Modeling Religion Project: Update

Since it began on July 1, 2015, the Modeling Religion Project has bween working furiously. Here are some highlights.

Quarterly Updates

Quarter 1 (Jul 1-Sep 30, 2016)

The Modeling Religion Project has begun at a fast pace. Biweekly meetings of the research team have systematically clarified the challenges before us and enabled us to prepare for our first consultation conference in mid-October. We updated our existing research on the software and hardware needed to run complex computer simulations. We dubbed the computer we plan to purchase "The Beast"; it needs to be custom built so we are using existing machines for now until The Beast arrives. We designed the first consultation conference, which involves conversations between ten consultants and the research team, and sent preparatory materials to the consultants. We built the core framework for a simulation development platform that requires no user knowledge of programming and began testing it against standard simulations and datasets. We negotiated access to three separate high-performance computing clusters and have begun testing them for suitability. We completed drafts of two systems dynamic models, advanced a third, and began several others. Finally, our post-doctoral fellow, Justin E. Lane, began work, speeding up everything we are doing.

Quarter 2 (Oct 1-Dec 31, 2015)

In October 2015 we held the first consultation conference at the Virginia Modeling, Analysis, and Simulation Center in Suffolk, VA. This was an intensive process of exchange with ten consultants from both the Modeling & Simulation world and the Scientific Study of Religion world. We came away from the conference full of concrete strategies for developing computer simulations of religious cognitive-social processes, and for building a simulation platform that people in the scientific study of religion can employ even if they don't know any programming. Our computer, dubbed "The Beast", arrived, and it is *really* fast. We need that speed; The Beast reduces the time required to perform a parameter sweep of a simulation from weeks on an ordinary desktop to a few hours. Our post-doc Justin Lane is making good use of The Beast. We are looking forward to our second postdoc, Connor Wood, beginning work in January, 2016. Representatives of our research team made several presentations at the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion and the American Academy of Religion. We submitted two papers, worked on a dozen simulations, and advanced the framework for the new simulation platform.

Quarter 3 (Jan 1-Mar 31, 2016)

Our second post-doc, Connor Wood, began work in January. Connor is heading up the public relations deliverables of the project, which include a film documentary, a variety of outreach publications, and a website to support modeling & simulation applied to religious phenomena. Connor is also building models related to shamanism, costly signaling, and religious ideology. Meanwhile, our team finalized the sequence of models we need to produce increasingly complex virtual minds for religious agents in agent-based simulations. Each of the agent architectures we build will be included in the simulation platform, each suitable for a particular range of applications. But we are also striving to integrate the various agent architectures to create more complex virtual minds. We are currently working on stage three of an eleven-stage process. We also now have working models of religion's role in three major periods of civilizational transformation: the Neolithic agricultural transition (in press), the Axial Age, and Modernity. Also, we have a rough cut of the first volume of a two-or-three-volume documentary, a couple of short films, a regular Huffington Post blog by Connor, and the beginnings of a user interface for the simulation platform.

News Items

Ruben's Departure

Ruben Mancha, one of our team members, was forced to withdraw due to tenure pressures. We miss him and wish him all the best as the deadline draws near!

MODRN: A New Grant!

Our aim to leverage the MRP grant to win other grants has met with spectacular success already. Members of our team, led by LeRon Shults, with Co-PI support from Wesley Wildman and Ross Gore, have won an almost $2 million grant from the Norwegian Research Council to apply modeling & simulation to the problems of religion, secularization, immigration, and social change in Norway and perhaps other Scandinavian countries. We do not expect this to be our team's only new grant of this kind. People seem to appreciate the promise of modeling & simulation for understanding religion, cognition, and culture, and we are finding ready audiences for our research in many places.



Oct 14: Team member LeRon Shults addressed two audiences at Boston University.
Oct 15-20: Consultation conference at Virginia Modeling, Analysis, and Simulation Center.
Oct 22-25: Team members LeRon Shults and Wesley Wildman presented on the Modeling Religion Project at the annual meeting of the
Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.
Nov 19-24: Team members LeRon Shults, Wesley Wildman, and Connor Wood presented in several different sessions related to the
Modeling Religion Project at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion.


