Arts, architecture and theology: hear more from Catalyst Marcio Lima 

The Logos and Cosmos Initiative’s Tier Two Catalysts have started running projects in their universities that spark curiosity and wonder about theology and the sciences.  

Catalyst Marcio Lima is a Professor of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of São Paulo in Brazil. He is developing a theology and the arts research program for Christian students who are involved with ABUB Brazil, the IFES national movement.  

As Christians, the narrative arc of creation, fall and redemption is the lens through which we see the world. Marcio’s project explores such questions as: What if we looked at this biblical narrative through the arts and vice versa? Would we understand more about God, the world and what it means to be human? Find out more in Marcio’s 2-minute long video below.  

At the Logos and Cosmos Initiative, we talk a lot about “theology and the sciences.” It is no accident that we use the plural term, “sciences.” We use this term to mean a range of academic disciplines, including not only the natural sciences but also the social sciences and the arts. Our Tier Two Catalysts, who are currently running inspiring projects, are from a diverse range of 13 different academic backgrounds. 

Marcio’s video is in Spanish but an English transcript can be found below. 

English-language transcript of Marcio’s video: 

Hi! I’m Marcio Lima. I live in São Paulo, Brazil. I am an architect and professor of architecture. I am one of the catalysts of the Logos and Cosmos Initiative. The goal of my project is developing a research program in theology and arts for university students.  

What led me to work on this topic was the need to explore the relationship between the artistic language and the religious experience. We start from the assumption that the arts lead us to relate in an intentional and intense way with the physical, emotional, and imaginative characteristics of a human. They enable us to get involved in activities which create meaning and thus contribute to integrally shape the human being. That is the reason we ask ourselves: do the visual arts and architecture reveal in a unique way something about the knowledge of God or about the world or about ourselves?  

From this perspective, and knowing that the answer to this question is positive, the proposed project seeks to explore how the arts contribute to the expression of what we know about the world and about God. Our hope is to prepare students to establish connections and promote dialogue within the academic world about the existing relationship between the arts and faith.  

I am currently drafting the theoretical basis of the course to be offered in September. After the course, we will have a mentoring program for students. They will have to develop a research project related to arts, architecture, and theology. We believe that the project will have a positive impact by opening a more poetic way of understanding faith and reality and increasing meaningful artistic productions, since our vision of God and reality transforms the way we see and act in the world. Thank you very much! 

Seeds of transformation: LCI featured on podcast 

Brazilian Catalyst Marcio Lima and the LCI’s Alejandra Ortiz were recently interviewed for a Voices of IFES podcast episode all about the Logos and Cosmos Initiative. It was a Spanish-language episode but read on for the English transcript. 

During the conversation, Marcio shares about both his career path and spiritual journey, and how his faith nourishes his academic work and vice versa. Marcio is a Professor of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Sao Paulo. You can also learn about his LCI project: a theology and the arts research and mentoring project for students from his IFES national movement. 

Alejandra, Co-Coordinator for the LCI in Latin America, explains more about LCI’s vision, how the program is strengthening IFES national movements and what’s on the horizon. We are grateful to Jorge “Toto” Bermudez, General Secretary of CBUU Uruguay and Regional Communications Coordinator, for hosting this episode.  

Listen to this episode of the Voices of IFES podcast wherever you usually get your podcasts. For example, it can be found here on Spotify. 

Watch the video of the podcast recording below (only in Spanish). 

Read the English transcript of the podcast below. 

English-language transcript of the Voices of IFES podcast episode about the LCI: 

Toto: Welcome to Voices of IFES. I am Jorge “Toto” Bermudez. Today I will be the host. I serve as general secretary of the movement in Uruguay, Comunidad Bíblica Universitaria, and I also coordinate Communications for the IFES Latin America regional team.  

Today we are joined by Alejandra Ortiz and Marcio Lima Junior. Both are part of the Logos and Cosmos Initiative. Ale is the Co-Coordinator of the Logos and Cosmos Initiative in Latin America, and Marcio is a Catalyst at the LCI and a professor of architecture and urban planning. 

Welcome, Ale, Marcio. Thank you for joining us on Voices of IFES. We wanted to have you on the podcast to talk about the Logos and Cosmos Initiative, which is one of the ministries of IFES, and which is quite recent. 

Ale, Marcio… Could you please introduce yourselves quickly? Then we will have more time to go deeper with each of you. Ale? 

Ale: Of course. It’s a pleasure to be here with you…  

My name is Alejandra Ortiz. I live in Tijuana, Mexico. I serve with COMPA part-time, the national movement here in Mexico, and with the LCI as co-coordinator. I am married to Abdiel and have two girls. 

Toto: Thank you very much Ale. Marcio? 

Marcio: Hello everyone. It’s a pleasure to be with you. I am Marcio. I live in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I am an architect, professor of architecture, and I am earning a doctorate in History and the Foundations of Architecture. I also participated as a student of the national movement University Bible Alliance of Brazil (ABUB) and… I am a volunteer advisor. 

