Beyond Secularization: Piloting New Approaches to the Study of Religion, Science, and Technology in Public Life


It is a foundational commitment of modernity’s most powerful institutions that secular knowledge and spiritual belief must be segregated. This process of secularization is seen as a driver of human progress. A key corollary is that science and technology are, at once, both cause and consequence of secularization and progress.

Yet today, techno-scientific progress is widely valorized in moral and spiritual terms—e.g. biotech evangelists promise redemption from mortality, and new spiritualities leverage the authority of neurobiology. But such hybridity hides in plain sight: society lacks the capacity to critically reflect on its own visions of progress. Belief in progress as science-driven secularization regulates what is deemed to be real and good and therefore knowable and worth knowing.

This initiative aims at illuminating how reigning ideas of progress regulate religion and science by assimilating new hybrids and marking them as acceptably secular (e.g. transhumanism) or unacceptably religious (e.g. evolutionary teleology). We aim to enhance critical awareness and open new possibilities for progress by clarifying the limits of dominant ways of knowing.

Funded by a grant from the Templeton Religion Trust, this initiative pilots this new approach through empirical research, an international workshop and public outreach.

Building on more than a decade of work on religion, science and technology, the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict is spearheading this initiative, working with faculty from the School of Life Sciences, the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, the School for the Future of Innovation in Society, the Center for Biology and Society, and the Center for Jewish Studies.

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Project Team

Gregg Zachary poses for a photo before presenting at a workshop at the Computer History Museum

Gaymon Bennett
Associate Professor
School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies 
Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict

Linell Cady
Dean’s Distinguished Professor
School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies
Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict 

Ben Hurlbut
Associate Professor
School of Life Sciences & Center for Biology and Society 

Hava Tirosh-Samuelson
Director, ASU Jewish Studies
Regents Professor of History

Gregg Zachary
Professor of Practice
School for the Future of Innovation in Society

Carolyn Forbes
Assistant Director (Administrative Contact)
Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict

Workshop Description

In 1917, Max Weber delivered his now famous lecture Science as a Vocation. Over the past century, this text, perhaps more than any other, has supplied the terms in which the identity and ethos of modern science has come to be understood. No element of Weber’s account has been more significant in this regard than the idea of disenchantment. The project of modernity, Weber notoriously proposed, requires that the vocation of science be guided by an ideal of disenchantment: a commitment to a secular view of the world that no longer requires (and therefore excludes) “recourse to magic in order to control the spirits.”

In the succeeding 100 years, disenchantment has come to be seen less as a regulative ideal than simply an attribute of science itself: disenchantment describes what science is, indeed what it must be in order to be science, and thus what distinguishes scientific knowledge from value-laden, hence private and subjective, forms of meaning and belief. Disenchantment, moreover, makes science uniquely powerful in its capacities to produce public knowledge and control. This picture of modern science reflects a crucial slippage from an idea of the scientific life as an ethical calling to an imaginary of science as always already disenchanted, and thus as exemplar and agent of secularization.

Yet, a century after Weber’s lecture, the citadels of disenchanted knowledge perceive a crisis in their own public authority. Scientific knowledge and technology claim and occupy positions of unprecedented authority in public life, both as arbiters of what is the case, and thus what must be done about it, and as custodians of imaginations and agendas of social, material, and moral progress. Yet, the despondent diagnosis of this political moment as “post-fact” simultaneously reaffirms the intrinsic public virtue of secular knowledge and laments a politics that has become disenchanted with disenchantment.

The workshop began with a provocation: Has Weber’s question whether a “devotion to progress can become a meaningful vocation” been displaced by the presumption that progress requires and inevitably follows from disenchanted science? Science as a secular vocation has in this sense been subsumed by an imaginary of science as intrinsically disenchanted and inevitably progressive, and as both cause and consequence of secularization. Science occupies a position of secular authority by virtue of the presumption that science exemplifies secularity.

