The Modeling Religion Project (MRP) is a three-year endeavor to use the most cutting-edge simulation techniques to explore how religious beliefs and behaviors influence our world. A joint effort between the Center for Mind and Culture (CMAC) in Boston and Old Dominion University’s Virginia Modeling, Analysis, and Simulation Center (VMASC) in Suffolk, Virginia, the MRP is funded by the John Templeton Foundation. It’s the first large-scale project of its kind.
The MRP has several main objectives. First, we’re hoping to demonstrate to the community of researchers who study religion scientifically that computer simulations can be a useful – even groundbreaking – tool for our field.
Second, we’re tackling empirical problems in the study of religion, culture, and human cognition. For example:
- Are “big gods” an important driver of cultural cooperation, as some experts think? Or did complex civilizations evolve first, with no need for “big god” religions to catalyze them?
- What are the causes of religious violence? What can the scientific study of human cognition and social behavior tell us about how to mitigate religious terrorism?
- What’s the reason for the small, but reliable, correlation between formal religious practice and some measures of mental health? Could it have to do with social networks? How can we model these effects?
- What’s in store for the future of religion? Will the world secularize, the way northern European countries have? Or will fast-growing religions such as Christian Pentecostalism and Sunni Islam reshape the world’s religious demographics?
Third, we’re building a computer platform for modeling and simulation in the study of religion that will be usable for scholars and researchers without expertise in programming. This product, called “CLASP” (Complex Learner Agent Simulation Platform), will be the first of its kind, allowing researchers to test and refine hypotheses in simulations without having to learn a programming language – thereby increasing the reach of simulation tools to historians, text experts, anthropologists, and more.
Read more about the Modeling Religion Project at the Center for Mind and Culture.