Toto: Great. Thank you very much for joining us today. We are going to have a really interesting talk, getting to know each other a little bit more, and especially about the LCI. So… Ale, you are a member of the Logos and Cosmos Initiative team, can you tell us a little bit more about this initiative? And why was it created? 

Ale: Sure, yes, gladly.

The Logos and Cosmos Initiative equips young Christian academics from the national IFES movements to carry out projects that awaken and provoke wonder in both the sciences and theology and the relationship between the sciences and theology.

Then, through the LCI, we offer Catalyst training, mentoring, funding also for their own personal formation and to lead initiatives at the university and in collaboration with the national IFES movements. The Logos and Cosmos Initiative is largely funded by the John Templeton Foundation, which provided the funding for five years of this initiative in Latin America and French-speaking Africa.  

Toto: How nice! 

Ale: Well, the projects that are being developed bring together theological and scientific perspectives to address challenges, well, very pressing challenges that we have like… mental health, poverty, climate change, this dissociation that exists between academic disciplines and Christian faith within universities and movements, and it’s the Catalysts that are carrying out these projects.  

Toto: How interesting, how necessary it sounds for our context here in Latin America! Now… You have mentioned Catalysts more than once. Who are these Catalysts? 

Ale: Yes, yes, yes, yes. “Catalysts” is the name we use to designate the people who participate, that is, those who have applied to a year of the initiative and have been selected to be part of a cohort.

We call our participants Catalysts because we believe that they are key people who are producing changes in thinking about science and faith within their movements, their universities… And also, generating seeds of transformation for good processes in our mission contexts.

Toto: Yes… Very appropriate, very appropriate. And… Speaking of Catalysts… Marcio, you are one of those Catalysts! Can you share with us what led you to participate in the Logos and Cosmos Initiative? 

Marcio: Yes, of course. I am a Catalyst. I heard about the LCI through the national movement, and when I saw this opportunity to further develop knowledge about science and theology, I said to myself that it would be very interesting, very nice all this, because I knew something from the national movement, from the student community, but I saw this opportunity to further develop these issues within the university.  

Toto: That’s good! That’s great. And tell me Marcio, in this last year participating in the Logos and Cosmos Initiative, how has it been for you? Is there anything that impacted you in a special way? 

Marcio: Yes, of course.

The first year was a very good experience. The intellectual formation we received allowed us to be introduced to different authors, to explore the dimensions of science and theology. To learn how these two areas need not be opposed and disconnected. Because we understand that the reality of God impacts all things and Christ is reconciling all these things to himself. 

Toto: Uh-huh. 

Marcio: So, we understand that as Christian academics we have to look for these interfaces, to show that our worldview has a lot to contribute to the world… And I think one thing that impacted me a lot is from the point of view of developing a broader anthropology of the human being. 

Toto: Aha. 

Marcio: And another aspect that was very striking to me. The care of the program in developing a Christian life and a wise spirituality, since we are not only a brain, but a complete being that has feelings, and we were created to relate with God. So, the program encouraged us to listen to God’s voice to guide us on this path of research, work and personal relationships. We were also challenged to see our work as scholars as part of God’s action for the renewal of the world and as agents of God’s kingdom and participants in its history. In this sense, I am reminded of a class offered to us by Professor Sarah Williams, which dealt with the dimension of spirituality in academic work, and it was very impactful! 

Toto: How interesting, isn’t it? This question of academic life as work, but the academic as a spiritual person, also needing to cultivate his spirituality. How nice to be able to think about the development and challenges of both! This question throughout your life, right? Thinking about the space where you grew up, in the church… Also, in the space where you were formed, Marcio, in the university and even in the student ministry, the concepts about science, academia, and about religion, about faith and how they were linked, not always, I imagine, went in the same direction as the way they are working in the Logos and Cosmos Initiative. Have you noticed any difference, in that sense, in what you had heard in your formative years and the proposal of the Logos and Cosmos Initiative?  

Marcio: Yes, I think I can speak from two points of view. One from the formation in the national movement. I see the Logos and Cosmos program as a continuation of my formation within the evangelical student community, right? Because I already knew how our life should not be dichotomous, but that we should integrate everything as knowledge and reality of God. However, in my religious upbringing, as a child, I grew up in an environment where there was a distinction between secular or material life and spiritual life. We were presented with a gospel in which these two dimensions of human life are separated and where these two spheres need no connection with each other. It was like this dualistic view, more Platonic than Christian really, between the material world and the spiritual world, between the body and the soul.

In my religious upbringing, although there was no opposition to science, to academic study, faith and science were treated as two distinct areas, one of secular life and one of spiritual life. However… What we are developing in the Logos and Cosmos program is quite the opposite, it is the understanding that there is no secular life and a religious life. The reality of God permeates the whole cosmos, our whole life in its various manifestations. Since we are indivisible, it is sin that fragments us. Therefore, we do not need to have a dualistic vision, but a holistic vision, connected to this reality between science and university. 

Toto: How reassuring I imagine it is for academics, for those of us who develop the intellectual life, to be able to think about our lives in this way, in a holistic way! It is liberating, it is hopeful because it also makes us think of all the things that God can redeem in us and through us. As you were saying before, Marcio, you are a professor of architecture, of urban planning. You are doing a doctorate in history and fundamentals of architecture and urbanism at the prestigious University of Sao Paulo. What is it that led you to train in this area? 

