This type of scholarship is never dry or intellectual. It comes from the heart.

Carol White

What does it mean to be human? Professor Carol Wayne White, who is trained as a philosopher of religion, explores life’s biggest questions through the lens of religious naturalism, leading students through an exciting intellectual journey and challenging them to think deeply about age-old mysteries.

“Religious naturalism,” she explains, “sees humans as a part of nature and of nature’s processes. It’s an ecologically driven philosophy in which human beings, animals and the Earth itself are intimately connected, and nature itself is the point of departure for all religious awe.”

According to White, religious naturalism integrates Western intellectual traditions of philosophy and religion with the latest discoveries of science. In her courses, students discuss everything from the latest findings in genetics and ecological studies to race theory, animal studies and quantum physics — all in an attempt to answer the age-old question of what it means to be human.

White’s courses incorporate a diverse range of perspectives. Her first-year seminar, What Is the Human?, introduces students to works of art, film and literature that touch on philosophical quandaries such as the pervasiveness of suffering, the inevitability of death, the question of human freedom and the opportunity for self-transcendence. In God, Nature and Knowledge, one of her most popular courses, students consider multiple perspectives on nature, human nature and divine nature.

In Religion and Science: Questions, Theories and Perspectives, White teams with Professor Tom Solomon, physics & astronomy, to analyze the Western science and religious paradigm. “We examine key conceptual problems addressed by scholars in both our fields,” she explains. “Faith, truth and reason in religious studies; falsifiability in science; and ethics and bioethics in both.”

Her third book, Black Lives and Sacred Humanity: Toward an African-American Religious Naturalism (Fordham University Press, 2016), which examined religious naturalism in relation to African-American intellectuals such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Anna Julia Cooper and James Baldwin, won a Choice Award for Outstanding Academic Titles.

White, who was awarded a Presidential Professorship for 2018-2021, says she always encourages her students to think critically and creatively.

“Whether we’re pondering the intelligibility of the god-hypothesis in the age of science, thinking imaginatively about the human desire to dignify existence with meaning, or exploring what it means to conceive of ourselves as entangled with all other forms of life, this type of scholarship is never dry or intellectual,” she says. “It comes from the heart.”