Conference on religion, technology coming to ASU's Tempe campus

January 11, 2023

As technology has rapidly advanced over the past half century, there have been many areas of scholarship that have started developing, such as engineering, computer sciences and data analytics. There has also been a lot of development in studies that involve culture, society and religion.

Scholars who research these intersections of technology and religion, culture and nature will be coming together for the “After Earth? Religion and Technology on a Changing Planet” conference on Feb. 2–5 on Arizona State University's Tempe campus. The conference is hosted by the International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture. Picture of Old Main from far away with surrounding trees and greenery. Scholars who research intersections of technology and religion, culture and nature will be coming together for the “After Earth? Religion and Technology on a Changing Planet” conference on Feb. 2–5 on ASU's Tempe campus. Photo courtesy ASU Download Full Image

“ISSRNC was established in 2005 as a place for scholars conducting research about topics such as the role of culture and values in shaping perspectives of nature, the engagement of religious traditions with environmental ethics and the many forms of spirituality closely associated with nature or ecology,” said Evan Berry, associate professor of religious studies at ASU and conference organizer. 

The society includes anthropologists, scholars of religion, philosophers, Indigenous studies scholars and geographers, as well as researchers from other disciplines. 

“We’re excited about the 30 or so panels on topics ranging from apocalypticism to multispecies encounters, from fossil fuel extraction to space colonization,” Berry said.

The conference will include a number of side events, including a banquet, a field trip to Oak Flat and a virtual reality digital art installation by the Swedish arts duo Lundahl & Seitl

Attendees will be able to explore discussions about space exploration, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, social media, renewable energy, ecological catastrophe, mass extinction and radical inequality. 

Lisa Sideris, a lead organizer of the conference and professor of environmental studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is excited for the conference to be in person after being virtual for the past few years.

“I'm looking forward to gathering with people in person, particularly in a conference setting like ISSRNC that is not overwhelmingly large, and where you can really spend time with old friends and get to know new people,” Sideris said. “I think this is truly cutting-edge scholarship, and we've got some of the key experts on these issues speaking at the conference.”

While many people will attend in person, there is a virtual attendance option for those who would prefer it.

One of the primary concerns for this year’s conference is to keep everyone safe and healthy during the events, says Amanda Nichols, a conference organizer and postdoctoral research fellow in the environmental studies program at University of California, Santa Barbara.

“We have arranged to live stream the keynote addresses, plenary session and one-third of our in-person concurrent sessions and make them available to registered online participants,” Nichols said. “We have also organized a number of online-only sessions for participants and will have a number of others Zoom in to in-person sessions.”

The conference’s opening keynote will be given by the founding director of the Virginia Tech Center for Humanities Sylvester Johnson, who will speak about his current research on human-machine symbiosis. Then, on Saturday, Mary-Jane Rubenstein, professor of religion and science in society at Wesleyan University, will give the plenary keynote lecture based on her recent book “Astrotopia: The Dangerous Religion of the Corporate Space Race.”

Anyone is welcome to attend the conference and the two keynote sessions will be free and open to the public. ISSRNC will also have on-site, single-day registration available for ASU students for $15 and $25 for faculty. Additionally, anyone can register on the society’s website for access to the full online conference for $50.

“I hope that people come away feeling intellectually stimulated as well as mentally and emotionally rejuvenated,” Nichols said. “I also hope that people come away from this with some sense of connection, to one another and to the biosphere, and maybe even some sense of hope for the future.”

The conference is co-sponsored by multiple units at ASU, including the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies; The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; the Interplanetary Initiative; the Institute for Humanities Research; the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory; the School of Arts, Media and Engineering; and the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict. 

Rachel Bunning

Communications program coordinator, School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies

Decarbonization efforts earn international recognition

Sridhar Seetharaman elected Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences International Fellow

January 11, 2023

Sridhar Seetharaman, a professor of materials science and engineering and vice dean for research and innovation in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, joined the ranks of the prestigious fellows of the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences.

Seetharaman is part of a select group of U.S.-based International Fellows of the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences, also known as IVA. Sridhar Seetharaman pictured looking at the camera in an outdoor setting. Arizona State University Professor Sridhar Seetharaman was elected as the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences International Fellow, an equivalent distinction to the National Academy of Engineering in the United States. Photo by: Erika Gronek/ASU Download Full Image

The honor of fellow in the academy, which was bestowed upon 38 additional researchers in 2022, is equivalent to being elected to the National Academy of Engineering in the United States.

IVA consists of 1,300 Swedish and international fellows who are engineering and economics decision-makers and experts and researchers from academia, public organizations and private industry. In collaboration with 250 companies, their work focuses on making positive contributions to society through technology and business advancements.

“The collective experience and expertise of our new fellows will be a fantastic asset for IVA,” says Tuula Teeri, president of the academy. “Digitalization and sustainable development in particular are areas that will be reinforced. They are key areas of expertise to meet future challenges.”

The IVA’s almost 300 international fellows have made outstanding contributions in the academy’s areas of focus and collaborate with Swedish businesses and research institutions. International fellows include former National Science Foundation Director Subra Suresh, who was influential in connecting materials science and physics to cell biology and the study of parasites, and Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens Director Emmanuelle Charpentier, who played an essential role in discovering the underlying mechanism of CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology.

Seetharaman says he is honored to be among the few international researchers recognized by the renowned 100-year-old academy. He is one of only two international fellows from the U.S. elected this year, the second being Per Liljenberg, deputy director of portfolio management at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. They are joined by three 2022 International Fellows from the United Kingdom, Canada and Botswana.

“I know the academic community in Sweden is very impressed by the ASU Charter values of inclusivity and commitment to serving communities,” Seetharaman says, adding that he believes what stood out to the IVA is his work related to “decarbonization for steel and developing interdisciplinary graduate programs in energy at previous institutions.”

Seetharaman’s overall research expertise is in materials development, particularly metals and ceramics for clean energy and harsh environments. He says his focus on industrial manufacturing decarbonization and related workforce training is aligned with the IVA’s goal of sustainable development.

His recent work in this area includes a project funded by the REMADE Institute, a public-private partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy, in which he is working with a team of Fulton Schools researchers to improve the recyclability of steel. The institute’s goal in supporting this work is to help the U.S. transition to a circular economy, in which waste is reduced by continually recycling and reusing a material as much as possible.

Seetharaman has also collaborated with SSAB, a Swedish steel company, and the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm in his industrial decarbonization efforts.

In his role as vice dean, Seetharaman plays a key part of the Fulton Schools’ efforts to facilitate strategic collaborations that enable faculty members to translate their research beyond the lab and help their communities.

Kyle Squires, the vice provost of engineering, computing and technology at ASU and dean of the Fulton Schools, recognizes the impact of Seetharaman on a range of topics impacting globally important problems.

“Sridhar focuses on mission-driven needs to advance interdisciplinary research that can be directly translated to real-world use. He understands how engineering can positively affect communities and is committed to beneficial, sustainable and equitable outcomes in all of his work,” Squires says. “Sridhar’s election as an IVA International Fellow demonstrates his decades of excellence in use-inspired sustainable manufacturing research.”

Monique Clement

Lead communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering