One early evening we found ourselves sitting in La Petite Folie, the well-known Hyde Park French restaurant that Carol suggested we meet for dinner. Besides myself, it was fellow CASIRAS executive committee members Gayle Woloschak, Mladen Turk and Grace Wolf-Chase.
It was odd that she was late and was not picking up her home phone or cell. We all were worried that something may have happened. And just as one of us was about to head out and see if she was at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, where we had left word with the front desk that we were looking for her, she hurriedly walked in the door flustered. It turned out that by happenstance right after Mladen had called, the desk attendant saw her, and she was able to make her way over despite a distinct limp she had acquired following a battle with Lyme disease.
“Providence,” I said as she sat down. She nodded her head in agreement with a broad smile and got straight to work discussing her latest project and other matters related to the Center for Advanced Studies in Religion and Science for which she had been a treasurer of since its beginnings in the 1970s and a role I had taken on as she made plans to step own.
Carol Rausch Albright died on May 20, 2023, leaving behind not only her loving husband John Albright, her sons and grandchildren, but also the rest of us to appreciate her rich contributions to religion and science that often happened behind the scenes across more than three decades.
Her latest work, published in 2017, was Interactive World, Interactive God, where she explored, using the insights of both theology and science, the notion of complexity and emergence and how each happens via interactions.
If I had to sum up her contributions, I would say she was perhaps the greatest example of how unexpected interactions led to some of the most intriguing and practical scholarship in faith and science. She describes her becoming part of the religion and science dialogue as having the marks of a “God-given opening.”
Carol was the Executive Editor of Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, as well as the Associate for Programs at the Chicago Center for Religion and Science. Carol was a Regional Director for the John Templeton Foundation for the Southern United States and later for the Midwest region, which led her to meeting some of the future leaders in religion and science including Woloschak and Wolf-Chase, whom she would later serve with in relation to the Zygon Center for Religion and Science (the predecessor organization to the Chicago Center) and Center for Advanced Study in Religion and Science (CASIRAS) both housed at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, where she also established a lecture fund.
She wrote in an article for the journal Theology and Science in 2020, “I learned from a collection of insightful speakers and participants at these conferences; one whole series featured Wolfhart Pannenberg, whom we drove from place to place.” She also credited her husband, John – who taught advanced courses in physics at Florida State University — for informing her understanding of religion and science. For over 30 years, they were partners in marriage and in the dialogue in holding a monthly salon and informal courses in their Hyde Park home.
She also served as Vice President for Religion with the Institute of Religion in an Age of Science (IRAS), and a long-term treasurer for the CASIRAS. Carol was a member of the European Society for the Study of Science and Theology (ESSSAT); she presented papers at ESSSAT conferences in France, Spain, Sweden, and Scotland.
During her career, she published five books about science and religion. Her books centered on neuroscience and religion, the theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg, and most recently the role of interactions.
Going back to perhaps the book she is best known for, The Humanizing Brain, it is perhaps the best way to view how she engaged with science. Leaning on the work of neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, she and her co-author Ashbrook insist that a purely biological model fails to “engage creativity of human significance.”
Ashbrook and Albright sought to bring insight via an emerging discipline at the time called complexity studies. Defined as insight across the spectrum of the sciences that shows a tendency toward adaptive self-organization being inherent in the way the universe is put together.
For the next-20 plus years, Albright continued to expand on those initial ideas looking at how the concept of God in the human brain not only impacted one’s faith and outlook, and in turn how that outlook creates broader change that can have impacts across time and space.
True to form it was time spent exploring the outcomes in interactions of scholars in their salon, of published works on their bookshelf (they had one shelf dedicated to published friends in the field of religion and science), and in the church and seminary. Albright always could pinpoint where the future dialogue could be had and who the experts were to lean on.
“The fact that our brain’s response to a given situation is not a given — is not “hard wired” — is a key to the quality of human living,” she wrote in her later years. “The fact that we can create several potential views of a situation enables us to think of different responses. This process gives us choices, some of them are better than others, even creative. We can work our way through various kinds of situations and problems that require good, and sometimes new, responses.”
May we look for those new responses with the God-given creativity and “humanizing brain” that Albright outlined in her work, which solidified for a generation of theologians interested in engaging with the sciences a new collaborative view focused on enriching our shared faith and futures.
Susan is an author with a long-time interest in religion and science. She currently edits Covalence, the Lutheran Alliance for Faith, Science and Technology’s online magazine. She has written articles in The Lutheran and the Zygon Center for Religion and Science newsletter. Susan is a board member for the Center for Advanced Study of Religion and Science, the supporting organization for the Zygon Center and the Zygon Journal. She also co-wrote Our Bodies Are Selves with Dr. Philip Hefner and Dr. Ann Pederson.