Marcio: Yes… I think it is a sense of vocation, and… Before studying architecture and entering the university, I had a previous training in pedagogy. So, when I entered the university to study architecture, I also intended to dedicate myself to teaching. That became clearer to me, when I came to understand that God distributes gifts and talents so that we can serve the Kingdom and people. Based on this, I understood that this would be my way of acting, considering my personal inclinations, my academic background… It is an opportunity to serve the kingdom of God and people. 

Toto: That’s good, that’s good! Because at times we may have some tensions that are not necessary, don’t we?  
When the Lord really wants to strengthen that for which we feel a vocation, for which we have an inclination and that which really makes us feel fulfilled also in the development of our work and our intellectual work. Now Marcio… Thinking of you as a professor in your field, I am interested in knowing a little more, that you go a little deeper in this that has already been mentioned, in how your faith nourishes your work and also now, vice versa, how academic work can nourish faith.  

I guess… Not everything is a garden of roses. In some moments tensions appear, conflicts appear, what are those tensions, those conflicts that you have had as a Christian in your context? 

Marcio: Yes… Of course, it’s never a [rose] garden [a piece of cake]. But we keep cultivating this garden so that things can be seen. But… I think I can speak in two different ways. I see faith as shaping my work as a teacher and as a scholar.  

The first is related to social injustices. In Brazil and in Latin America we see a large number of people who have no house to live in or they live in their homes without light or structural stability, for example. In that sense, my work focuses on stimulating and sensitizing students about the need to get involved in, for example, popular housing projects, in the qualification of degraded areas, in providing decent spaces for human existence, not only structures and sanitary facilities but also in the existential and human aspect.  

Just today… I was reading a phrase of a contemporary architect, an Uruguayan, who said that: “some houses do not have a single sign of having been made as a whole, thinking that they could be inhabited by men capable of talking to the stars”. In this sense, the second aspect to which I have dedicated myself most in recent years is to understand architecture and the arts as a manifestation of what the human being is in all its depth. Our goal is to understand how the existence and essence of the human being is manifested through artistic languages and how they can be privileged means to understand the mystery of life. I understand the arts as something that leads us to participate intentionally and intensely in the physical, emotional, and imaginative characteristics of the human being. And I also believe that architecture is a written book and that there is a profound relationship between architecture and worldview, how those who built [those structures] understood the world.

The question I ask myself is whether architecture and other artistic languages can point us in a unique way to knowledge of God or the world or ourselves. Whether these languages can speak to us about these issues. And… the difficulties that I see in the university is that many times this topic of faith is a topic that is thought of as an intimate, private, subjective forum… And that it should not be dealt with in the university. But I see that it is totally the opposite because the university is the environment to ask all the discussions, questions, even questions related to faith and worldviews.  

So… sometimes there is blockage in people, but when you talk in a way that you can understand, that gives you an academic form, it is possible to dialogue. 

Toto: How interesting, thank you very much, Professor Marcio Lima, because we can really see your passion! This way of looking at architecture, one, as someone outside this area would say “the purpose of architecture is to provide us with sustainable housing and little else”. But how much more there is in this approach between architecture and the arts! I loved what you were saying about seeing them as a language and listening to what they can tell us about God, that we can also say through them to our fellow human beings, to other human beings… That we talk about things that have to do with the kingdom of God. What a beautiful vision! We are getting into this Logos and Cosmos Initiative, we are beginning to understand that it is a vision that encompasses the whole university, the way of linking ourselves with the academic work.  

 Ale… I would like you to tell us a little bit more about the current status of the Logos and Cosmos Initiative, what is coming up in the short and medium term. 

Ale: Of course. Look… In March 2022, we started the second year of the Logos and Cosmos Initiative, and in April a new cohort of Catalysts for both level 1 and Catalysts for both level 1 and the Catalysts that advanced to level 2. So now… We are now with Catalysts who are in their first year training and developing a project at this first level, and the Catalysts who are in level 2, in their second year, are carrying out projects that link their own academic discipline with the needs of the national movement. And [they] are in full action, in this second level, second year. And well…  

This year we will also have our first face-to-face meeting, in September, in Chile. A consultation for all the Catalysts of both levels, for the mentors, for those of us who work in the initiative… Very excited to see each other, to learn together, to listen to each other. And well… Again, in February of next year we will be calling for the third year of the initiative, to start again with a cohort and some Catalysts from level 1 and level 2 would advance to the next level if that were the case. 

Toto: Uh-huh. How nice, how nice the prospect of meeting face to face, of being able to embrace, to put body to those faces that one sees in Zoom or in other conference media! But above all to be able to share the table, to be able to continue generating links, friendships! And undoubtedly enhancing, without a doubt, what the different works are, right?  

You mentioned the link between the Catalyst and the national movement because listening to the experience, one could get the idea that this is something developed by some in the academic world, something very separate, right?  