In order to make sense of this political moment, and of the place of science within it, this workshop asked:

  • How and in what forms has disenchantment come to inhabit professional identities, or institutional forms and practices, whether as an aspiration, a presumptive attribute, or a regulative ideal—in short, how is disenchantment imagined, understood and enacted?
  • What, a century on, are disenchantment’s enchantments—for instance, how is disenchantment figured in imaginations of the progressive, emancipatory and/or redemptive potential of science and technology?
  • What has it meant for relationships between science and other institutions of social authority, for instance, law, politics, or religion? What relationships have taken shape—or are continuing to emerge—between the political authority of science and the segregation of knowledge and meaning into private spheres or disciplined enclaves such as bioethics?
  • What are the virtues, deficiencies, and critical limitations of disenchantment in knowledge-making practices and in institutions of knowledge-making like the university?
  • How well does disenchantment serve as an analytic frame for characterizing science, secularity, and the relationship between them at the beginning of the 21st century? Is the commitment to (or presumption of) disenchantment appropriate to science as a 21st century vocation?
  • And what does the idea of science as a disenchanted vocation mean for wider public life, including repertories of meaning, ideas of (re)enchantment, and culturally powerful imaginaries of progress?


Gaymon Bennett (Arizona State University) is Associate Professor of Religion, Science, and Technology at Arizona State University. He works on the problem of modernity in contemporary religion and biotechnology: its shifting moral economies, contested power relations, and uncertain modes of subjectivity. His book Technicians of Human Dignity (Fordham 2016) examines the figure of human dignity in 20th century international and religious politics and its current biopolitical reconfigurations. has conducted multiple experiments in cross-disciplinary collaboration with contemporary biologists and bioengineers. He is a co-founder and fellow of the Center for Biological Futures in the Division of Basic Sciences at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. He is a principal of ARC (the Anthropological Research on the Contemporary) and was a founding co-designer of the Human Practices initiative at the multi-university Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (SynBERC). He led Human Practices at the International Open Facility Advancing Biotechnology (BIOFAB) at Lawrence Berkeley National Labs. These experiments emphasize collaborative empirical inquiry, a shift from theory to shared concept work, and sustained attention to the culture and politics of knowledge production.

Jeffrey Bishop (St. Louis University) is Professor of Philosophy, Tenet Endowed Chair in Health Care Ethics, and Director of the Albert Gnaegi Center for Health Care Ethics at Saint Louis University. Bishop was a practicing physician for 17 years prior to coming to Saint Louis University in 2010, and has published widely in medical, philosophical, theological, humanities, and ethics journals. His research interests focus on the historical, political, and philosophical conditions that underpin contemporary medical and scientific practices and theories. Bishop has held positions at medical schools in England and the US prior to joining the faculty at SLU. Bishop also sits on the editorial boards of The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy and Christian Bioethics. He is also the author of The Anticipatory Corpse: Medicine, Power, and the Care of the Dying (University of Notre Dame Press, 2011). He is completing a second book, Chasing After Virtue: Neuroscience, Economics, and the Biopolitics of Morality, which is coauthored with Andrew Michel and M. Therese Lysaught.

Linell Cady (Arizona State University) is Professor of Religious Studies at Arizona State University. Her research focuses on the interrelations of religion, politics and American public life; American religious thought; and modern constructions of religion, the secular, and spirituality. She is the author of Religion, Theology and American Public Life, and co–editor of several volumes, including Comparative Secularisms in a Global Age; Religion, the Secular, and the Politics of Sexual Difference; and Religious Studies, Theology, and the University: Conflicting Maps, Changing Terrain. She has directed or co-directed several collaborative, multi-year projects with funding from the Ford and Henry Luce Foundations, including: “Religion and Global Citizenship,” “Religion and International Affairs: Through the Prism of Rights and Gender”; and “Public Religions, The Secular, and Democracy.” She was founding director of ASU’s Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict from 2003–2017.

James Edmonds (Arizona State University) is a doctoral candidate in the Anthropology of Religion at Arizona State University. He has published in Religion and Culture#AsiaNow, The Jakarta Post, and Reading Religion. He is an Associate Editor for #AsiaNow and Inside Indonesia, as well as the website developer and co-editor in chief of Ta’seel Commons. His dissertation titled, “Imagining Baraka: The Spiritual Materiality and the Material Spirituality Reconfiguring the Indonesian Islamic Landscape,” seeks to understand, through attention to the senses, affects, and materiality, the complex entanglement of poetics and politics of the spiritual materiality and material spirituality that are lived, operative, and constantly move through the events of salawat (praises about the virtues of prophet Muhammad) in Southeast Asia. His work investigates the everyday use of technology such as smartphones, social media applications, and television in forming ethical sensibilities and new religious practices embedded in the various histories, exchanges, and identities operating in the ephemeral performances of salawat.