Mar 8-12: Research team conference at VMASC in Virginia.
Mar 13-17: Research team working conference at IBCSR in Boston.
Mar 24-29: Research team working conference at IBCSR in New York City.
Mar 16: Panel presentation of MRP to students and faculty at Boston University (Wesley Wildman, LeRon Shults, Justin Lane, Connor
Wood, Jenn Lindsay).
Mar 31: Justin Lane (with Diallo and Gore) presents at the Pew event on religion and demography.
Apr 3-6: Justin Lane presents at SpringSim 2016.
April: Relationship with begins (blogging and promotion).
April/May: Nautilus article on MRP.
Aug 19-22: Ross Gore, Justin Lane, Wesley Wildman, and Connor Wood present on a M&S panel at the Vancouver meeting of the
International Association for the Cognitive Science of Religion.
Oct 8-10: Research team working conference at the University of Agder, Norway.
Nov 9-13: Research team working conference at VMASC in Virginia.
Nov 14-17: Research team working conference at IBCSR in Boston.
Nov 18-22: M&S Panel for AAR-CSR Group.


[coming soon]

Outreach Activities

Connor Wood's Huffington Post blog appears every two weeks or so. For example, see here and here, for example.

Modeling Religion Project - Specialized Consultants

Our Specialized Consultants are in the two major fields represented within MRP: Modeling and Simulation and the Scientific Study of Religion.

MRP Research Team | MRP Consultants | MRP Advisory Board | MRP Resources

Specialized Consultants in Modeling & Simulation

Gnana Barathy

Gnana Barathy, PhD

Researcher, Project Manager, and Consultant, Ackoff Center for Advancement of Systems Approaches (ACASA), Department of Systems Engineering, University of Pennsylvania

Dr. Gnana Barathy is a Researcher, Project Manager and Consultant at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn). His areas of research broadly include risk management, analytics, and modeling and simulation, particularly of social systems. He was educated at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Canterbury, New Zealand and National Institute of Technology (formerly Regional Engineering College), Trichy, India. He also holds Project Management Professional certification and is a full member of Institution of Engineers Australia (MIEAust). For more information about Dr. Barathy, see here.

Nigel Gilbert

Nigel Gilbert, PhD

Professor of Sociology, University of Surrey

Dr. Nigel Gilbert read for a first degree in Engineering, intending to go into the computer industry. However, he was lured into sociology and obtained his doctorate on the sociology of scientific knowledge from the University of Cambridge, under the supervision of Michael Mulkay. His research and teaching interests have reflected his continuing interest in both sociology and computer science (and engineering more widely). His main research interests are processual theories of social phenomena, the development of computational sociology and the methodology of computer simulation, especially agent-based modelling. He is Director of the Centre for Research in Social Simulation. He is also Director of the University's Institute of Advanced Studies and responsible for its development as a leading centre for intellectual interchange. He is the author or editor of several textbooks on sociological methods of research and statistics and editor of the Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation. For more information about Dr. Gilbert, see here.

Heber Herencia-Zapana

Heber Herencia-Zapana, PhD

Research Scientist, National Institute of Aerospace

Dr. Heber Herencia-Zapana works as a research scientist for the National Institute of Aerospace in Hampton, VA. He has a strong background in formal methods and logic, and is fluent in mathematical model theory. He is well aware of VMASC’s work on establishing theoretic foundations for interoperability based on model theoretic principles. Find out more about Dr. Herencia-Zapana here.

Ken Kahn

Ken Kahn, PhD

Senior Researcher, Learning Technologies Group, Computing Services, University of Oxford

Ken Kahn has been a senior researcher at the University of Oxford since 2006. He is leading the Modelling4All project that combines ideas of accessible agent-based modelling within a web 2.0 community. It builds upon the prior Constructing2Learn Project. He did research in technology enhanced leaning at the London Knowledge Lab and the Institute of Education from 1998 to 2014 where he participated in four large EU research projects, a BBC project, and two UK projects. He is the designer and developer of ToonTalk a programming system for children that provides concrete analogs of advanced computational abstractions with a video game look and feel. Recently he has begun to create ToonTalk Reborn an open-source web-based rethinking of ToonTalk. For more information about Dr. Kahn, see here.

Andreas Polk

Andreas Tolk, PhD

Computer Science Principal, Simulation Engineering Department, The MITRE Corporation

Dr. Tolk received his Ph.D. in Computer Science (1995) and has a M.S. in Computer Science (1988) from the University of the Federal Armed Forces, Germany. His research focuses on model-based systems engineering, which includes research on modeling and simulation interoperability challenges, in particular in the context of complex systems and system of systems. For more information about Dr. Tolk, see here.

