The Sinai and Synapses Fellowship is a small interfaith group of clergy, scientists and writers who are committed to elevating the discourse surrounding religion and science. By personalizing the relationship around religion and science, the Fellows are models for a productive conversation surrounding religion and science.
Below are the 2021-2023 Fellows; to see previous Fellows, click here.
Dr. Ito Briones is a physician from the Philippines. He graduated from the University of Santo Tomas medical school with a pre-med degree in BS Biology. After residency training in Radiology for two years and practicing medicine in his home country, he moved to the United States and entered a doctorate program at Georgetown University, Washington, DC. He holds a PhD in cell and molecular biology and took his post-doctoral fellowship at the National Cancer Institute-National Institutes of Health (NCI-NIH) engaged in the field of Epigenetics and stem cells. Aside from being a biomedical science researcher, Dr. Briones is also a fiction writer with an MA in creative writing from Boston University, Boston Massachusetts. Presently, he is actively engaged in the arts as a member and previous board officer of the Arts Club of Washington where he was chair of the Marfield Prize, a literary competition for non-fiction works about the arts. He is also a portrait painter, an amateur pianist and chess player. He lives in Bethesda, Maryland.
Dr. Stephen R. Burgin is an associate professor of secondary science education at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. Prior to his time at the University of Arkansas, Dr. Burgin taught high school chemistry in Gainesville, Florida for six years. His research interests focus on the authentic practices employed by professional scientists and how school science can more closely approximate that work. As an evangelical Christian preparing preservice secondary science teachers in the southern United States, Dr. Burgin is uniquely positioned to help his students and those he comes into contact with grapple with their relationship to both science and faith.
Hedyeh Elahinia is a third-year medical student at the University of Toledo College of Medicine in Toledo, Ohio. A former Religious Studies and Biology double major, she’s interested in the places where the sciences and humanities meet—particularly in the context of medicine and the life sciences. On the weekends, Hedyeh helps to run the Rumi Workshop at the historic Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, and she helped to launch The Lumen, an arts and literary magazine housed at the UT College of Medicine. As a medical student and as a Muslim, she is doing her best at living the questions.
Tyler J. Fuller is a Ph.D. student in the Graduate Program in Religion at Boston University. He is training as a socio-cultural scholar of religion and public health. His research interests focus on lived religion, narrative, and collective memory in relation to health-seeking behaviors and faith-based health education and promotion. He primarily takes a social scientific approach to the study of religion and utilizes qualitative methods, including ethnography and grounded theory. At Boston University Tyler was a colloquium fellow with the Institute on Culture, Religion, and World Affairs, where he presented work on Catholic experiences of watching mass virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic. Before attending Boston University, Tyler served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Republic of Fiji, working on community health education and promotion. He earned his MTS and MPH from Emory University through the Religion and Public Health Dual Degree Program. While at Emory University, Tyler held graduate assistantships with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the United Nations Joint Program and HIV/AIDS. He is also a Certified Health Education Specialist.
Dr. Vikki T. Gaskin-Butler is a licensed psychologist (clinical and health psychology) and ordained clergy person. She is licensed as a psychologist in Florida and Georgia and maintains a small private practice. Dr. Vikki is also an engaging speaker, preacher, workshop and retreat facilitator, and consultant. She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Spelman College. She received a Master of Science and Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Florida. She also received a Master of Divinity degree from the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. Dr. Vikki has served as a psychologist in university counseling centers, clinic director in an interfaith-based counseling center, and as director of a university psychology clinic. She has supervised numerous students in pursuit of psychology, mental health counseling, and social work degrees. She has led clergy consultation groups and served as a consultant with church/church-affiliated and secular organizations. She has also served as a university chief diversity officer and as a minister of education and an associate pastor in local churches. Dr. Vikki is married to Dr. Malcolm B. Butler and they have one son, Malcolm L. Butler. Dr. Vikki loves riding her bike, writing, reading, singing, and practicing yoga. She secretly wants to be a gourmet chef and yoga teacher.
Emily Gerdin, Ph.D. was raised in two faiths growing up (Judaism & Protestantism). Her interfaith upbringing inspired her to study how minds are shaped by religious worldviews. She is now a 5th year PhD candidate in developmental psychology at Yale University, studying how children conceive of religious groups as sometimes similar to other social categories in the world (e.g., race, gender, nationality) and sometimes very, very different. As a Sinai & Synapses Fellow, Emily will share an interfaith perspective on the relationship between religion and science.