Arnold M. Eisen (Jewish Theological Seminary), one of the world’s foremost authorities on American Judaism, is the seventh chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary. Since taking office in 2007, Chancellor Eisen has transformed the education of religious, pedagogical, professional, and lay leaders for North American Jewry, with a focus on graduating leaders who bring Judaism alive in ways that speak authentically to Jews at a time of far-reaching change. He has increased digitization of JTS Library treasures, launched a JTS Fellows program to expand opportunities for adult learning, and developed JTS Torah Online. He is the author of the Jew Within: Self, Family and Community in AmericaRethinking Modern Judaism: Ritual, Commandment, CommunityGalut: Modern Jewish Reflection on Homelessness and Homecoming, and The Chosen People in America: A Study in Jewish Religious Ideology.

Ben Hurlbut (Arizona State University) is Associate Professor of Biology and Society in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University. He is trained in the history of modern biomedical and life sciences. His research lies at the intersection of science and technology studies, bioethics and political theory. He studies the changing relationships between science, politics and law in the governance of biomedical research and innovation in the 20th and 21st centuries. Focusing on controversy around morally and technically complex problems in areas such as human embryonic stem cell research and genomics, Hurlbut examines the interplay of science and technology with shifting notions of democracy, of religious and moral pluralism, and of public reason. He is author of Experiments in Democracy: Human Embryo Research and the Politics of Bioethics (Columbia University Press, 2017). He holds an AB from Stanford University and a PhD in the History of Science from Harvard University. He was a postdoctoral fellow in the Program on Science, Technology, and Society at Harvard Kennedy School.

Sheila Sen Jasanoff (Harvard University) is Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies at the Harvard Kennedy School. A pioneer in her field, she has authored more than 120 articles and chapters and is author or editor of more than 15 books, including The Fifth Branch, Science at the Bar, Designs on Nature, and The Ethics of Invention. Her work explores the role of science and technology in the law, politics, and policy of modern democracies. She founded and directs the STS Program at Harvard; previously, she was founding chair of the STS Department at Cornell. She has held distinguished visiting appointments at leading universities in Europe, Asia, Australia, and the US. Jasanoff served on the AAAS Board of Directors and as President of the Society for Social Studies of Science. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Her honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, the University of Ghent Sarton Chair, an Ehrenkreuz from the Government of Austria, and membership in the Royal Danish Academy. She holds AB, JD, and PhD degrees from Harvard, and an honorary doctorate from the University of Twente.

Andrew Jewett (Boston College) is a Visiting Associate Professor of History at Boston College. He is the author of Science, Democracy, and the American University: From the Civil War to the Cold War (Cambridge University Press, 2012) and articles and chapters on “Canonizing Dewey: Columbia Naturalism, Logical Empiricism, and the Idea of American Philosophy,” “The Politics of Knowledge in 1960s America,” “The Social Sciences, Philosophy, and the Cultural Turn in the 1930s USDA,” “Naturalizing Liberalism in the 1950s,” and “Science and Religion in Postwar America,” among others. His current book project traces the fears about science’s cultural impact among intellectual and political leaders and ordinary citizens in the United States since the 1920s. Jewett has also taught at Yale, Vanderbilt, New York University, and Harvard.

David Kennedy (Harvard University) is Manley O. Hudson Professor of Law and Faculty Director of the Institute for Global Law and Policy at Harvard Law School where he teaches international law, international economic policy, legal theory, law and development and European law. He joined the Harvard Law faculty in 1981 and holds a PhD from the Fletcher School at Tufts University and a JD from Harvard. He is the author of numerous articles on international law and global governance. His research uses interdisciplinary materials from sociology and social theory, economics and history to explore issues of global governance, development policy and the nature of professional expertise. He has been particularly committed to developing new voices from the third world and among women in international affairs. As a practicing lawyer and consultant, Professor Kennedy has worked on numerous international projects, both commercial and public, including work with PricewaterhouseCoopers in their emerging markets and anti-corruption practice, with the United Nations, the Commission of the European Union, the Qatar Foundation and with the private firm of Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen and Hamilton in Brussels, where his work combined European antitrust litigation, government relations advising and general corporate law.