How have the Catalysts been working in this sense with the national student movements of IFES? How can we see the benefit of the Logos and Cosmos initiative for the movements as a whole, beyond the Catalysts? Has there been any experience, any reaction from the national movements in this sense, Ale? 

Ale: Yes. I love your question Toto because… Actually, this has been one of the most important things for us at the moment we have been carrying out the initiative.

From the very inception of the projects, from the moment of thinking about them, we have tried to ensure that the Catalysts are in dialogue with their national movement, with their local movement, in conversation with regional workers, with the general secretary, with student leaders and also trying to see how the Catalyst’s own academic discipline, their own concerns also respond to the needs of the movements, how to enter into dialogue with this.

We have sought that the projects respond to the needs of the national movements, very specifically and in accordance with each national movement…  We have seen very nice things, for example… Some student movements are entering into conversation with things that are happening in the university or even with some authors who talk about issues of interest, based on the initiative of the Catalysts to bring issues to the table! 

Toto: That’s good. 

Ale: One example here, in Central America, is a Catalyst that is working on climate change and care for creation and is going to do this together with the students of their national movement. Also… We are seeing, for example, in Chile, that a network of Christian professors and academics is being generated from the Catalyst’s initiative, and it is something that the national movement itself had wanted to reactivate and had not been able to. So, we are seeing these type of projects and initiatives of the Catalysts that are directly benefiting the national movements.  

An Ecuadorian Catalyst who is developing a training module for her movement on the arts, which is her area, her academic discipline… These are some of the examples of how national movements are benefiting through the LCI. 

Toto: That’s great! That’s great, Ale! Well… And since we have a Catalyst here with us, we will take the opportunity to ask you Marcio: what is the project you are carrying out? Can you tell us a little more about it? 

Marcio: Yes, of course.

My project aims to develop a research program in theology and the arts for students of the national movement. The program consists of training, mentoring and support for the students’ own research. It will then feature a foundation course that will focus on the relationship between the arts and the basic Christian motif of creation, fall and redemption. This is intended to provide further theological, historical, and philosophical foundations to the links we find between the Christian faith and the arts.  

I am now in the final phase of compiling the bibliography, which will allow me to begin the process of writing the theoretical framework of the course that will be offered for the entire movement, for all those interested. After the course, we will have a mentoring program for the students. They will have to develop their own research project in which they will relate arts, architecture and theology. At this moment, I am also preparing a workshop for our national ABUAB congress that will talk about an aesthetics of the eschaton: arts, justice and the kingdom of God. 

Toto: That’s great, that’s great! I thought I understood that this workshop that you will be giving in September will be open to students from the neighbouring country, Uruguay, who would like to participate… But we’ll talk about it later, Marcio. Don’t get nervous, it’s not necessary to clarify it now [laughs Marcio and Ale].  
But how interesting! Are you going to be doing those tutorials yourself, or how will that part of the project implementation be? 

Marcio: Yes, of course, Toto, we can talk… and open this workshop for all Latin America. And yes… We will continue to talk about this. So, yes… I am going to teach this course on the fundamentals, and I am going to do the mentoring. This year the tutoring will be limited because we only have one tutor, which is me… So we have a call for students to submit their projects for me to do an evaluation and those that are selected will get these tutorials with me. 

Toto: That’s good. Marcio, how could we be praying for you, thinking about this project? 

Marcio: I am glad Toto that we are all a community that continues to pray for each other. For this, I ask you to help me in prayer, asking God to give me grace and wisdom to develop this proposed project, and to pray for my health. I need health to continue with all this, with this agenda. 

Toto: Very well. We take note and we will be accompanying you…  
And our friends who are listening, surely also, so that this project may have an impact and be of great blessing for many, without a doubt. And Ale, how can we be praying for you? For the team? For the ministry of Logos and Cosmos? 

Ale: Yes, thanks for the question. Well, for me…. In a particular way, for wisdom and strength and reactivity also, to be co-directing this project with Josué Olmedo here in Latin America… For the beautiful challenge we have, and in particular for life here with two small daughters while I continue working in the ministry… And for the team, well… As I said, we are co-directing this project with Josué, here in Latin America, and also in the executive team are Gustavo Sobarzo in Chile and Jouseth Moya from Ecuador. So, pray for us and for the face-to-face consultation that we are organizing in Chile, in September of this year, for all of us who will be there both as mentors and Catalysts. 

Toto: Very good. We take note and ask the Lord for health, wisdom and grace for Marcio and for wisdom for you and Josué as coordinators of the project in Latin America, for family life, that it may continue to be sustained, for the teamwork, the work in COMPA’s ministry, and of course for Gustavo, for Jouseth, we ask the Lord to strengthen them, to bless them. And in a very special way, we pray for this face-to-face consultation in Chile, which we are sure will be a celebration and a celebration. But, to tell the truth, I am a little envious that I will not be able to be there in September with you. But well… I hope to see photos, videos… and to be able to follow this meeting.  

Hey… One last question for Ale: how can the friends who are listening to us get involved with the work of science and theology that the Logos and Cosmos initiative is doing? 

