Episode 4: Science and Religion amongst Indian Scientists with Dr Renny Thomas

Renny Thomas is Assistant Professor  (Sociology and Social Anthropology), Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) Bhopal, India. 

Before joining IISER, he taught at the Department of Sociology, Jesus and Mary College, University of Delhi, New Delhi (2015-2021). Renny received his PhD in Sociology from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and was the 2017-2018 Charles Wallace Fellowship in Social Anthropology at Queen’s University, Belfast, UK. You can read his Researcher Profile here.

In this episode, Renny introduces his research on science and religion in India. Renny explains how his ethnographic work in Indian laboratories allowed him to explore belief systems among Indian scientists. He discusses some of the challenges of ethnographic research in scientific settings, from gaining access to negotiating insider/outsider status in the field. Renny’s work challenges orientalist assumptions and helps us to move beyond the science and religion literature dominated by Western perspectives by examining the science-religion relationship in spaces and places that have been previously overlooked. In considering the experience of Indian scientists, Renny rethinks what atheism(s) mean in such contexts, how we think of culture in relation to religion, and the key role Science and Technology Studies (STS) can play in investigating science and religion.

(This podcast was recorded in late August 2020).

Listen to it here:

This podcast is 58 minutes and 5 seconds

The key words associated with this podcast are:

  • Science and Religion in India
  • Ethnography
  • Science and Technology Studies (STS)
  • Atheism
  • Orientalism

To learn more about these issues, we recommend that you read:

  • “Brahmins as Scientists and Science as Brahmins’ Calling: Caste in an Indian Scientific Research Institute.” Public Understanding of Science (Sage) 29(3) (2020).
  • “Rational Believers: Religion, Spirituality and Tradition among Indian Scientists.” In Science, Belief and Society: International Perspectives on Religion, Non-Religion and the Public Understanding of Science (Eds. Stephen Jones, Tom Kaden and Rebecca Catto). Bristol, UK: Bristol University Press (2019);
  • “Beyond Conflict and Complementarity: Science and Religion in Contemporary India.” Science, Technology and Society (Sage) 23 (1): 47-64 (2018);
  • “Religious Rites and Scientific Communities: Ayudha Puja as ‘Culture’ at the Indian Institute of Science.” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science (Wiley) 53 (1): 95-122 (2018);
  • “Narratives in Feminist Sociology of Science: Contextualizing the Experiences(s) of Women Scientists in India”, in Gita Chadha and M.T Joseph (eds) Re-Imagining Sociology in India: Feminist Perspectives, London: Routledge (2018);
  • “Atheism and Unbelief among Indian Scientists: Towards an Anthropology of Atheism(s).” Society and Culture in South Asia (Sage), 3(1): 45-67 (2017). 

Renny is currently working on a book manuscript, tentatively titled, ‘Beyond Disenchantment: Science and Religion in India‘.

He is also working on an edited volume on scientism and scientific method.

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(Bristol University Press, 2019) edited by Stephen H. Jones, Tom Kaden, and Rebecca Catto.

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