Sofi Hersher is the founder and chief strategist of Grand View Strategies, a digital agency working at the intersection of religion, technology, and innovation. With a Master of Arts in Religion in Contemporary Society from King’s College London and a Bachelor of Arts in Comparative Religion from the University of Washington, Sofi has dedicated her career to exploring the role of religion in modern life. Over the last decade, Sofi has served as Global Brand Manager for Twitter, overseen external affairs for the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, representing the largest denomination of Judaism in North America, and all client and creative operations for ignite, a digital strategy agency serving faith-based nonprofits based in Washington, DC. She has launched and advised campaigns to increase access to abortion care, mobilize religious communities to support voter turnout, fight Christian nationalism, and raise millions of dollars to engage people in social change work. Her recent work includes examinations of religious and secular approaches to defining when life begins and the impact of Web3 technology on religious institutions in the United States.
Rabbi Jason M. Kirschner, BCC, is a Staff Chaplain at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, NY. He is the unit chaplain on the Surgical Intensive Care Unit and the Transplant Intensive Care Unit and also serves as the rabbi for the whole hospital. Rabbi Kirschner has completed six units of Clinical Pastoral Education through The Jewish Theological Seminary, New York-Presbyterian, and The Mount Sinai Health System, where he served as a Chaplain Resident. He is a Board Certified Chaplain through Neshama: The National Association of Jewish Chaplains and a member of The Rabbinical Assembly and The New York Board of Rabbis. Rabbi Kirschner is a veteran frontline healthcare worker, having served at The Mount Sinai Hospital from the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic. He provides spiritual and emotional support to patients, their families, and staff, with a focus on critical care and the hospital’s Jewish population. From The Jewish Theological Seminary, he earned his semicha (rabbinic ordination), a master’s degree in Judaic Studies, and a Certificate in Pastoral Care and Counseling. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in History from Muhlenberg College. Rabbi Kirschner lives in New York City with his wife, Yonah, and their two daughters.
Snezana Lawrence, Ph.D. is a mathematical historian, and her teaching work focuses on the creativity, identity, and engagement in the learning of mathematics. Underpinning this, Snezana explores the questions about the epistemology of mathematical knowledge, tracing the big questions of mathematics and belief systems, including mathematicians’ own religious views. She is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Mathematics and Design Engineering, Middlesex University and is involved in various national and international initiatives to promote the use of the history of mathematics in mathematics education. She is the Chair of the History and Pedagogy of Mathematics International Group (an affiliate of the International Mathematics Union for 2020-2024), and is a Diversity Champion of the Institute of Mathematics and Its Applications (UK). Snezana is the co-editor (with Mark McCartney) of Mathematicians and Their Gods (2015, Oxford University Press) and her book A New Year’s Present from a Mathematician was published by Chapmann & Hall (2019, CRP Press). She can be found on Twitter at Twitter @mathshistory and @snezanalawrence.
Braden Molhoek, Ph.D. is Lecturer in Science, Technology, and Ethics at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley California. He has also worked for the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, a program of the GTU for over 15 years. Long interested in issues at the intersection of science and religion, Braden double majored in Genetics and Religion at Ohio Wesleyan University. Following this he received an M.T.S. from Boston University School of Theology and a Certificate in Science and Religion (Bioethics Track) from the Boston Theological Institute. He then moved to Berkeley California and received his Ph.D. in Ethics and Social Theory from the Graduate Theological Union. Currently he is also a Quarterly Lecturer in the School of Engineering at Santa Clara University where he teaches courses on ethics and technology. Braden’s research interests broadly include the ethics of emerging technology, bioethics, theological anthropology, and the science and religion dialogue. He has presented and published on ethical issues such as gene editing, moral enhancement, AI, transhumanism, and how science informs our understanding of what it means to be human.
J. Richard Middleton (PhD Free University Amsterdam) is Professor of Biblical Worldview and Exegesis at Northeastern Seminary on the campus of Roberts Wesleyan College, in Rochester, NY. A Jamaican by birth and ethnicity, Richard began his education at Jamaica Theological Seminary, completed it in Canada, and now teaches in the U.S. So he regards himself as a “Jamericadian.” He is past president of the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies (2019–2021) and the Canadian-American Theological Association (2011–2014). His most recent book is Abraham’s Silence: The Binding of Isaac, the Suffering of Job, and How to Talk Back to God (Baker Academic, 2021). He is also the author of The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1 (Brazos, 2005), A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology (Baker Academic, 2014), and has published articles on creation theology, the problem of suffering, the theology of popular music, interpreting the Bible in the Caribbean, and the dynamics of human and divine power in biblical narratives.
