11/16: On the Role of Miracles in the Vimalakirti Sutra in Early Medieval China and Beyond

Shi Jingpeng
Assistant Professor in the School of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Minzu University of China in Beijing, China
Thursday, November 16, 7:00 p.m.
Sussman Theater, Olmsted Center, Drake University

Shi will speak about the role of miracles in the Vimalakīrti Sutra, an informative text for Chinese Buddhism in particular and Chinese culture in general. Why was this text so influential for a people who tended to value the ordinary and everyday? Why has it continued to be influential as miracles have become more suspect in Chinese culture?


Shi Jingpeng is Assistant Professor in the School of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Minzu University of China in Beijing, China.  Shi teaches and researches in the areas of Chinese Buddhist history and philology. His published works include Basic Research on Nirvāna Studies in the Southern and Northern Dynasties in China, and From Dharma-body to Buddha-nature.

Video of Lecture

10/26: “Does ‘the God who acts’ really act? Special divine action via quantum mechanics that is objective but not miraculous”

Robert Russell
Founder and Director of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences and Ian G. Barbour Professor of Theology and Science, Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley
Thursday, October 26, 7:00 p.m.
Sussman Theater, Olmsted Center, Drake University

Russell starts with basic concepts in a Christian theology of divine action, including miracles.  He focuses on the challenge posed by Hume to the concept of “miracle” as a violation of the laws of nature and its devastating consequences for theology in the 18th – 20th century theology.  He then describes a new way to achieve a theory of divine action in which God’s action makes an objective difference in the processes of nature without in any way being a violation of, or intervention into, these processes: “NIODA” (non-interventionist objective divine action). NIODA, in turn, requires that there be genuine openness (“ontological indeterminism”) at some level in nature.  Russell briefly describes several candidates before turning to quantum mechanics (QM).  He argues that QM offers a promising approach for NIODA and in addition, when coupled with “theistic evolution”, it allows Christian theology to view God as acting in, with and through the biological evolution of life without recourse to Intelligent Design and in a response back against claims that evolution supports atheism.


Robert J. Russell is Founder and Director of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (CTNS) and the Ian G. Barbour Professor of Theology and Science at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA. He is a leading researcher and spokesperson for the growing international body of theologians and scientists committed to a positive dialogue and creative mutual interaction between these fields. He most recent book is Time in Eternity: Pannenberg, Physics and Eschatology in Creative Mutual Interaction (University of Notre Dame Press, 2012). He has co-edited a six volume CTNS/Vatican Observatory series on scientific perspectives on divine action and the first in the new series on scientific perspectives on the problem of natural evil.  He is a founding co-editor of the scholarly journal Theology and Science which CTNS members internationally receive. Dr. Russell is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. He received a Ph.D. in physics from the University of California at Santa Cruz (1978) and an M.A. in Theology and an M. Div. from Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley (1972).

Video of lecture

Miracles as Transforming Invitations to Wonder & Gratitude: An Islamic Perspective

Umeyye Isra Yazicioglu
Associate Professor of Islamic Studies, St. Joseph’s University
Thursday, October 5, 7:00 p.m.
Sussman Theater, Olmsted Center, Drake University

Miracle stories in the Quran interrupt our familiarity with the world. In fact, the Quran (not unlike other scriptures) shocks us with stories like that of virgin birth, instant healing with touch, fire not burning and a staff becoming a serpent. Why? This talk will suggest that these miracle stories in the Quran are in fact transformative invitations to wonder & gratitude. In making this point, the talk will make use of two insightful Islamic theologians, Ghazali (11th century) and Nursi (20th century), with a focus on their approach to the Quran, natural order, and human life.


Professor Yazicioglu’s research is on interpretation of the Quran in the contemporary age, Islamic theology and spirituality, with a focus on the works of a significant Muslim theologian, Said Nursi. Her book Understanding Quranic Miracle Stories in the Modern Age (Penn State University Press, 2013) brings Muslim thinkers into conversation with Western thinkers. She is also a team member of an Islamic spirituality non-profit, Receiving Nur. Yazicioglu holds an MA in Islam & Christian-Muslim Relations from Hartford Seminary and a PhD in Religious Studies from University of Virginia.

Video of the Lecture

9/14: Miracles: A Philosopher’s Stance

Karen Zwier
Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Religion, Drake University
Thursday, September 14, 7:00 p.m.
Sussman Theater, Olmsted Center, Drake University

Miracle stories are a phenomenon shared by all major religious traditions.  What is a rational person to think in the face of this phenomenon?  In this lecture, Professor Zwier will survey some of the ways in which philosophers have analyzed the concept of miracles and grappled with the question of the proper epistemic stance toward miracle reports.

Professor Zwier’s research deals with philosophical and scientific methodology as well as metaphysics of science. She concerns herself with questions about how—and if—metaphysical claims are engaged by empirical scientific methods. Her areas of specialty include philosophy of causation, history and philosophy of physics, and science and religion.

Video of the Lecture

8/18: Interfaith Youth Camp Film Screening

August 18, 2017, 3-5 p.m.
Cowles Reading Room, Cowles Library

In collaboration with the Des Moines Area Religious Council and the Iowa Sikh Tubanators, we are hosting an interfaith youth camp for high school students from six religious traditions: Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and Sikh. At the camp, these students are creating digital stories about personal faith experiences and practices, visiting each other’s places of worship, and discussing the principles of interfaith leadership from Eboo Patel’s Interfaith Leadership.

On Friday, from 3-5pm, in Drake University’s Cowles Library Reading Room, we will be screening their digital stories for the general public.  Please join us for this special event.