Early Careerist Profile: Rachel S. A. Pear
How did you first get interested in history of science?
As an undergraduate at Columbia College I majored in archeology with a focus on paleoanthropology, and especially enjoyed a summer field school at Zhoukoudian, China–otherwise known as the “Peking Man Site”. I continued on this academic path after moving to Israel where I completed an M.A. in Prehistoric Archeology at Hebrew University. I only took one course outside of the archeology department in my MA, which was entitled “Evolution and Human Nature: Questions for Education and Jewish Education”. This one course wound up convincing me that a study of the history of Jewish receptions of evolution was needed, and even that I might be someone who could contribute to this work! I was referred to the STS program at Bar Ilan University, although I had never before heard of STS or HPS, and as soon as I began my course work, taught predominantly by historians of science, I became hooked on the field and my career path shift was solidified. Although I knew I wanted to write my dissertation on Jewish engagement with Darwinism, it was only after I encountered the discipline of the history of science, through my brilliant advisers Noah Efron and Oren Harman, that I began to understand how such a topic could and should be tackled. I have to say even though my dissertation was accepted over a year ago and I have begun teaching, I still very much feel like I am learning more about the field all the time!
What was your experience like at your first HSS meeting?
Last year was my first experience at an HSS meeting, and I cannot wait to go back. I really enjoyed the mentoring program where I was paired with an amazing scholar of science and religion Mathew Stanley of NYU, and it was a tremendous thrill to meet heroes whose work I had only read from afar, such as Ron Numbers, who was incredibly kind and helpful. Of course it was also great meeting other GECC members! I was inspired to continue with my academic work and also encouraged by one of the conference themes last year to be open to opportunities “outside of the box” of the traditional academic trajectory. It turned out that this advice became very relevant in my life as I soon was awarded a grant to work on evolution education in the Israeli religious school system. This work has been very fulfilling so far and it was wonderful to feel the encouragement of the HSS as I dove into this new adventure.
What is currently your toughest professional challenge?
One of my current professional challenges relates to the tension inherent in the integration of the historical with the contemporary–specifically in terms of my work on the history of Jewish receptions of evolution and my work on current models of how to reduce animosity towards evolution with the religious Jewish community. As I said I certainly whole-heartedly agree with the HSS’s move to endorse work outside of the halls of the university, but I think as a profession we are only at the beginning of unraveling what this complicated package entails.Rachel is currently a teaching fellow at Bar Ilan University and a postdoctoral researcher at Haifa University, as well as the co-founder of the Science and Religion Research Group housed at the Van Leer Institute. She lives in Jerusalem with her husband and 4 children and would love to hear from you if you are passing through the Middle East. In any case feel free to write to her at RachelS.A.Pear@gmail.com.