Religion

In this Focus Area, CMAC personnel are currently engaged in numerous research projects related to the scientific study of religion.

Institute for the Bio-Cultural Study of Religion (IBCSR)

All projects on religion are conducted through the Institute for the Bio-Cultural Study of Religion (IBCSR), a pre-existing research organization that is now embedded in CMAC.

IBCSR also serves as a membership organization for the journal Religion, Brain & Behavior and individuals can sign up on IBCSR’s website to receive the free, monthly IBCSR Research Review containing each month’s most relevant publications on the biocultural study of religion. IBCSR’s outreach site at ScienceOnReligion.Org communicates scientific research in religion to a general audience, with a blog at Patheos.com hosting discussions and opinion pieces.

 

Dimensions of Spirituality Project

Dimensions of Spirituality Project

The Dimensions of Spirituality Project analyzes two dozen subdimensions of experiences and practices that people refer to as “spiritual.” This project is an effort to firm up the meaning of “spirituality” and to uncover the commonalities and differences between individual spiritual styles.

The research team developed a new scale called The Dimensions of Spirituality Inventory (DSI), a quantitative translation and extension of qualitative research by Nancy Ammerman and others. The DSI demonstrates that “spirituality” is a complex but tractable concept, particularly in the scientific study of religion and in spirituality and health. The DSI also confirms Ammerman’s working hypothesis about the way people use the term “spirituality” and thus about the way they think of themselves as spiritual people. Years Active: 2013–Present.

Key Personnel

 
 
Mass Automated Data Collection & Analysis Project

Mass Automated Data Collection & Analysis Project (MADCAP)

For this project, CMAC is building the largest, most flexible, most scalable, most accessible, and most analytically useful collection of data on religious and spiritual experiences (RSEs) ever. RSEs are a vital aspect of human life, giving people their existential bearings and helping people cultivate prized virtues. However, RSEs also have the potential to drive extreme and dangerous religious behaviors, often times disclosing hidden and profoundly ambiguous aspects of our relationship with wider reality.

After synthesizing many different types of data related to RSEs – including digitizing Sir Alister Hardy’s Archives and building longitudinal datasets – CMAC researchers will create a website to collect and hold the massive influx of information. Two different research projects will then investigate and demonstrate the usefulness of the amassed data. After the MADCAP database is established, research teams from around the world will be able to devote renewed consideration to RSEs from every part and period of the cultural life of our species.

Key Personnel

 
 
Modeling Religion in Norway

Modeling Religion in Norway (MODRN)

The goal of the MODRN project is to create leading-edge computer simulations of religious and social conflict in Norway. With our partners at the University of Agder, the MODRN team is using modeling systems that enable ‘virtual’ social experimentation. By integrating validated theories in the scientific study of religion and secularization into complex ‘causal architectures,’ we are creating simulations that will offer empirical grounds with which to evaluate policy proposals.

Those simulations are calibrated on massive Norwegian datasets and are built to interact with that data, allowing us to experimentally project into the future of a ‘virtual’ Norway. They include both micro- and macro-levels of society to best showcase how changes will occur. Experts in the fields of computer modeling, religious and secular diversification, and Norwegian public-policy are involved in guiding our simulations and interpreting the results.

This project is not only strengthening the collaboration between international networks of research but it is also developing a simulation platform that will be freely available to scholars and policy-makers, so they can test their ideas about the dynamics of conflict and change. The MODRN models will provide a clear and concrete platform into understanding complex societal relations and ultimately enable us to have a more informed public debate.

The MODRN research team recently traveled to Lesbos, Greece, for a workshop that sought to understand insights into intricate political realities. Developing artificial intelligence models, the team looked at the migration of peoples, from their original displacement through long-term processes of acculturation. This work enables researchers to envision theories in a concrete way, better advising policy professionals.

Modeling Religion in Norway (MODRN) upcoming workshop in Lesvos Greece from Jenn Lindsay on Vimeo.

Key Personnel

Research Partners

Relevant Publications

Modelling Terror Management Theory: Computer Simulations of the Impact of Mortality Salience on Religiosity

 
 
Modeling Religious Change Project

Modeling Religious Change

This project takes seriously all variables of religious change to develop better demographic projects for religious adherence in the future. By utilizing big theory, we’ve developed a comprehensive approach to understanding the role of religion in the modern world. The project breaks methodological barriers by using computer modeling and simulation to study religion and policy in the contemporary world. These are highly generative methods that provide insight into some of the world’s most pressing problems: Where in the world is there potential for religious violence? How do changes in religious adherence impact society and social change? How might the religious make-up of countries and regions alter government policy and international relations? The Modeling Religious Change Project aims to answer these, and other, pressing questions related to public policy.

Key Personnel

 
 
Modeling Religion Project

Modeling Religion Project (MRP)

The Modeling Religion Project (MRP) is an ambitious attempt to connect the sciences of modeling and simulation with the scientific study of religion. So far, we have hosted and attended many conferences, produced a number of publications and greatly enlarged the literature on and conversation around this cutting-edge adventure in the academic study of religion.