Levent Yilmaz

Levent Yilmaz, PhD

Associate Professor, Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering, joint appointment in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, Auburn University

Dr. Levent Yilmaz is Associate Professor of Computer Science and Software Engineering and holds a joint appointment with the Industrial and Systems Engineering at Auburn University. He received his MS and PhD degrees from Virginia Tech. His research interests are in Modeling and Computer Simulation, Agent-Directed Simulation, Complex Adaptive Systems. He serves as the Editor-in-Chief of Simulation: Transactions of the Society for Modeling and Simulation International and is the founding organizer and General Chair of the annual Agent-Directed Simulation conference series. For more information about Dr. Yilmaz, see here.


Specialized Consultants in the Scientific Study of Religion

Jerome Busemeyer

Jerome R. Busemeyer, PhD

Provost Professor of Psychology, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Indiana University

Dr. Busemeyer is an expert in dynamic, emotional, and cognitive models of judgment and decision making; neural network models of function learning, interpolation, and extrapolation; methodology for comparing and testing complex models of behavior; and measurement theory with error contaminated data. He runs the Judgment and Decision Research Lab (see here). For more information about Dr. Busemeyer, see here.

Cristine Legare

Cristine Legare, PhD

Associate Professor of Psychology, Department of Psychology, University of Texas at Austin

Dr. Legare is the director of the Cognition, Culture, and Development Lab. Her training and research reflect her commitment to interdisciplinary approaches to the study of cognitive development. Dr. Legare studies the intersection of several topics in the field of cognitive development: causal reasoning, social learning, and the development of scientific and supernatural belief systems. Her approach is to integrate theory and research from cognitive psychology and anthropology to examine basic cognitive processes in particular content areas and cultural contexts. She has done extensive field work in southern Africa, and is currently doing research in Brazil, China, and Vanuatu (a Melanesian archipelago), using both experimental and ethnographic methods. For more information about Dr. Legare, see here.

Robert McCauley

Robert McCauley, PhD

William Rand Kenan Jr. University Professor; Director, Center for Mind, Brain, and Culture, Department of Philosophy, Emory University

Dr. McCauley is expert in philosophy of science (especially philosophy of psychology), cognitive science of religion, and naturalized epistemology. He is author of Rethinking Religion: Connecting Cognition and Culture (Cambridge 1990) and Bringing Ritual to Mind: Psychological Foundations of Cultural Forms (Cambridge 2002), both with E. Thomas Lawson. He is also author of Why Religion is Natural and Science is Not (Oxford, 2011). For more information about Dr. McCauley, see here.

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Richard Sosis, PhD

James Barnett Professor of Humanistic Anthropology, Director, Evolution, Cognition, and Culture Program, Department of Anthropology, University of Connecticut

Dr. Sosis’s past and current research focuses on human sociality and cooperation. Under the umbrella of human behavioral ecology, his work on the "puzzle of cooperation" has been interdisciplinary, including perspectives from psychology, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, economics, sociology, and his primary area of training, anthropology. His current work explores the relationship between religion, trust, and intra-group cooperation. Other research interests include optimal foraging theory, costly signaling, and the evolution of religion and morality. His primary fieldwork has been conducted on Ifaluk Atoll of the Federated States of Micronesia and Israeli communes known as kibbutzim. He has also pursued ethno-historical research on nineteenth-century utopian communal societies and conducted economic experiments with various non-student populations in Israel and the United States. For more information about Dr. Sosis, see here.

Modeling Religion Project - Board of Advisors

Our Board of Advisors is a superb group of world-class experts in modeling and simulation and in the scientific study of religion. They guide all of our projects related to Modeling & Simulation under the umbrella of the Simulating Religion Project. Click here to review the Board.

Modeling Religion Project - Research Team

The MRP Research Team is a creative collaboration of experts in M&S and experts in SSR. The team has two main sections, one based on Boston at the Institute for the Bio-Cultural Study of Religion (IBCSR), and one based in Suffolk at the Virginia Modeling, Simulation & Analysis Center (VMASC).

