5 Questions with: Dr. James Peterson, RC professor & president of Canadian academic society

by rcnewsblog on February 1, 2013

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Ontario, Canada is more than 600 miles away from Roanoke College. But that hasn’t stopped one Roanoke professor from leading an academic society based in Ontario.

In addition to teaching religion classes at Roanoke as the College’s Schumann Professor of Christian Ethics, Dr. James Peterson serves as the president of the Canadian Scientific & Christian Affiliation (CSCA).

CSCA is made up of several hundred practicing scientists, who want to understand how science interacts with the Christian tradition. This association encourages anyone who is interested to join in the conversation, but voting members are required to have a degree in the sciences.

Peterson’s religious and scientific backgrounds are particularly evident in his most-recently published book, “Changing Human Nature,” which examines the ethics of genetic intervention. Peterson, who began teaching at Roanoke in 2011, is a widely published author and is frequently invited to speak at conferences and universities on topics related to theology, ethics and science.

Peterson’s commitment to CSCA extends far beyond his presidency. He is also the editor-in-chief of “Perspectives on Scientific and Christian Affiliation,” which is the academic journal of both the Canadian and American Scientific Affiliations. Peterson is the first person in the history of CSCA to serve as both the president and editor-in-chief of this 64-year-old journal.

We spoke with Peterson about his involvement and future plans with CSCA and how he manages to lead an academic society that is located in a different country.

RC News Blog: How did you first become involved in CSCA?

James Peterson: I love the sciences, and I became more and more interested in not only what are we able to do, but also what should we do. That is the combination of where the genetics and the philosophy/theology come together. Then about 10 years ago, I accepted an endowed chair position at McMaster University in Canada. As a professor at McMaster University, I became active in this organization and was elected vice president.

RC News Blog: How do you efficiently serve as the president of a Canadian academic society while living in Virginia?

James Peterson: After being elected vice president, I decided to come to Roanoke, so I thought that would be the end of my leadership in CSCA because it is based in Canada. I was surprised, however, because the CSCA was very clear that they wanted me to continue my regular term. That’s why my two years serving as president of CSCA have been while I’ve been living in Virginia.

Right now, we have members of the executive board who are living all around the world, including in Exeter, England. Before I came on, the executive board was already working around eight different time zones, so adding somebody in Virginia is not that hard to do because we are already meeting electronically [using Skype]. We usually meet at 3 p.m. because that’s lunch time in Vancouver and mid-evening in England.

RC News Blog: What advancements have occurred under your leadership in CSCA?

James Peterson: I am particularly pleased with our new website. We just revamped it and created the logo. As you go from place to place on the site, it shows different aspects of science in Canada. I am also pleased to see that our membership is actively growing and continuing to thrive.

RC News Blog: What is your favorite aspect of this academic society?

James Peterson: Part of what is so fun for me is that I meet scientists from all over the country. They are interesting people, and I learn a lot from them. I also think that talking to people about the latest developments in our fields helps my content and my excitement to be a better professor. I think it is a good synergism.

RC News Blog: What are your future plans with CSCA?

James Peterson: I will always stay connected with friends and colleagues. I will rotate out of the presidency in another year, so I will be able to focus my efforts here on the American side. But I would like to remain the editor-in-chief of the journal.

-By Caitlin Mitchell ’13

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