Science and Religion Up Close: Lia DiMitri Reflects on Study Abroad Trip
by Evan Tonrey
May 3, 2023
Students in "Science and Religion: From the Big Bang to Neuroscience" spent the winter term exploring the development of science and religion through known human history. The course, taught by Professor of Chemistry Fraser Fleming, PhD, culminated in a nine-day trip to Switzerland, Germany and Italy over spring break. Lia DiMitri, a third-year materials science and engineering major in the College of Engineering, reflects on her experience in this Q&A.
Can you describe the objectives of the trip?
Prior to the trip, all students completed a two-credit course taught by Dr. Fleming which explored the intertwine between science and religion. The online course followed his book “The Truth about Science and Religion: From the Big Bang to Neuroscience,” which included engaging lecture videos and weekly discussions. Throughout this course, Dr. Fleming effectively elicited our thoughts on the creation of the universe, and if its fine-tuning was purely scientific or suggestive of an ultimate creator. We explored concepts such as the origins of good and evil, both from an evolutionary and religious perspective, and delved into the spirituality of pioneering scientists such as Einstein and his cosmic religion.
By the end of this online course and prior to the abroad trip, Einstein, Kepler and Galileo were just scientists I had read about, gaining a general notion that religion influenced their work to some degree. However, after traveling to Switzerland, Italy and Germany, their work was bought to life, literally in front of me! We were able to visit the monastery where Kepler studied in 1588 and see Galileo’s finger in a jarred exhibit! By walking the same streets these great scientists did many years ago and by admiring structures of grandeur people of ancient civilizations had once admired as well, not only was I able to fully immerse myself in the context of the times but I was also able to feel an intimate connection with all of humanity throughout history. After the trip, the influence of science and religion was not just something we had read about but it was something we had experienced.
Tell me about some of your favorite destinations from the trip.
Personally, the four days we spent in Italy were the highlight of my trip. One of the first places we visited in Florence was Brunelleschi’s Dome, which is a 375-foot tower built in 1436 that sits in the center of the city’s square. Although I was mesmerized by the magnificent fresco depicting the Last Judgment lining the tower’s ceiling, climbing the tower’s interior was the most rewarding part. After hauling ourselves and our backpacks through countless flights of stairs, which were considerably steep and enclosed, we finally reached the top of the tower, panting and trying to catch our breath. However, it was the view at the tower’s top which truly took my breath away! We were able to see the city of Florence from a bird’s eye view, scattered with auburn-roofed homes and bordered by rolling hills in the distance. It is a view I will never forget! Visiting the Roman Forum was also another highlight of my trip. Constructed in the seventh century B.C., it is unbelievable that a civilization at this time was capable of building structures of such grand magnitude, and these structures still stand today! Walking the same roads in a city center preserved pretty much as it was thousands of years ago made me not only feel pride in human capability but also an intimate connection with humanity across the generations.
Were you nervous to travel? What advice would you give to someone on the fence about joining a study abroad program?
I was somewhat nervous to travel, considering that our flight left Philadelphia the day after we completed finals, and this was the first time I was traveling abroad without family. If someone is on the fence about joining a study abroad program, I would tell them that that is a totally natural reaction to leaving the comforts of their home. However, you should try to not let the fear of unfamiliarity hold you back from experiencing new, often exciting things! You should exercise an open mind, and embrace new experiences as opportunities to learn, grow and make the most out of the world we live in.
How can students benefit from similar study abroad programs?
A study abroad experience, like the one I have just completed, was beneficial for my personal growth and development. Not only was I able to expand my horizons through cultural immersion, but I also developed a newfound sense of adaptability and created friendships that have extended beyond the scope of this trip! Sharing a meal with someone that has a different cultural background than you opens your eyes to new perspectives on life while also reminding us of our common humanity. Traveling through three countries in the span of about a week teaches you to be highly adaptable, which creates a unique bond between all the travelers who become like your family. After this trip, the friendships I have developed will remain with me just as strongly as the memories I have made.