Scientific Literacy in the 21st Century

One of the great challenges of the 21st century will be to match our practical dependence upon science with a comprehension of the meaning of its methods and discoveries.  Modern science has dramatically increased our ability to predict and control nature. As a result, many of us now enjoy comforts, conveniences and a degree of control over our own lives that were previously unimaginable. We have also turned the power of science to the ends of domination, war and self-aggrandizement. The problem of the use and abuse of scientific technologies is thus rightly considered of pressing ethical importance for our time. Perhaps of even greater importance is the problem of how to situate the meaning of modern scientific methods and discoveries within a comprehensive understanding of our world and our selves.

Addressing these problems successfully requires a challenging kind of scientific literacy. We who live in the 21st century, in order to understand who we are, will have to combine an appreciation for scientific findings with an attention to how they fit into the big picture of what our lives mean.  This Great Challenges Minor will afford students the opportunity to pursue and promote this kind of scientific literacy.

The student who completes the minor will combine coursework in the sciences with perspectives from the humanities that address how science influences our politics, culture and imagination. Foundational courses in philosophy, theology and religious studies will address basic questions about the purpose of scientific inquiry, the nature of scientific truth, and the difference between scientific and other forms of explanation. 


To complete the minor students must accumulate a minimum of 18 credits of coursework fulfilling the following requirements:

  • A foundational course that provides the conceptual framework for the minor.  See the Approved Course List.  Indicates foundational courses.
  • Four additional courses (minimum 12 credits) selected from the Approved Course List.
  • Completion of the minor requires that at least one course (may be a foundational course) be taken from each of the four disciplinary areas.
  • A practicum- a 3 credit course, independent study, or internship that entails applied learning or research on a topic relevant to the SL21 minor.
    • A practicum proposal must be submitted to the program director for approval.

“Scientific Literacy in the 21st Century” Practicum

The practicum is a 3-credit course, independent study, or internship that entails applied learning or research on a topic relevant to scientific literacy in the 21st century. Listed below are broad practicum ideas. These are offered to guide the student in his/her process of discerning an appropriate project. 

At the conclusion of the practicum, the student will submit and present his/her project to the Program Director. There is no set format for the project. The student may choose from a variety of formats such as: research paper, podcast, movie, documentary, website, proposal, manuscript etc.

Examples of Practicum Directions, Ideas or Projects

  1. Examine a problem with social relevance that science is currently solving or trying to solve. Explain the current state of scientific research regarding this problem.

    *For example, consider the efforts of the auto industry to manufacture lighter automobiles in order to increase fuel efficiency. There is a public safety concern that these lighter materials cannot withstand the impact involved in most accidents. How are engineers and other scientists trying to solve the problem of developing materials that are both light and strong?

  2. Find people in your community working to advance scientific literacy. Design a practical project to assist them in their efforts, or conduct a research project assessing their efficacy.

    *For example, how are teachers in area schools getting young students excited about the sciences? What is the current thinking on pedagogy in the sciences at the grade-school level? What approaches are working best?

  3. Identify an issue in the public sphere where the true meaning of scientific findings is being ignored or abused for political purposes.

    *For example, what kind of evidence has science provided that current changes in our climate are caused by human activities? Is it legitimate to criticize these findings as inconclusive? Identify examples of arguments in the public sphere that unfairly criticize the science on this issue. What are some specific non-scientific motives driving this criticism? 

  4. Identify an instance where socioeconomic or political factors have prevented science from serving the common good.

    *For example, consider the complex relationships between epidemiology and the pharmaceutical industry. Examine the incentives in the industry to maintain chronic conditions and secure markets large enough to justify investments in research. Find a specific case in which these incentives are at odds with the good of public health.

  5. Find an instance in contemporary society where science has become blind to its limits or has failed to effectively communicate the meaning of its results to the general public. Write a research paper that helps rectify these shortcomings.

    *For example, the question of “why we are here” can be understood in many ways. Consider how evolutionary biology provides an answer to this question. Identify arguments in the public sphere that use the theory of evolution to dismiss as meaningless philosophical and religious reflection on “why we are here.” How can philosophical and religious reflection on our purpose as human beings still be meaningful if evolutionary theory is correct?

Approved Courses

The following courses have been preapproved. Other electives or special topics offerings may be substituted with the approval of the program director.  Students must take any required prerequisites prior to taking an approved course that requires a prerequisite.


  • ENG 354 Studies in Writing: Nature Writing
  • FYXX 125 with appropriate SL21 theme
  • CM 224 Democratic Technologies

 Social and Behavioral Science

  • FYXX 125 with appropriate SL21 theme
  • PS 110 Introduction to Psychology 
  • PS 111 Thinking Critically About Psychological Science
  • PS 351 Physiological Psychology
  • PS 382 Systems and Theories of Psychology
  • PS 389 Special Topics in Neuroscience
  • SO110 Sociological Imagination
  • SO257 Science, Technology and Society
  • SO258 Society and the Environment

 Natural Science/Mathematics

  • FYXX 125 with appropriate SL21 theme
  • BI 010 The Nature of Life
  • BI 020 Heredity and Society
  • BI 052 Man and the Environment
  • BI 030 The Human Body
  • BI 111 Concepts in Biology
  • BI 112 Concepts in Biology II
  • BI 1XX Environment and Sustainability
  • CH 040 Chemistry, Society and the Environment
  • CH 100 Principles of Chemistry
  • CH 125 Principles of Organic and Biochemistry
  • CS 319 Computer Ethics: Society and Technology
  • MA 131 Statistics for Decision Making
  • MA 280 History of Mathematics
  • PY 045 Physical Geology
  • PY 090 Basic Astronomy

Religious Studies/Philosophy

  • FYXX 125 with appropriate SL21 theme
  • PH 231* Philosophy of Knowledge
  • PH 232* Philosophy of Science
  • PH 256 The Philosophy of Technology
  • PH 270* Philosophical Anthropology
  • PH 307* Philosophy of Lived Experience
  • PHXX    Truth and the Unconscious
  • TRS 221* Understanding Theology
  • TRS 222* Faith and Reason
  • TRS 271 Death
  • TRS 322 Theology and the Human Person
  • TRS 325* Faith and Science
  • TRS 340 Bioethics
  • TRS 363 Religions, Health and Healing
  • TRS 3XX Religion and Science Fiction

*Indicates a foundational course

More Information

Ono Ekeh
Program Director
Academic Building - HC 133
Tel: 203-371-7708 

Kenneth Knies
Program Director
Academic Building - HC 126
Tel: 203-371-7806