MRP Research Team | MRP Consultants | MRP Advisory Board | MRP Resources

IBCSR Team Members

Wesley J. Wildman

Wesley J. Wildman, PhD, Principal Investigator

Professor of Philosophy, Theology, and Ethics, Boston University
Convener of the Religion & Science PhD Program, Boston University Graduate School
Founding Co-Director, Institute for the Bio-Cultural Study of Religion

Wesley Wildman directs MRP and leads the research team. He has worked on many aspects of science and religion. He is particularly interested in what light can be shed on religious behaviors, beliefs, and experiences from the biological, human, and computational sciences. Director of Boston University's innovative humanities-science doctoral program in Religion and Science, he is deeply committed to multidisciplinary research and training. More information about Wesley is available here.

F. LeRon Shults

F. LeRon Shults, PhD, PhD

Professor of Theology and Philosophy, University of Agder, Norway

F. LeRon Shults is Professor of Theology and Philosophy in the Institute for Religion, Philosophy and History at the University of Agder, Kristiansand, Norway. His many books and articles address religion and human life in the context of the contemporary human and physical sciences. He is working with the institute on extending the networks supporting the biocultural study of religion in a variety of research areas, including secularism, naturalism, compassion, and political and religious ideology. More information about LeRon is available here.

Patrick McNamara

Patrick McNamara, PhD

Associate Professor of Neurology, Department of Neurology, Boston University School of Medicine
Graduate School Dissertation Chair, Northcentral University

Neuroscientist Patrick McNamara, Founding Co-Director of IBCSR, has worked for some years on Parkinson's Disease and conducted research on sleep and dreams. He is involved in a number of research projects having to do with the scientific study of religion. His landmark three-volume edited collection of essays on the scientific study of religion is well known: Where God and Science Meet. More information about Patrick is available here.

Justin E. Lane

Justin Lane

Post-Doctoral Fellow

Justin’s research interests concern the stability of social systems and value perception from a cognitive perspective. He's especially interested in how social groups maintain stability and what causes them to change over time. Crucial to this has been the way in which humans perceive value, both in terms of financial and cultural values. His research focuses on the social stability of large scale religions, the formation of new religious movements, and sectarian violence. Justin utilizes empirically validated research from psychology in order to create more accurate social AI models and simulations.

Connor Wood

Connor Wood


Connor Wood is a doctoral candidate in the Graduate Division of Religious Studies at Boston University, having completed a master's degree focusing on religion and science at Boston University's School of Theology. His research interests include the potential adaptive functions of religion, religion and health, and the public understanding of issues in science and religion. He is the editor for

Jennifer Lindsay

Jennifer Lindsay

Post-Doctoral Fellow

Jenn Lindsay is a PhD Candidate at Boston University's Graduate Division of Religious Studies, where she studies how religious difference affects personal relationships in families, friendships, and interfaith dialogue groups. She is presently conducting ethnographic dissertation research at Confronti Magazine in Rome, analyzing the nature and networks of interfaith dialogue in Italy. She is IBCSR's documentarian and has produced a series of videos about ongoing IBCSR projects and important trends at the Institute. She is creating a documentary for MRP as well. Jenn uses her research and her documentary filmmaking to encourage reflection about religion “outside the box”: beyond institutions and policies, and within real lives and relationships. She earned her Master of Divinity with an emphasis in Interfaith Relations at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. She hails from San Diego, California and worked for a decade in New York City as an independent musician and filmmaker. Find out more about Jenn here.

Brian Teed

Brian Teed

IBCSR Administrator

Brian has a Master’s degree from Boston University School of Theology where he focused on existential and philosophical theology. He holds a BA in sociology. Brian ensures that IBCSR, its lab, MRP all run smoothly, working closely with Wesley Wildman and Patrick McNamara. He also participates in some of the institute's research projects.

Ruben Mancha

Ruben Mancha, PhD [ALUM]

Assistant Professor, Babson College, Boston

Ruben Mancha is Assistant Professor, Division of Technology, Operations and Information Management at Babson College in Boston. He received his M.S. in Management of Technology and his Ph.D. in Information Technology from the University of Texas at San Antonio, where he was a Presidential Dissertation Fellow. His research interests include the study of decision-making in technology-rich environments, the impact of technology on society, and cognitive simulation. Ruben worked on the project in 2014-2015. For more information about Ruben, see here.