Ale: Sure. Well look… You can visit our LCI website which is lci.ifesworld.org/en. There you can check our blog, you can click on one of the registration forms also to subscribe to the Maravillas newsletter. And well… In February 2023, we will open another cohort of Catalysts, there will be another selection process stay tuned! And… Finally… Very important also, you can take the “Engaging the University” course that opens now in October because this is one of the requirements, for example, to be able to apply to the LCI next year in 2023.  

Toto: This course is an online course, free of charge, which is on the IFES platform, right? 

Ale: That’s right! This same course that opens in October of this year and that opens every year really.  

Toto: A course that, if you’re not interested in participating and going deeper into the Logos and Cosmos Initiative, it’s worth doing anyway because it’s going to give you a platform or at least help you to start thinking about this how to connect academic life with spirituality, with your area of science and how to serve from there. Thanks for joining us! It was so interesting to hear a little bit more and learn about the Logos and Cosmos Initiative! I hope you have a good idea, or now at this point, a little more information about the Logos and Cosmos Initiative, the people involved, the dreams, the challenges. If you want to be part of it, don’t hesitate to go to the website that Ale told us about: lci.ifesworld.org/es. It is in Spanish, there you will be able to read the blog and also subscribe to the Maravillas newsletter that will update us, four times a year, a little of what is happening. Thank you Ale, thank you Marcio, thank you friends for listening to us! Don’t forget to subscribe to hear more about Voices of IFES and share this episode with anyone you think might be interested in the Logos and Cosmos initiative. God bless you! 

Projects in Latin America

Working towards human flourishing amid the climate crisis in Guatemala

Guatemala is among the top 10 countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change1. A nation in environmental crisis cannot flourish. Graduate student Johnny Patal believes that solutions will arise by approaching the issue from multiple different knowledge perspectives.  

Photo of Johnny Patal

His 2021 pilot project explored Christian university students’ perspectives on climate change. He found that they acquire their information on this topic from academic sources and through their Christian communities, but their understanding is incomplete and largely relates to their personal experience. 

Johnny’s project will equip Christian students to bring together perspectives from the academy and their Christian worldview to discover ways to positively tackle climate change. 

Working with GEU Guatemala, the IFES national movement, the project will convene a multidisciplinary group of students who will participate in discussion groups, reading circles and practical projects in the university and wider communities. The project will develop resources such as: video interviews with Christians who have implemented climate change adaptation and mitigation projects, interviews with Christian academics sharing their position on climate change; and a written training guide for students in GEU Guatemala. 

— Johnny Patal is from Guatemala and is studying for a master’s in economics, development and climate change. 

Vaccines, truths and values: promoting dialogue between science, biotech and theology

The growing rejection of scientific facts among evangelical Christians in Brazil and Latin America has been a significant factor in vaccination rates in the region, especially for the Covid-19 vaccine. At the same time, there is very little academic literature in Portuguese on the dialogue between the biomedical sciences, biotechnology and theology.  

Photo of Prisciliana Jesus de Oliveira

Prisciliana Jesus de Oliveira’s project will provide an innovative and relevant response to this issue. Students and professionals in ABUB Brazil, the IFES national movement, will be provided with tools to help foster reflection and dialogue between technology, health and theology. The project will help students explore big questions about ethical principles and profound social issues, and help them recognize how vaccines and other life-saving technologies can be tools in God’s restorative work in the world.  

Regional workshops aimed at students and researchers will include lectures on such topics as “Science and Denialism” and “Technologies and Theology”. A series of electronic fliers on “Vaccines, Truths and Values” will be disseminated through the social networks of ABUB Brazil and its students and staff. The project will also develop an eBook for students, containing a series of bible studies on the subject.  

— Prisciliana Jesus de Oliveira is a biologist, teacher, and PhD student in tropical medicine at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation. She lives in Brazil. 

Exploring how spirituality and virtues impact the scientific profession in Chile

The perceived conflict between science and spirituality is still prevalent in academia and the wider society in Chile. Physicist Pablo Gutiérrez conducted field research in 2021 and observed two specific observations: Christian students and academics in Chile need role models and “companions along the way”; and the academy could benefit from a more integrated perspective on the sciences.  

Photo of Pablo Gutierrez

Pablo’s project will tackle these needs by exploring how spirituality (the root of our virtues) impacts academic life. This area will be explored both in personal stories and from theoretical perspectives. 

Working with GBUCH Chile, the IFES national movement, Pablo will develop a supportive network of Christian students and professionals working in academia. Through this network, he will capture and share audiovisual interviews with Christian academics discussing the points of connection between their Christian faith and academic careers. Finally, he will organize a scholarly seminar about the relevance of faith perspectives and spirituality on academic work – an aspect which is frequently excluded from academic conversations in Chile. 

— Pablo Gutiérrez is a physicist who teaches and conducts research at the University of O’Higgins, Chile.  

Equipping students to be agents of peace and justice in Mexico

Mexico is the 3rd most violent country in Latin America2, largely due to the “war on drugs3” between the government and drug cartels. Yet among Mexican evangelical Christians, there is little talk about justice and peace. In her pilot project, Sandra Márquez Olveradiscovered that many at her university believe that justice is purely about laws, and that peace is only about the absence of wars. 