Eduardo Kohn (McGill) is Associate Professor of Anthropology at McGill. He is the author of the book How Forests Think, which has been translated into several languages. It won the 2014 Gregory Bateson Prize and is short-listed for the upcoming 2018 Prix Littéraire François Sommer. His research continues to be concerned with capacitating sylvan thinking in its many forms.

Shai Lavi (Tel Aviv University) is Professor of Law at Tel Aviv University and Director of Van Leer Jerusalem Institute. He received his PhD from the Jurisprudence and Social Policy Program, University of California Berkeley. His book The Modern Art of Dying: A History of Euthanasia in the United States (Princeton University Press) won the 2006 Distinguished Book Award in sociology of law from the American Sociological Association. He studies bioethical questions from a comparative socio-legal and historical perspective and is mainly interested in how specific bioethical questions have become salient (including euthanasia, reproductive technologies, circumcision, organ donation, and animal protection). He is currently working on a comparative study of authority over the body in Germany, Turkey, and Israel. He was a Fulbright fellow at the University of Berkeley, California, a visiting professor at Cornell University, Toronto University and at Cardozo Law School, and a Humboldt fellow at the Dubnow Institute for Jewish History and Culture in Leipzig and at the faculty of law at the Humboldt University, Berlin. 

Nicolas Langlitz (The New School) is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the New School for Social Research. He is an anthropologist and historian of science studying epistemic cultures of mind and life sciences. He is the author of Neuropsychedelia: The Revival of Hallucinogen Research since the Decade of the Brain (2012) and Die Zeit der Psychoanalyse: Lacan und das Problem der Sitzungsdauer (2005). He is currently working on a project on the interdisciplinary exchange between brain researchers and philosophers of mind, especially in the context of neuroscientific dream research. He has also started a new project on how culture became an object of natural scientific research in primatology and related disciplines.

Hava Tirosh-Samuelson (Arizona State University) is Irving and Miriam Lowe Professor of Modern Judaism, the Director of Jewish Studies, and Professor of History at Arizona State University. She holds a PhD in Jewish Philosophy and Mysticism from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is a Jewish intellectual historian who focuses on the interplay of philosophy and mysticism, Judaism and science, and Judaism and ecology. In addition to over 50 essays and book chapters, Tirosh-Samuelson is the author of Between Worlds: The Life and Work of Rabbi David ben Judah Messer Leon (1991) which received the award of the Hebrew University for the best work in Jewish history for 1991, and the author of Happiness in Premodern Judaism: Virtue, Knowledge and Well-Being in Premodern Judaism (2003). She is also the editor of Judaism and Ecology: Created World and Revealed World (2002); Women and Gender in Jewish Philosophy (2004); Judaism and the Phenomenon of Life: The Legacy of Hans Jonas (2008); Building Better Humans? Refocusing the Debate on Transhumanism (2011); Hollywood’s Chosen People: The Jewish Experience in American Cinema (2012); Jewish Philosophy for the Twenty-First Century: Personal Reflections (2014); and Perfecting Human Futures: Transhuman Visions and Technological Imaginations (2016) and The Enduring Legacy of Salo W. Baron (2017).  Tirosh-Samuelson is the editor-in-chief of the Library of Contemporary Jewish Philosophers (2013-2017), a series of 20 books featuring outstanding Jewish thinkers today.  

