairs the subcommittee for the humanities of the Netherlands committee for the assessment of research schools (ECOS) and is a member of the board of NOSTER, the Netherlands research school in religious studies and theology. He served on a committee for assessment of programmes in philosophy of science.
Cosmology: Drees earned his first doctorate (1989) with Beyond the Big Bang: Quantum Cosmologies and God (Open Court 1990). He analyzed philosophical issues and religious interpretations of the Big Bang theory and quantum cosmology, prospects for complete theories, and speculations about the very long-term future of the universe, supplementing this with methodological and theological considerations. The doctorate was awarded cum laude, and earned him the Prins Bernhard Fund Prize (later renamed Keetje Hodson Prize) from the Hollandse Maatschappij der Wetenschappen and the prize of the Legatum Stolpianum, awarded once every five years.
Naturalism: Thereafter Drees broadened his scope, complementing the analysis of limit questions (as in cosmology) with the interpretation of the explanatory success of science. A study leave in Princeton (January-August 1993), with his second Fulbright grant, resulted in another book which earned him a doctorate in philosophy (1994) and was published in 1996 by Cambridge University Press as Religion, Science and Naturalism. In the Times Literary Supplement of February 7, 1997, historian of science and religion John H. Brooke concluded a review of work of the Oxford theologian Keith Ward and Drees’s book: “Because he is as secure in his epistemology as in his knowledge of theoretical physics, Willem Drees should be read by all who take a scholarly interest in the discourses of ‘science and religion’. His arguments cannot be compressed into sound-bites, and that is their strength.” The analysis of naturalism has remained a major component in Drees’s research, for instance his contribution ‘Religious naturalism and science’ in The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Science (2006). In the context of the analysis of naturalism, Drees has also paid attention to the understanding of human nature, with two edited volumes on anthropology and non-reductive physicalism in Dutch and one in English (2000).
Technology: Drees was Extraordinary (part-time) Professor of Philosophy of Nature and of Technology at Twente University, a university mostly dedicated to engineering disciplines. Reflections on technology are part of his inaugural address at Twente University, 1995, an edited volume in Dutch on religion and technology (God & Co), a conference and edited volume on value judgements and the desire to improve nature (Is Nature Ever Evil?), and the organization of a conference on Star Island (NH, USA) on ‘Human meaning in a technological culture’. Technology and ecology are the topic of the NWO project acquired by Drees in the grant programme ‘The Future of the Religious Past’ of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). Funded by this grant, Tony Watling has mapped the ‘religion and ecology’ movement; his Ecological Imaginations in the World Religions: An Ethnographic Analysis appears in June 2009. A PhD candidate, ethicist by training, studied debates on genetic modification, and the role of religious perspectives in policy debates. In the context of this grant, Drees and co-workers organized a conference on ‘Religion, Science, and Public Concern; a selection of the papers have been published as Technology, Trust, and Religion (Drees 2009).
Philosophy of Religion, Theology & Science. The inaugural address of Drees (2002) on the occasion of his appointment to the Chair of Philosophy of Religion and Ethics at Leiden University dealt with the nature of philosophy of religion in its relation to religious studies and to systematic theology. One of his Andreas Idreos Lectures in Oxford (1999) dealt with criteria that one might use to distinguish sense from superstition. Drees represented academic theology and religious studies at a colloquium on the academic standing of theology, organized by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences, KNAW. During a study leave in Princeton, USA, in 2008-2009, he wrote a book entitled Religion and Science in Context: A Guide to the Debates, to be published by Routledge in September 2009. Among the original features are a major emphasis (a) on multiple contexts and purposes, (b) on criteria that might be used in distinguishing sense from nonsense, and (c) on multiple dimensions of religion and their consequences for ‘religion and science’. The book can be considered a programmatic precursor to the research proposed in this application.
Expanding the horizon: Islam and Buddhism: Drees has become involved with ‘religion and science’ in the context of Islam, through his involvement with the development of an accredited curriculum on Islamic theology at Leiden University, the chairmanship of the search committee for an endowed chair on Islam in the West, and the organization, with a colleague in Islamic studies, of a conference that resulted in The Study of Religion and the Training of Muslim Clergy: Academic and Religious Freedom in the 21st Century (2008). By supervising a graduate student who studies the Mind and Life conferences, and the Dalai Lama’s engagement with the sciences and with scientists, by serving on the search committee for a new professor in Buddhist Studies, and by initiating for Zygon a book symposium on Donald Lopez’s Buddhism and Science (Chicago 2008) Drees has also expanded his knowledge regarding ‘Buddhism and science’.