Photo of Sandra Marquez

Sandra’s project aims to forge a dialogue among university students about faith, justice and peace in the Mexican context. As “dual citizens” of both the Kingdom of God and their academic communities, students in COMPA Mexico, the IFES national movement, have the potential to bring to bear creative actions of hope, peace-building and transformation in their nation.  

This project will have an impact through three elements: a workshop will equip Christian students to take an active position on peace-building, and an academic forum will bring together experts from theology and the social sciences to discuss teachings of the bible, justice and peace in Mexico. Lastly, Sandra will expand her preliminary study of students’ religious beliefs and attitudes about war, peace and justice into a research paper that will be submitted to a scholarly journal for publication   

 – Sandra Márquez Olvera is a graduate student pursuing a PhD in community psychology at the Autonomous University of the State of Morelos, Mexico. 

Science and theology mentoring network in Brazil

A pilot project conducted in Brazil by Deborah, in 2021, found that 60 percent of evangelical students surveyed believed that Brazilians are ill-equipped at understanding how science and theology overlap; 25 percent believed that people do not understand the compatibility of science and theology at all. Many students also reported feelings of isolation and loneliness as Christians in the university, and a lack of Christian peers in their academic environment.  

Photo of Deborah Vieira

Deborah Vieira’s project will establish a 7-month science and theology mentoring network to help foster dialogue about science and theology. Eight students from ABUB Brazil, the IFES national movement, will be connected with a mentor who is further along in their academic journey. Together, they will exchange experiences in the face of similar challenges and think through possibilities of how to better connect their faith with their academic discipline.  

Mentors will be Christian researchers or teachers from the same or similar discipline as the mentee. The mentors will receive training, and will meet monthly with their mentee to discuss a series of assigned readings, many of which will be drawn from the Logos and Cosmos Initiative’s training curriculum.  

— Deborah Vieira recently completed a master’s in literature and is a volunteer with several arts and culture initiatives in ABUB Brazil. 

Combining theology, history and philosophy to tackle Mexico’s challenges

In the northeast region of Mexico, problems such as migration, gender violence, and young people being victimized by drug traffickers converge to affect university students and the general population. In order to know how to respond to these challenges, Christian students need to understand their place in history and how the Bible speaks about the difficulties of their context. 

Photo of Areli Cortez

Areli Cortez’s project will create a learning space for students in COMPA Mexico, the IFES national movement. She will develop a course in which the biblical framework of creation, fall, redemption and restoration will help students understand their personal and social history. The course will bring together perspectives from  theology, history and philosophy to equip and encourage students to respond to the challenges around them from a science and theology perspective.  

The project includes curriculum development and training for COMPA staff and volunteers who will deliver the course. In parallel, Areli will explore the same themes in an academic article that will be presented at a colloquium at her university.  

— Areli Cortez is a history and anthropology of religion student at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM)., and a staff worker with COMPA Mexico. 

Fostering a Christian response to gender-based violence in El Salvador

Tackling gender-based violence (including physical, sexual, psychological and economic) in El Salvador needs to involve all of society, including the Christian community. But the evangelical church in El Salvador has often been silent on such issues and in some cases, complicit. 

Photo of Remy Ocon

Initial research through Remy Ocón’s pilot study on women’s experiences in evangelical churches in El Salvador found that many of the women said they had experienced inequality, lack of access to leadership roles, conflict in male/female relationships and the use of biblical interpretations to support violence towards women.  

The interdenominational nature of MUC El Salvador, the IFES national movement, provides an opportunity to promote frank dialogue between the Bible and gender studies. Remy’s project will provide a formative process and practical tools to train students, professionals and church members to be able to understand and respond to the challanges of gender-based violence in El Salvador from a Christian perspective.  

She will extend her 2021 pilot project research into a full study. This will inform the development of a manual that will bring together perspectives from social sciences and the bible. It will be disseminated through workshops for students, a podcast and printed materials.  

 – Remy Ocón is a sociology student at the University of El Salvador (UES), the only public university in the country. 

Theology and the arts research program in Brazil

Our perception of God and reality impacts how we relate to the world and how we represent it through artistic expression. The biblical narrative arc of creation, fall and redemption is the lens through which Christians see the world. 

Photo of Marcio Lima

Looking at this biblical narrative through the arts, and vice versa, is a way in which we can understand more about God, the world and what it means to be human. For theologian David Taylor, “the arts lead us to an intentional and intense participation in the physical, emotional, and imaginative aspect of our humanity.”  

Marcio Lima’s project is a theology and the arts research program for Christian students who are involved with ABUB Brazil, the IFES national movement. It will promote the production of new research and meaningful artistic productions that are related to the biblical narrative arc. The program consists of a Fundamentals Course, followed by a public call for research/artistic production proposals, of which three will receive funding, mentoring and academic support. 

– Marcio Lima is a Professor of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of São Paulo in Brazil. 