Hilton Simmet (Yale University) is Research Associate in the Science, Technology and Society Program at Harvard and a doctoral candidate in Political Science at Yale University. He holds an AB in Social Studies from Harvard College and was a Fulbright fellow in Senegal. Hilton has been working in the STS program for some time, with his undergraduate thesis, “Dreaming the Dark Mountain: Time, Development, and Economy in Senegal’s Ecovillages,” receiving the STS Undergraduate Prize in 2015. In addition to his doctoral work in political theory at Yale, he is conducting research on the National Science Foundation project “Traveling Imaginaries: A Comparative Study of Three Models of Innovation in Transnational Implementation” in Bangalore, India. Broadly, he is interested in the intersection of STS and political theory, and in developing an understanding of how imported imaginaries of economic and technological progress shape democratic practices by looking comparatively at efforts to promote rural electrification in Senegal and high-tech innovation in India.


Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict

The Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict at Arizona State University promotes interdisciplinary research and education on the dynamics of religion and conflict with the aim of advancing knowledge, seeking solutions and informing policy. By serving as a research hub that fosters exchange and collaboration across the university as well as with its broader publics—local, national, and global—the Center fosters innovative and engaged thinking on a wide range of issues including religion and violence; religion, science and technology; religion and politics; and peace and conflict studies. Committed to a model of scholarship that is transdisciplinary, collaborative and problem-focused, the Center stimulates new research by bringing together faculty and students from across the disciplines, creating links between the academic world and that of professionals, policymakers, practitioners and religious leaders, and fostering cross-cultural exchange through partnerships and collaborations with international scholars, students and institutions. 

Harvard University Program in Science and Technology Studies

The Program on Science, Technology and Society at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government is dedicated to enhancing the quality of research, education, and public debate on the role of science and technology in contemporary 

societies. Through integrated, cross-disciplinary initiatives in research, teaching, training, and public outreach the Program seeks to develop foundational, policy-relevant insights into the nature of science and technology, and the ways in which they both influence and are influenced by society, politics, and culture. Among the fields that significantly contribute to the Program’s core mission are science and technology studies, anthropology, comparative politics, history, government, law, and sociology.

ASU Jewish Studies

ASU Jewish Studies—a unique academic program and research center hybrid—serves as an intellectual resource for all aspects of the Jewish experience, from philosophical and political viewpoints to the study of Judaism. Through undergraduate and graduate courses, research conferences, public lectures and more, Jewish Studies is committed to fostering critical inquiry, by disseminating accurate information about Jewish culture and enhancing the quality of Jewish life in the Phoenix metropolitan area and around the world. The Jewish Studies community of students, faculty and staff understand knowledge is inseparable from identity and it transforms the present and future.


Gaymon Bennet’s “Silicon Valley’s Original Sin” via Sojourners

"ON JAN 9, 2007, STEVE JOBS stepped onto a stage in San Francisco, his trademark black mock-turtleneck blending with the shadowed backdrop, his clipped hair and lean countenance offering a monk-like silhouette against the screen.

Jobs stepped forward and raised his arms. And there it was, almost inconspicuous in the palm of his hand. “Today, Apple is going to reinvent the phone ... here it is ... the iPhone.” Naming a new god.

At the time, no one consciously believed that smartphones, the internet of things, or ubiquitous computing would save us. Yet, as the encyclical Laudato Si points out about technocracies: No one has to actually believe they’re gods. They become gods when we start investing our hope and identity in them.

And here we are. We live as if the connections provided by digital technologies are vital—and indeed we have made them so..."

Read full article

Bennett, Gaymon, “Digital Enchantment: Life and the Future of Gene Editing,” Editing the Environment: Emerging Issues in Genetics and the Law, ed. Irus Braverman (Routledge 2017)

Bennett, Gaymon. “Bioethical Pastoral: Life, Ethics, and the Politics of Human Dignity,” Biosocieties 17 January 2018 13(1): 1-23.

Bennett, Gaymon, “Synthetic Biology: The Digital Creation of Life,” Posthumanism: The Future of Homo Sapiens, eds. Michael Bess and Diana Walsh Pasulka (Macmillan Reference 2018)

Bennett, Gaymon.“Assembling the Living,” in Dodier and Stavrianakis eds, Les objets composés, Raisons Pratiques, 2018.

Bennett, Gaymon. “Silicon Valley’s Original Sin: Big Tech offers a world of self-actualization, wealth, and progress. What could go wrong?” Sojourner’s Magazine January 2019.

Hurlbut, J. Benjamin. Experiments in Democracy: Human Embryo Research and the Politics of Bioethics. New York: Columbia University Press, 2017.

