A LEADING social scientist is set to review the controversy over faith and science when she gives the latest Gifford Lecture in Edinburgh later this month.

Professor Elaine Howard Ecklund will contend that matters of faith can influence the most sceptical of scientists during her lecture at Edinburgh University’s Meadows Lecture Theatre on Tuesday, May 29, at 5.30pm.

It is entitled Science And Religion In Global Public Life and may be followed by questions. During the evening, Ecklund will share insights from 12 years of empirical research to show that science and religion often overlap. Backed by surveys of 18,000 scientists and 900 interviews from four national and international studies, she will argue that even scientists who describe themselves as atheist may have a spiritual impulse.

Ecklund will suggest the notion that the two principles being independent of each other – or in conflict – is a primarily western approach.

Ecklund is the holder of the Herbert S Autrey Chair in Social Sciences, Professor of Sociology and founding director of The Religion and Public Life Program at Rice University in Houston, Texas. Her research uses social scientific methods to explore the public relationship between science and religion.

Most recently, she has studied how scientists in eight different national contexts understand religion and spirituality.

Last year, Ecklund co-authored the book Religion vs. Science: What Religious People Really Think, a companion work that follows on from her 2010 book Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think. For 130 years, the Gifford Lectures have been delivered annually by a succession of esteemed international scholars.

The series was established under the will of Adam Lord Gifford (1820-1887), a Senator of the College of Justice at Edinburgh University, and the lectures explore the links between nature and religion.

Previous speakers include former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams; the chairwoman of the United Nations Internal Justice Council, Catherine O’Regan; and psychologist Steven Pinker.