Sharing inspiring stories of Christian women academics in Argentina

Many women are successful in academic careers but little research has been published specifically on the experiences of Christian women in academia. A pilot study conducted by Lorena Brondani in 2021 in Argentina raised many questions on the intersections among women’s spirituality, their academic work and their gender and family roles (marriage, motherhood, singleness). 

Photo of Lorena Brondani

Lorena Brondani’s project will be an exploratory study which captures and shares the life stories of 13 Argentinian women academics who have built bridges between their Christian faith, their academic discipline and their family life (marriage, motherhood, singleness and divorce). The goal is to create a selection of narrative stories and develop inspiring resources that will demonstrate how these three areas can complement and enrich each other, and to encourage young Christian, female students who hope to pursue academic careers.

In-depth interviews will be developed into a printed book, an eBook, a short film and a series of short audiovisual clips.

All of the women who will be profiled have been involved with ABUA Argentina, the IFES national movement, and the resources produced will be disseminated through the movement’s leaders and students. They will also be shared with a wider audience across Latin America via social media.  

– Lorena Brondani is a PhD student in social communication at the Graduate School of Communication at University Austral and lives in Argentina. 

Art and Word in Ecuador

Most of the students in CECE Ecuador, the IFES national movement, understand that there is a symbiotic relationship between art and the Christian faith. The movement has held events on this topic for the last five years. However, many students lack the theological and theoretical elements to represent this relationship in a rich and concrete way. In the aftermath of the global pandemic, there is also a need to help students connect with each other in new ways. 

Photo of Isabela Pineda

Isabela Pineda’s project has three axes: theology, aesthetics and artistic production in community. She will develop and deliver a free, digital learning module on the dialogue between art and theology in the Latin American context, and students will contribute to its production.  

The module will be launched with two special events on a local university campus: an academic conversation in which panelists will discuss themes from the module, such as art, imagination and decolonization; and an exhibition of eight works of art, each produced by a student under the mentorship of a volunteer artist from CECE. 

— Isabela Pineda is an architecture student at the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador. 

Footnotes:

2 Global Peace Index Report (2021), produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace: https://www.economicsandpeace.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/GPI-2021-web.pdf 

Latest news: projects underway, new Catalysts and in-person meetings 

Year Two of the Logos and Cosmos Initiative began in April and we are excited to now be working with even more young change-makers from across Francophone Africa and Latin America.  

We have welcomed a new cohort of 23 Catalysts into Tier One (our training and development year). Meanwhile, 18 of last year’s Catalysts have had their theology and the sciences projects selected for implementation and are now in Tier Two.

Catalysts’ projects have begun 

Catalysts’ projects are now well underway. Many of their projects tackle pressing issues and challenges in Catalysts’ local and national contexts, such as environmental sustainability, poverty and violence. 

Geologist Isaac Daama is leading a project about animist mining techniques in Cameroon. Occult practices are often part of the artisanal mining process, in which individuals use hand-tools to dig for gold, diamond and other precious stones.  

“I have been conducting field work at mining sites in northern Cameroon, interviewing miners about their beliefs,” Isaac said. “This mining is risky, dangerous work and they sell their finds on the black market.” 

Photo of Catalyst Isaac Daama interviewing miners

“What is interesting is that some of these miners believe that there are ancestors who plead with the gods to open the earth for you so that you can find precious stones. Daily piety and animal sacrifices are part of these practices. This approach is very controversial for modern science (mining geology), and requires a structured discussion and analysis in order to bring a Christian perspective to the understanding of this phenomenon and its issues.” 

Isaac’s findings will inform the next stage of his project. He will collaborate with GBEEC Cameroon, the IFES national movement, to lead a science-culture-faith group for students and researchers on his university campus. Through lectures, workshops and discussions, the group will promote constructive dialogue among Christians and non-Christians about scientific and biblical perspectives on these controversial mining techniques. The aim is to explore how both approaches can lead to an integrated management of mining resources and the environment. 

In Brazil, Deborah Vieira is planning to launch a science and theology mentoring network in which students from ABUB Brazil, the IFES national movement, will be connected with a mentor who is further along in their academic journey, for example Christian graduate students, professors and researchers. Deborah is selecting a series of readings, gathered mostly from her experience at the LCI, which will then be shared among the mentors and students in a series of six training sessions.  

Workshops, in-person gatherings and staff news  

We began the year with online workshops in April in both regions. In Latin America, Dr Jorge Sobarzo, a Christian psychiatrist from Chile, spoke about mental health and faith (watch his talk – in Spanish – here). In Francophone Africa, Dr Augustin Ahoga, former regional secretary, spoke about African religions (which includes approaches to culture, history and science) as the foundation for science and theology dialogue.  

Photo of the LCI Latin America staff team

We are honoured that Dr Ahoga, who has degrees in economics, theology, anthropology and pedagogy, has joined our Francophone Africa team to lead our mentoring program for Catalysts.  

Looking ahead, we are thankful to be planning some in-person meetings this year. In April, our Latin American staff team (see left) met together in person for the first time in Tijuana, Mexico. Both regions are planning in-person workshops for Catalysts in August and September/October this year.

