Call for presenters for the Fall 2018 SRLS. Only one vacant spot left!

The Northern Plains Ethics Institute is seeking Fall 2018 and Spring 2019 presentations for the long running, town-gown Science, Religion, and Lunch Seminars (SRLS).  If you would like to showcase your talents, research, or thoughtful contemplations in natural or social science, religion, or the combination of the two to a new audience, then we would love to hear from you.

SRLS fosters thoughtful, accessible dialogues on religion or science, with a special focus on the intersection between the two.  Presenters take the seminar’s first 40 minutes to develop their ideas for the diverse town and gown audience, and then answer questions for 20 minutes, or until we get kicked out of the room.

If you are interested in giving a seminar, then please contact Syed Ahmed at or Dennis Cooley at
Here is what we have planned so far for Fall 2018:

DATE LOCATION Presenter Topic
4-Sep-18 MU Room of Nations Walt Clinton Is Skepticism Compatible with Christianity?
18-Sep-18 MU Room of Nations Donald Miller The Ethics of High Drug Prices
2-Oct-18 MU Room of Nations Anne Denton Richard Dawkins vs. Richard Dawkins: How the natural selection of memes supports religion
9-Oct-18 MU Prairie Swami Ishatmananda Vedanta, the Panacea of All Differences (Special Edition SRLS from the Minister-in-Charge, Vedanta Society in Chicago)
16-Oct-18 MU Room of Nations Syed Ahmad
Sources of Islam and their role in forming the Islamic political landscape: Who will drive the future of Islam? Clergy or politician?
30-Oct-18 MU Room of Nations Joel Hektner The Role of Spirituality and Religion in Optimal Human Development
13-Nov-18 MU Room of Nations Larry Reynolds Role of Animals and Animal Scientists in Food Security and Agricultural Sustainability
27-Nov-18 MU Room of Nations Brad Morris To be announced
4-Dec-18 MU Room of Nations John Helgeland To be announced

The Seminars are held between 12:00pm and 1pm every other Tuesday of the semester. Each presentation may take up to 40 minutes of the hour, with the remaining 20 minutes devoted to questions and comments from the audience. This fall’s seminars are to be held in the Memorial Union, NDSU Campus. See the above listing for the exact room.

If interested, then please send a title and a short abstract to  If you know of someone you think would be a good presenter, then please pass that contact information on to us.

To give you some idea of how deep and wide the SRLS’s range is, I’ve included our speakers and topics from Spring 2018’s outstanding offerings:

Jane Schuh No Rømmegrøt for You! Controversies over Gluten-Free Diets
Tony Flood René Girard on Violence, Religion, and the Social Order
Keith Donohue Learning about Human Variation: Lessons from Psychology’s Replication Crisis
Walt Clinton Is Skepticism Compatible with Christianity? (Cancelled due to MU closure.)
Clayton Hilmert What is Mindfulness Materialism and is it Bad for You?
Katie Gordon When Science & Religion Meet in Mental Health Care
John Helgeland How to Have a Constructive Conversation about Religion
Mark Chekola Happiness/Well-Being Studies

One of our presenters was asked to be continue the conversation started at SRLS as part of a podcast in Rochester, NY!

Ethics of Drug Costs

Due to a large response from those attending, we are posting the presentation from Donald Miller. Click the title above to access his PowerPoint.

Donald Miller

Professor of

Pharmacy Practice

The Ethics of High Drug Prices

12-1pm, September 18, 2018

Room of Nations, Memorial Union

Abstract: The high cost of prescription medications is well known. In this presentation, I will give an overview of the problem, and discuss the complexity of the causes and proposed solutions. I will also focus on the consequences and ethical implications of high prices, and the blame shifting that various players use to deflect their own role in the problem.

Bio:  Donald Miller, Pharm.D. is a Professor of Pharmacy Practice at North Dakota State University. His teaching assignments include rheumatologic drug therapy, drug literature evaluation, complementary and alternative medicine, and public health.

Anne Denton


Computer Science

Richard Dawkins vs. Richard Dawkins: How the natural selection of memes supports religion

12-1pm, October 2, 2018

Room of Nations, Memorial Union

Abstract: One of Richard Dawkins’ most influential ideas was to argue that units of culture, which he termed memes, underlie evolutionary pressure much like genes. More recently, the study of “fictions”, as they are discussed, for example, in Yuval Harari’s book “Sapiens”, has broadened the scope for examining elements of culture. Fictions can include entities as diverse as corporations, money, or deities. Using the logic of memetic evolution, we are led to conclude that the currently existing fictions must have a high level of evolutionary fitness to have survived. Ironically, this reasoning leads us to conclude that the religious fictions of the largest current religions are actually evolutionarily fitter than atheism, which has historically had few adherents. That is somewhat paradoxical, considering Dawkins’ advocacy for atheism and the inconsistencies between religious teachings and our scientific understanding of evolution. The talk will examine the implications of this paradox towards understanding religions, firebrand atheism, and the need for moral guidance that holds up beyond the boundaries of groups that define themselves through their fictions.

Bio:  Anne Denton is Professor in the Computer Science Department at North Dakota State University (NDSU). She received her Ph.D. in Physics from the Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz, Germany, in 1996 and a M.S. in Computer Science from NDSU in 2003. Her research interests are in data mining of diverse scientific data sets that are too complex to be analyzed using classical statistics techniques. Denton has been involved in several interdisciplinary research projects including a multi-university, multi-disciplinary effort for mapping the wheat genome, and several smaller projects together with microbiology, geology, and coatings chemistry. Currently, she is working with collaborators in soil science, agricultural engineering, hydrology, and atmospheric science on projects that involve the climate impacts on agriculture, and that also include industry partners. This work prompted her to identify ethical concepts that are rigorous enough to steer future data science research. Denton has published more than 60 peer-reviewed journal and conference publications, and has led projects funded at a total of more than one million dollars.

Joel Hektner

Professor/Unit Head

Human Development and Family Science

The Role of Spirituality and Religion in Optimal Human Development

12-1pm, October 31, 2018

Room of Nations, Memorial Union

Abstract: The past two decades have seen the rapid growth of positive psychology as a distinctive and respected area of study. I will review current theories and research in this area, with particular emphasis on human well-being and how people of all ages can develop in ways that maximize their well-being, individually and collectively. The dominant theoretical frameworks include spirituality as a component of well-being, and research has shown that participation in and belonging to religious communities are associated with greater well-being. I will explore these findings and invite discussion on whether and how nonbelievers can achieve the same level of benefits.

Bio:  Joel Hektner is a professor and department head of Human Development and Family Science at NDSU. He grew up in Wahpeton, ND, left home to go to Princeton for college and University of Chicago for graduate school, and eventually made it back to North Dakota in 2000 to join the NDSU faculty. His research has focused on preventing problems in childhood and adolescence through promoting social-emotional competence, well-being, and effective parenting. Recently, he taught an honors seminar on multidisciplinary perspectives on optimal human development, and it became one of his favorite courses to teach.