Hurlbut, J. Benjamin, “In CRISPR’s World: Genome Editing and the Politics of Global Science,” Cambridge Handbook of Genomics and Society, eds. Stephen Hilgartner and Barbara Prainsack (Cambridge University Press 2017)

Hurlbut, J. Benjamin, “Laws of Containment: Control Without Limits in the New Biology,” Gene Editing, Law, and the Environment: Life Beyond the Human, ed. Irus Braverman (Routledge, 2017)

Hurlbut, J Benjamin et al. “Revisiting the Warnock Rule.” Nature Biotechnology 35, no. 11 (November 9, 2017): 1029–42.

Hurlbut, J Benjamin. “A Science That Knows No Country: Pandemic Preparedness, Global Risk, Sovereign Science.” Big Data & Society 4, no. 2 (December 2017): 205395171774241.

Hurlbut, J. Benjamin and Doeszema, Tess, “Technologies of Governance: Science, State and Citizen in Visions of the Bioeconomy,” Bioeconomies, ed Vincenzo Pavone and Joanna Goven (Palgrave Macmillan 2018)

Jasanoff, Sheila, and J. Benjamin Hurlbut, “A Global Observatory for Gene Editing,” Nature 555, no. 7697 (2018): 435

Hurlbut, J. Benjamin, Sheila Jasanoff, Krishanu Saha, Aziza Ahmed, Anthony Appiah, Elizabeth Bartholet, Françoise Baylis, et al. “Building Capacity for a Global Genome Editing Observatory: Conceptual Challenges.” Trends in Biotechnology 36, no. 7 (July 1, 2018): 639–41.

Hurlbut, J. Benjamin. “Genome Editing: Ask Whether, Not How.” Nature 565 (January 10, 2019): 135.

Saha, Krishanu, J. Benjamin Hurlbut, Sheila Jasanoff, Aziza Ahmed, Anthony Appiah, Elizabeth Bartholet, Françoise Baylis, et al. “Building Capacity for a Global Genome Editing Observatory: Institutional Design.” Trends in Biotechnology 36, no. 8 (August 1, 2018): 741–43.

Tirosh-Samuelson, Hava, “Religion, Science, and Technology in the Post-Secular Age: The Case of Trans/Posthumanism,” Philosophy, Theology and the Sciences 7 (2017), special issue on “Science, Religion and Secularity,” ed. Gregory Peterson

Tirosh-Samuelson, Hava, “Jewish Environmental Ethics: The Imperative of Responsibility,” The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Religion and Ecology, ed. John Hart (Wiley-Blackwell 2017)

Tirosh-Samuelson, Hava, “Technologizing Transcendence: A Critique of Transhumanism,” Religion and Human Enhancement: Death, Values and Morality, ed. Calvin Mercer and Tracy Trothen (Palgrave 2017)

Tirosh-Samuelson, Hava, "In Pursuit of Perfection: The Misguided Tranhumanist Vision," Theology and Science 16 (2) (2018): 200-222

Tirosh-Samuelson, Hava, "Humanistic Education in the Age of Big Data," On Education: Journal for Research and Debate," Special Issue on "'Human, All Too Human': Transhumanism, Posthumanism and the End of Education," ed. Anne Rostock, vol. 2 (August 2018)

Tirosh-Samuelson, Hava, “Judaism and the Dialogue of Religion and Science: A Personal Journey,” Theology and Science 16 (4): (2018): 388-414.

Tirosh-Samuelson, Hava, "Redemptive Activism: Judaism, Climate Change and Climate Engineering," in Playing God?: Multi-faith Responses to the Prospect of Climate Engineering, A GreenFaith Report, ed. Forrest Clingerman and Gary Gardner (Highland Park, NJ: GreenFaith, 2018), pp. 49-58; available online at

This project is made possible in partnership  with the Templeton Religion Trust. 

The Templeton Religion Trust, along with the John Templeton Foundation and the Templeton World Charity Foundation, was founded by Sir John Templeton with the aim of fulfilling his vision “to serve as a philanthropic catalyst for discoveries relating to the Big Questions of human purpose and ultimate reality."