Nichole PhillipsAssociate Professor in the Practice of Sociology of Religion and Culture Nichole R. Phillips has been awarded a $100,000 grant to study how scientific beliefs and attitudes shape religious identity within the Black Christian community, and vice versa. The grant is funded through the Templeton Religious Trust and coordinated by the Issachar Fund in partnership with Rice University and the University of California, San Diego.

Phillips, who also serves as associate faculty in Emory College’s Department of Sociology, will examine how contextual factors like race, religion, region, gender, and social memory shape the ways in which parishioners—specifically in Black Protestant congregations—think about the interface between the fields of science and religion. Her project is one of seventeen funded from throughout the world and contributing to new scholarship in the sociology of science and religion.

“The project is intended to fill a gap in social scientific studies at the intersection of religion, science, and race by shifting focus to Black Protestant parishioners from conservative white Protestants,” Phillips says. “It will also help us begin to understand how Black Christian communities respond to scientific knowledge, particularly in light of our present national moment with the trifecta of issues we are dealing with: racism, COVID-19, and the subsequent economic inequality that the pandemic has revealed. These are bringing up not only historic tensions between politics and science, but also questions about the intersection of faith and science.”

Working with three Atlanta-area congregations, Phillips will draw on cultural memory studies to understand and explain how scientific beliefs and attitudes shape religious identity—and how religious motivations and convictions converge with or contest the formation, maintenance, and cultural transmission of scientific belief.

The study will tackle several questions, including the extent to which Black Christians’ cultural memories of historic medical and scientific social traumas—such as the Tuskegee Syphilis and Henrietta Lacks experimental studies—shape church-based narratives around religion, science, and medicine. It will also include questions about parishioners’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Finally, Phillips will examine the ways that the gendered experiences of Black women related to pregnancy, motherhood, and infant mortality shape their perceptions about the relationship between religion, science, and medicine.