What does "bio-cultural" mean?

Feedback LoopAt IBCSR, we assume that religion is informed by both biological and cultural factors. This means that any theory of religion that leaves out biology or culture will be partial at best, and downright misleading at worst. In emphasizing a bio-cultural approach to the study of religion, we are tackling a longstanding problem in the contemporary academy: many social scientists are suspicious of biological reductionism, while biologists and neuroscientists are often dismissive of culture. We think both these positions are too one-sided, and so we call for détente in this decades-long battle between nature and nurture. We lead by example, which means we have to be aggressively and rigorously balanced. At IBCSR, we affirm that biology is real – humans are not blank slates. But we also highlight that culture’s influence is enormous and pervasive, and that almost nothing in religion reduces to mere biology. In fact, in the real world, biology and culture mutually influence and are influenced by each other in an endless feedback cycle.

Institute Mission

The Institute's mission has the same three sides as its encompassing parent institution, the Center for Mind and Culture – research, training, and outreach.

Here is a video introduction to IBCSR.


The Institute develops, supports, and catalyzes research initiatives into the manifold functions of religion. This involves:

  • conducting research at the intersection of culture and the mind, focusing on religious behaviors, beliefs, and experiences;
  • sponsoring the research efforts of others in this area;
  • coordinating international research projects in order to achieve large sample sizes and to register cultural differences;
  • and working across multiple disciplines—including cognitive sciences, medical sciences, social sciences, psychology, religious studies, and humanities—to produce interpretations of religious behaviors, beliefs, and experiences with the requisite sophistication and sensitivity.


The Institute provides an institutional locus for training people to conduct cutting-edge research into the biocultural functions of religion. This involves:

  • providing established investigators interested in the topic with fast-track resources necessary to get them involved in research into the biocultural functions of religion;
  • introducing undergraduate and graduate students to the numerous tasks of such research;
  • sponsoring graduate students and post-doctoral fellows in such research; and
  • establishing and nurturing affiliations with universities that seek education grounded in the biocultural study of religion for their undergraduate and graduate students.


The Institute disseminates knowledge about the functions of religion so as to have a positive influence on both academic scholarship and the general public. This involves:

  • launching new publishing projects such as a scholarly journal and an academic book series focused on the functional aspects of religion and its significance for human life;
  • establishing a cadre of trained experts who can consult with domestic and international organizations needing guidance on the ethical, medical, and social implications of religious behaviors, beliefs, and customs;
  • producing a series of technical working papers and policy recommendations on religion-related issues for public and private organizational entities including federal, state, and local governmental organizations; international aid groups; domestic and international business ventures; health-care organizations; universities and schools; and religious groups;
  • issuing press releases about new research results that engage media experts with the deepening knowledge of religion;
  • working with media outlets to explain the significance of research into the functions of religion for the general public;
  • providing resources to enhance the understanding of religion in journalism, especially by influencing professors and students in university journalism programs;
  • developing curriculum materials to serve as resources for university course work in functional aspects of religion;
  • sponsoring colloquia, seminars, working groups, and public lectures on topics in the study of religion; and
  • maintaining a web presence that centralizes resources for the scientific study of religion that are useful for research specialists, media representatives, policy makers, religious leaders, and the general public.


Bibliographic Resources

The Institute's mission includes supporting researchers who are pursuing cutting-edge research in the scientific study of religion. In specializations where there is no convenient access to bibliographic resources, and particularly in newly forming fields, the Institute endeavors to create and occasionally update relevant bibliographies.

Available bibliographies include:

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