VMASC Team Members

Saikou Diallo

Saikou Y. Diallo, PhD

Research Assistant Professor, VMASC, Old Dominion University

Dr. Diallo is the PI on the VMASC subcontract that is part of MRP. He is Research Assistant Professor at the Virginia Modeling Analysis and Simulation Center (VMASC) of the Old Dominion University. His research focuses on the theory of interoperability as it relates to model-based data engineering and web services for M&S applications. He has authored or co-authored over fifty publications including a number of awarded papers and articles in conferences, journals, and book chapters. He participates in a number of modeling and simulation related organizations and conferences and was the general chair of the 2015 SpringSim meeting.

Jose Padilla

Jose Padilla, PhD

Research Assistant Professor in Human Dynamics, VMASC, Old Dominion University

Dr. Jose Padilla studies the concept of understanding and how the concept applies to areas such as Modeling and Simulation, Systems Science, and complexity. He is currently conducting research into how the concept of understanding can be used in the process of conceptual modeling and in the creation of autopoietic agents. His interests include Human, Social, Cultural, and Behavior Modeling, Epistemology of Modeling and Simulation, Conceptual Modeling, Systems Engineering and Engineering Management.

Ross Gore

Ross Gore, PhD

Research Assistant Professor, VMASC, Old Dominion University

Ross Gore holds a Doctorate of Philosophy and a Master's degree in Computer Science from the University of Virginia and a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science from the University of Richmond. He has ten years of research experience in problems that lie at the intersection of software engineering and modeling and simulation. His work has yielded authorships on more than 20 conference and journal publications and has been recognized by the Achievement Rewards for College Scientists Society as an impactful and novel research avenue.

Christopher Lynch

Christopher Lynch

Senior Project Scientist, VMASC, Old Dominion University

Christopher Lynch has a Master’s degree in Modeling and Simulation from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. He has worked on Modeling and Simulation projects for the social sciences and military domains as a graduate research assistant through VMASC’s Modeling and Simulation Interoperability lab since 2011. His project experience focuses on conceptual model design, simulation implementation, developing model prototypes, analyzing the results of agent-based models, and multi-paradigm modeling. His current research focus includes conceptual modeling, modeling social systems, multi-paradigm modeling, discrete event modeling, system dynamics modeling, and agent-based modeling.

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Anthony Barraco

Senior Project Scientist, VMASC, Old Dominion University

Anthony Barraco has a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from the Universityof Central Florida. Since 2004 his project experience includes network driver development, machinery control systems, and tactical trainers for the Department of Defense. His focus at VMASC has been the development of mobile applications, geospatial processing, system dynamics simulation modeling, and M&S interoperability.

Modeling Religion Project: Introduction

The Modeling Religion Project (MRP) is an ambitious attempt to connect the sciences of modeling and simulation (M&S) with the scientific study of religion (SSR). With generous funding from the John Templeton Foundation, the three years from July 1, 2015 through June 30, 2018 promise an exciting intensification of a new kind of research in the academic study of religion.

The first goal of MRP is to produce a simulation platform that will allow SSR scholars and students to create complex simulations with no programming. The second goal is to produce a series of simulations of the role of religion in key transformations of human civilization, such as the Agricultural Transition (c. 8000 BCE), the Axial age (c. 800-200 BCE), and modernity (c. 1600-2100). The third goal is to explain the importance of M&S to the world of the academic study of religion. This will involve web blogs, outreach efforts, animation videos, and even a documentary film.

What difference can M&S make in the accademic study of religion? In short, it promotes a growing movement within religious studies from acceptance of untestable speculation to insistence on testable hypotheses. M&S has transformed field after field, from business to biology, from public health to political economics, and from medicine to mathematics. Whenever causal architectures are complex, systemic consequences are difficult to predict, making the meaning of theories difficult to determine. M&S presents a way to articulate the meaning of theoretical and strategic claims, and thereby to test those claims against datasetts of many kinds. Such techniques have great promise in relation to complex phenomena such as religion.

MRP People

The MRP Research Team is a creative collaboration between the Institute for the Bio-Cultural Study of Religion in Boston, the Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center in Suffolk, Virginia, and a number of other institutions including the University of Agder in Norway and both Boston University and Babson College in Boston. The team consists of M&S and SSR experts, working together on project goals.

Achieving MRP goals requires an array of decisions about tools and strategies with far-reaching effects. To guide the Research Team in these decisions, MRP will meet with a team of Specialized Consultants in M&S and SSR. We also have a world-class Board of Advisors who we will keep informed about the project and who can advise us at key decision points.

Find out about the Research Team.

Find out about the Specialized Consultants.

Find out about the Board of Advisors.

MRP Resources

[coming soon...]