As a Jesuit with a PhD in physics, Brother Jonathan Stott is used to being asked if his work in science and his religious vocation ever conflict. His answer always surprises people.
Br Jonathan Stott is a physics professor at Fairfield University in Connecticut. 'Science and faith are not in conflict,' he says, 'and if they are it usually means you have either a bad image of God or a bad image of science.'
He points out that Catholic theology is actually quite comfortable with science. 'God created the world around us and there is nothing to fear of it,' Br Stott explains. 'This is God's handiwork. It's not going to challenge your faith.'
Br Stott, who is currently in his first year as a physics professor at Fairfield University in Connecticut, was focused on science before religion. He grew up in central Connecticut outside of Hartford and received his bachelor's degree in physics from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts in 1993. He went straight to doctoral studies at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, receiving his Ph.D. in physics in 1998.
Next he took a post-doctoral position at Northeastern University in Boston, where he worked for two years on remote sensing — trying to measure things at a distance. 'In my case, we were doing medical imaging, so we were trying to image what's inside the body from outside, so you don't have to cut anything open.'
That work, he says, had nothing to do with his Ph.D., titled 'Theoretical Studies of Dendrimeric and Heliclinic Liquid Crystals.' He notes wryly that 'the theory of phase transitions in liquid crystals is not a good way to get a job.'
Br Stott continued his medical imaging research next at Massachusetts General Hospital, and it was during his years in Boston that he discovered his religious vocation. He found himself getting more and more involved with his parish, St Ignatius in Chestnut Hill.
'I reached a point where I realised my personal fulfillment was coming from the work I was doing at the parish, while I was becoming increasingly less happy with the work I was doing that was paying me,' Br Stott says. 'So that was the club God was beating me over the head with to tell me that perhaps I should be looking somewhere else.'
A priest at St Ignatius put Br Stott in contact with Jesuit Father Jim Hayes, a vocation director, and he began thinking seriously about becoming a Jesuit. He joined the Society of Jesus in 2004.
Read full article: Br. Jonathan Stott, SJ: Finding the Beauty in Science (Jesuits)
Jesuits: Spirituality and Science (Vatican Observatory News)
In Our Time: Melvyn Bragg discusses the Jesuits (BBC Radio 4)