By examining the intersection of science and the liberal arts, the Center’s mission will be to inspire both knowledge of and a sense of wonder towards God and the created order.

The Center is a collaborative project between the Portsmouth Abbey School Department of Science and the Portsmouth Institute.

Mr. Christopher Fisher
Executive Director, Portsmouth Institute for Faith and Culture
Teacher, Department of Humanities, Portsmouth Abbey School

Dr. Stephen Zins
Chair, Department of Science
Portsmouth Abbey School

Student Programming

Research Trips: Students will have the opportunity to visit leading research institutions for a look into cutting edge scientific research. Trips will always be supplemented and grounded in conversations surrounding ethics and science, and will be informed by a devotion to Christian truth and a sense of wonder towards God and the created order.

Lectures and Seminars: Students will have the opportunity to hear lectures and participate in seminars that discuss the intersection of science, philosophy, theology and literature.

Science and Spirituality Grant Program

Faculty Programming

Interdisciplinary faculty seminars will accomplish the following:

1. Foster conversation on scientific ethics and the human condition through discussions of literature, philosophy, and theology

2. Discuss connections between theology, philosophy, and science

3. Connect liberal arts and science faculty at Portsmouth Abbey and St. Louis Priory with researchers and scholars from across the region

4. Allow faculty to demonstrate their expertise among fellow faculty and students


As a center for Catholic thought rooted in the Benedictine tradition and enlivening the academic life at Portsmouth Abbey and Saint Louis Priory schools, the Portsmouth Institute occupies a unique role in advancing the relationship between the liberal arts and science.

Admittedly, this role is not obvious. What does a Catholic, Benedictine intellectual institution have to say about modern scientific inquiry? Isn’t science the rational pursuit of evidence, divorced from philosophy, theology, literature, liturgy—in other words, separate from the liberal arts in general and Catholic thought in particular? To answer these questions, we must first answer a more fundamental question: what is science?

Scientia has traditionally been understood as a particular sort of knowledge: an analytical and systematic body of knowledge following in a demonstrative manner from certain premises which are either immediately known to be true or which are proved to be true.

In his study on the “mission of St. Benedict,” Bl. John Henry Newman considers the poetic sensibility of the Benedictines versus the scientific sensibility of the Dominicans.

Regarding the science of the Dominicans, Newman writes:

Reason investigates, analyzes, numbers, weighs, measures, ascertains, locates, the objects of its contemplation, and thus gains a scientific knowledge of them. Science results in system, which is complex unity…. The aim of science is to get a hold of things, to grasp them, to handle them, to comprehend them; that is (to use the familiar term), to master them, or to be superior to them.

Thus, in the history of the Western intellectual tradition, scientia was often not opposed to the liberal arts, but an essential part of it. It was not until the Enlightenment in the 17th century that a fissure between scientific knowledge and the liberal arts began to occur. Rational and empirical scientific knowledge became the sole arbiter of true knowledge, as opposed to one way among many of knowing the universe. Science, then, becomes not only a separate field from the liberal arts, but hostile to it.

The consequences of this rupture between the sciences and liberal arts is twofold: on the one hand, scientists—siloed in their academic disciplines—often lack a perspective on the meaning and essence of human existence; a perspective which is typically supplied through literature, philosophy, theology, and history. Science risks becoming irresponsible and inconsiderate of human flourishing, and thus, unethical. On the other hand, teachers of liberal arts—also siloed in their academic disciplines–have abdicated truth to science and reduced the liberal arts to emotional self-expression or identity politics. By their own re-definition, the liberal arts have no truth to offer science. Science becomes unethical, and the liberal arts become irrelevant. Thus, for both the liberal arts and science, the rupture must be mended.

We propose here an interdisciplinary way of mending the relationship between science and the liberal arts. To restore ethics to science, we will promote both scientia and a poetic appreciation for the world as it is. This, to take up from where we began, is the particularly Benedictine charism of the Portsmouth Institute’s Center for Science and the Liberal arts.

Newman writes of the poetic nature of the Benedictines,

[The Benedictine life] demands, as its primary condition, that we should not put ourselves above the objects in which it resides, but at their feet; that we should feel them to be above and beyond us, that we should look up to them, and that, instead of fancying that we can comprehend them, we should take for granted that we are surrounded and comprehended by them ourselves. It implies that we understand them to be vast, immeasurable, impenetrable, inscrutable, mysterious….Poetry does not address the reason, but the imagination and affections; it leads to admiration, enthusiasm, devotion, love.

The scientific seeks to know, to analyze, and to systemize; the poetic, to delight in what is, doing something for no other end than itself. Despite the tension between the two, Newman is quick to add that the Catholic Church holds both dispositions at the same time: “Things incompatible in nature coexist in her.”

The Portsmouth Institute’s Center for Science and the Liberal arts, like the Catholic Church, will attempt to hold these two opposing principles simultaneously, and to inspire an interdisciplinary connection between Christian scientists and humanists based on knowledge and imagination.