Pray with us 

  • Thank God for the new Catalysts who have joined us and for the Tier Two Catalysts who are starting their projects  
  • Pray for Catalysts’ projects to have a transformative impact on students, universities, national movements and wider societies – all for God’s glory 
  • Pray for the Francophone Africa staff team and Catalysts as they gather for their first in-person training workshop in August. They will meet for the three days prior to the regional (GBUAF) Pan-African conference, PANAF’22, taking place in Burundi. 

Laying the foundations for catalysts to bring change

A diverse cohort of students and scholars– all of them passionate about applying their Christian faith to their academic discipline – joined IFES’ new Logos and Cosmos Initiative (LCI) in April. Since then, these 36 “catalysts” have benefited from a transformational program of mentoring and training. 

So far, the catalysts have taken part in three online workshops, two e-courses and journeyed together through an online training platform that connects participants from 22 countries across Latin America and Francophone Africa. The goal is to equip these young leaders to run projects that will foster dialogue between theology and the sciences in their universities and local contexts. 

For seismologist Jonás De Basabe, who you may remember from this October edition of IFES Prayerline, the Introduction to Science & Theology e-course was particularly impactful this year.  

“The course gave me the tools to understand the relationship between my faith and academic work, and challenged me to analyze this relationship from a biblical perspective,” said Jonás, who is from Mexico.  

“It left me with a sense that we can meaningfully contribute as Christian scientists to our church and society,” Jonas said. “It also encouraged me to let my academic research be more inspired by the values of the kingdom of God.” 

Photo of Jonas De Basabe
Catalyst Jonás De Basabe from Mexico

For some, it was being part of a learning community that has been most powerful. 

“Being part of the LCI made me realize (as Elijah did) that I am not alone in this journey,” said Deborah Vieira. She recently completed her master’s in literature and now volunteers with several art initiatives with ABUB, the national student movement in Brazil.  

“I was encouraged that there are other Christian students desiring to delve into the Word of God and science in such an intense way so that not only the testimony of their work and experience can testify to Jesus, but the scientific production itself too.” 

In addition to learning about theology of science and biblical hermeneutics, the Logos and Cosmos Initiative is an integrated program. It trains catalysts in the knowledge, skills and character needed to thrive in whole-life discipleship, which includes their academic lives.  

Photo of Deborah Vieira
Catalyst Deborah Vieira from Brazil

Photo of Isaac Daama in graduation regalia
Catalyst Isaac Daama at his recent graduation

Isaac Daama, a geologist from Cameroon, says his studies through the LCI helped him succeed in his recent, six-hour-long PhD defence: it helped him to be a good listener. John Stott’s advice about attentive listening in his book The Contemporary Christian stayed with Isaac long past the assignment he did on this book in May.  

“This chapter taught me how to really listen to what my questioners and respondents were saying,” Isaac said. “It helped me be fully open to them and to not be quick to defend myself or stress my point.” 

Isaac now plans to apply to be a researcher and teacher at his university. “I believe this is where God is calling me for mission,” he said. “My training at the LCI has equipped me sufficiently to engage there as an academic, ready to fully interact with the university for its transformation.” 

His PhD may be complete but, Isaac continues to progress through a personal development plan as part of his training as a catalyst. Top of his list is developing his English skills since Cameroon’s official languages are English and French.  

“If I want to be excellent in my discipline, English is a must,” he said. “My university environment is more and more bilingual so it will also help me to better dialogue about my Christian faith.” 

The catalysts are now on the cusp of an exciting new phase: planning their first projects. Most recently, the catalysts have been conducting field research, pilot projects and consultations with their national movement. Their projects, which could take the form of conferences, publishing initiatives and scholarly networks, will launch in Spring 2022.  

Isaac, for example, wants to start a science and theology group on his university campus. “This ‘cell’ will incubate Christian students for an inclusive, prophetic, constructive dialogue for the glory of Christ,” he said.  

While the current catalysts will apply to progress onto the second year of this five-year program in Spring, the LCI will also be accepting applications for more catalysts. Applications open on 1 February 2022 on the LCI website.   

Please pray with us for the Logos and Cosmos Initiative and the catalysts: 

  • Thank God for the catalysts and their passion to live as disciples of Jesus in their academic communities 
  • Pray for wisdom for the catalysts as they plan their projects and for fruitful collaborations with their national movements 
  • Pray that God would draw the right candidates to apply for the next phase of the program  

INTRODUCING YOU TO ONE OF OUR CATALYSTS: Deborah from Brazil

Deborah Vieira has just completed her Master’s in Literature at her university in Brazil. She helped to pioneer the Christian Union in her university when she first began her studies. She has served as secretary of Arts and Culture for her IFES national movement, and has discipled many other members, especially those in the Arts. 

Deborah is part of an Arts and Culture university group where discussions between culture and religion are encouraged, but she has found that these conversations sometimes lack grace and understanding.

Her hope is to further her research about the theological understanding of arts and culture to bridge the gap between Christian and secular beliefs and debate. Here she shares why she wanted to become a Catalyst in the Logos and Cosmos Initiative.