Rebecca Peretz-Lange, Ph.D. (she/her) is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at SUNY Purchase. She earned her BA in Psychology and Philosophy at Wesleyan University and her PhD at Tufts University, and she held postdoctoral positions at Boston University and Harvard prior to joining SUNY. She has also studied Jewish texts at Hadar, Svara, and Pardes. She currently directs SUNY’s Conceptual Development in Society Lab, where she and her students study how children make sense of social identity and structural inequality. She is especially interested in how these early sense-making processes drive the formation of prejudice. In addition to slowly contributing to basic scientific research, Rebecca also translates prejudice development research for lay audiences and has led workshops on raising anti-racist children at Google, public libraries, and children’s museums. Her interest in connecting basic research with urgent social issues is guided by her identities as a Jew and as a proud member of the queer and trans communities.
Julie A Reynolds, Ph.D. is a Research Scientist at The Ohio State University in the Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology. Her research focuses on how animals, mostly insects, adapt to changing environments. She received her B.S. degree from the University of Alabama in Huntsville where she worked as an undergraduate research assistant on biology experiments that flew on the Space Shuttle. From there she earned an M.S. in Entomology at Penn State University and a Ph.D. in Biological Sciences from Louisiana State University. She has authored or co-authored 20 peer-reviewed research papers on insect diapause, a type of overwintering dormancy. She is passionate about sharing her love of science with others through public outreach events where she can often be found using living Australian Stick Insects, Hissing Cockroaches, Giant Millipedes, and other Arthropod friends from the Insect Petting Zoo to teach about insect diversity. Julie desires to be an active participant in conversations about science and faith and the misconception that the two topics are incompatible. To this end, she is a sometimes contributor to the Science Corner blog that is published by Intervarsity Christian Fellowship’s Emerging Scholars Network. Her ultimate goal is to move the dialog about evolution beyond debates about the origin of humans and the age of the Earth to discussions about how human activities might impact evolution and are actively influencing our world.
Dr. Temis G. Taylor is a socio-environmental scientist and educator. She is an advocate for the development of communication skills as a pathway to reduce polarization and improve trust in society. Her aim is to help people have more productive conversations about science across the broad range of knowledge, experience, worldviews, and values that we all hold. Her research focuses on issues of sustainability, resilience, social complexity, energy, and risk perceptions, particularly within the context of ecological thresholds and a carbon limited future. She holds a Ph.D. in Environment and Society, an M.S. in Bioregional Planning, and a B.S. in Communication. She is a co-founder of Exact Communication, a non-profit training organization, and she teaches at Utah State University. In addition to creative collaborations, she finds joy in keeping goats and chickens, hiking, growing food, and running whitewater rivers.
Dr. Joseph W. Shane is Professor of Chemistry and Science Education at Shippensburg University in central Pennsylvania. For the past 17 years, he has taught chemistry and trained pre-service STEM teachers at both the undergraduate and graduate level. Prior to this, he taught high school chemistry in Noblesville, Indiana. In addition to his responsibilities to chemistry and teacher education, he teaches an honors seminar on interactions between science and religion and conducts outreach to regional churches and public venues. He was the lead editor and contributor to a book to assist science teachers in addressing topics with religious implications, Making Sense of Science and Religion: Strategies for the Classroom and Beyond, which was published through the National Science Teaching Association (NSTA) in 2019. He is also an Elder and youth Sunday school teacher at First Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
Brother Lawrence A. Whitney, PhD, LC† is an ACLS Leading Edge Fellow at the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, and a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Mind and Culture in Boston, MA. His current research is on the role of religious leaders in diversifying Covid-19 vaccine trial pools, addressing issues of equity in access, and overcoming hesitancy in communities of color. He is also researching ritual as a form of memory through cultural evolutionary and complex systems approaches supported by the New Visions in Theological Anthropology program at the University of St. Andrews. He has served as a university chaplain and is re-envisioning chaplaincy as a person-centered human services specialization in the spiritual dimension of a holistic approach to wellbeing as part of a cohort of Faith-Inspired Changemakers supported by Ashoka. Brother Larry is professed and a priest in the Lindisfarne Community, an ecumenical Christian religious order open to insights from other spiritual traditions.