A Letter from Our Executive Director on the Conclusion of MRP

Dear Friends,

June 30th, 2018 is the final day of the Modeling Religion Project. I’m writing to thank you for joining me on this amazing journey. At the Center for Mind and Culture (CMAC), and its Institute for the Bio-Cultural Study of Religion, which handles CMAC’s religion research, we are particularly grateful to the team from the Virginia Modeling, Analysis & Simulation Center (VMASC), led by Saikou Diallo – they have been first-rate partners in research on a topic that was largely new to them and they have taught us a ton about modelling and simulation (M&S). They have become good friends, as well, and we are looking to work with them as often as we can.

We are also thankful for the key partnership of the Center for Modeling Social Systems, led by LeRon Shults, who has proven to be a superb collaborator. He has become intoxicated by a vision of the potential of M&S for improving the world and our understanding of it, and I think his enthusiasm affects even our own team. An amazing pitchman, maybe he could raise money for VMASC as a second career. I deeply appreciate the visionary support of Nick Gibson and the John Templeton Foundation (JTF).  Private foundations are essential for creating opportunities for innovative religion research, with its field-transforming implications, and JTF leads the way.

What have we achieved? I’d like you to know that we met or exceeded all of our deliverables, with dozens of papers out or in the pipeline, several books, fabulous videos and animations by Jenn Lindsay, and the amazing METAPHR (a platform for creating agent-based models without programming). More profoundly, we have opened up the scientific study of religion to M&S as a method for sharpening reasoning and testing theories. Some in the traditional humanities religious-studies world are watching what we are doing, with various degrees of confusion and amazement (mostly in the sense of disbelief). But every time we bring one of them in to work on a model, he or she sees the value in this approach, and the other kind of amazement takes over. I don’t know what the future of humanities study of religion is, especially in the face of the massive growth of the scientific study of religion. But MRP has done as much as anyone to demonstrate (not just assert) that humanities approaches and scientific approaches to religion are stronger together than they are apart. We need both.

While all this has been going on, people have left the project and others have joined. Babies have been created and marriages celebrated. Friendships have been forged and new collaborative plans hatched. We are programmers, scholars, scientists, advisors, support staff, and every kind of research partner; some of you have played roles such that you don’t have a clear grasp of the whole. Fifty people. Despite the changes and challenges we faced, and perhaps especially because of our diversity, we have had a lot of fun, learned a lot, and made a decisive contribution to our fields. Above all, I am grateful to each one of you for your diligent labor, your shining intelligence, your friendship, and your accomplishments on this project.

Until the next time,

Wesley J. Wildman
Executive Director, Center for Mind and Culture
Principal Investigator, Modeling Religion Project

For any inquiries or comments, please email admin@mindandculture.org.