One set of the MRP team has begun building a computer system that will allow scholars and students to create complex simulations with no knowledge of programming, an endeavor that is part of our strategy to stabilize and grow the use of these methods within different disciplines. This web-based product has required expertise in computer engineering, simulation expertise and software interface design, but it was all worth it: it is nearing completion now.

Another set of the team has set to work building computer simulations of psychological and social processes within religion. We have developed a fruitful balance between the simplicity needed for us to understand the models and the complexity needed for the models to accurately reflect human behavior and religious processes. We have built virtual computer agents with complex cognition that have become capable of realizing many theories on beliefs and experiences.

Key Personnel

Relevant Publications

Mutually Escalating Religious Violence: A Generative Model

Shults, Theology After the Birth of God: Atheist Conceptions in Cognition and Culture, Palgrave Macmillan 2014.

 
 
Quantifying Religious Experience Project

Quantifying Religious Experience Project

CMAC’s Quantifying Religious Experience Project is developing a new method of measurement for religious experiences, able to quantify their distinctive cognitive and emotional features. The tool, called the Enhanced Phenomenology of Consciousness Inventory (EPCI), ties together narratives and quantitative profiles and uses each one to make sense of the other. This inventory creates a multidimensional construct of consciousness that can furnish a basis for the comparison of religious and spiritual experiences across demographic groups (such as men and women) and across cultures.

A rich de-identified dataset of narratives, phenomenological profiles, and expert ratings is available to researchers who wish to pursue their own analyses.

Key Personnel

 
 
Cognitive Style and Religious Attitudes Project

Cognitive Style and Religious Attitudes Project

The Cognitive Style and Religious Attitudes Project team is gathering research data through online surveys at ExploringMyReligion.org that they hope will help shed light on how social, cultural, cognitive, and personality factors influence – and are influenced by – religious belief. The resulting publications will contribute to conversations in the scientific study of religion, political psychology, moral psychology, political science, and related fields. A fast-growing body of research has shown that religious believers often think more holistically and intuitively than nonbelievers, while nonbelievers tend to rely more on analytical and abstract cognition. The project aims to understand the cultural and contextual influences on this relationship, with an eye to evolutionary ultimate causes.

Key Personnel

Publications

The team has presented findings at the International Association for the Psychology of Religion, the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, and the International Association for the Cognitive Science of Religion. They also have a forthcoming book chapter setting forth their social foundations hypothesis for the relationship between religiosity and cognitive style.

 
 
Religious Language

Religious Language

The Religious Language project seeks to identify whether there is anything distinctive about religious language that marks it off from other forms of language. CMAC researchers are developing a linguistic assessment instrument that scores a suite of linguistic elements in ritual contexts. This tool will help the CMAC team ascertain if religious language as found in religious rituals is characterized by a unique profile of speech acts relative to language in secular rituals. Years Active: 2017–Present.

Key Personnel

 
 
Religion and Dreams

Religion and Dreams

This project looks at the intricate connections between dreams and the construction of human meanings. CMAC researchers are testing their hypothesis that the cognitive processes that produce supernatural agent cognitions happen naturally in dreams – and therefore that religious consciousness originates in dreams. In this effort to tease out the ways that dreams and religion are entangled, CMAC employs a wide range of techniques, from individual dream narratives to longitudinal dream journals, sleep studies to life histories. CMAC expects the results will shed light on big questions such as the evolutionary origins of religion and the formation of life-guiding conviction and political commitment. Years Active: 2017–Present.

Key Personnel

 
 
Unbelief Project

The Unbelief Project

The rapid rise of the religious ‘nones,’ secularist activism, nonreligious movements such as ‘New Atheism,’ and policy debates around nonreligious inclusion have all fueled interest in and debate about so-called ‘unbelief.’ Unbelief is broadly conceived as unbelief in religious phenomena, the afterlife, and the ultimate purpose of life, but there is still a substantial lack of knowledge about its precise nature.

The Unbelief Project is working to produce a stable understanding of unbelief by building a framework for classification and by developing a multi-dimensional instrument for measuring unbelief.

Researchers at CMAC are combining data at many levels of complexity and keeping all types of analysis in the conversation in order to create rich interpretations and stable taxonomies. They are using an Across-Disciplines-Across-Cultures (ADAC) method, instruments such as the Multidimensional Religious Ideology scale and the Dimensions of Spirituality Inventory scale, and instant-feedback survey sites (ExploringMyReligion.org and FaithInDepth.org) to create new and validated datasets. Those datasets will enable us to render the resulting understanding of unbelief sensitive to a number of diverse variables, thus expanding the foundation for studies on unbelief and opening up a new realm of research. Years Active: 2016–Present. 

Key Personnel

Relevant Publications & Presentations

Understanding Atheism/Non-Belief as an Expected Individual-Differences Variable

Exploring the Atheist Personality: Well-being, Awe, and Magical Thinking in Atheists, Buddhists, and Christians

Ayçiçeği-Dinn, A., Hocaoğlu, S., & Caldwell-Harris, C.L. 2015. Does Analytical Style Promote Irreligion? Not in a Culturally Constraining Environment. Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Psychonomics Society, Chicago, IL.

Religious Belief Systems of Persons with High Functioning Autism. Paper presented during the Proceedings of the 33rd Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, 2011.