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:

Transaction Security Information

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IBCSR Membership

IBCSR is a membership organization. Become a member today by simply clicking here.

To renew your membership, display the slide-out menu by clicking the menu icon (three horizontal lines) on the top-left of this page, log in, and locate your renewal options at the bottom of that menu.

Membership Benefits

  • Members of the Institute receive a year's subscription to IBCSR's journal, Religion, Brain & Behavior, published by Taylor & Francis. The premier peer-reviewed journal for research in the biocultural study of religion, Religion, Brain & Behavior offers cutting-edge research and commentary on evolution, neuroscience, cultural studies, medicine, and religion. Membership is for one calendar year and the first issue is published in the first calendar quarter of each year. Those who join the Institute before November 30 will receive all issues for the year in which they become a member.
  • The general public can register to receive the IBCSR Research Review, an invaluable resource summarizing each month’s most relevant publications for research in the biocultural study of religion. To register, use the signup box on the right side of the Institute's home page.
  • Institute members have privileged access to a powerful, searchable database of all relevant journal articles and books ever published in the bio-cultural study of religion and in spirituality, medicine, and health research—including all publications collected in the IBCSR Research Review. Access to this extrordinary resource is highly valuable for researchers, students, and journalists. See here.
  • Members optionally receive occasional electronic mailings and newletters containing news about the Institute and about the scientific study of religion.

Becoming a Member

To become a member now, click on the "Sign up" link in the Member Login area, which you can access by displaying the slide-out menu on the left side this page (look for the "Click" link at the top left of the page). Alternatively, you can simply click here. There are three membership categories:

  • Student members (enrolled full-time as a student in an accredited educational program): $35 per year.
  • Retired members (both over the age of 65 and no longer receiving a salary): $40 per year.
  • Regular members (working researchers, academics, professionals, etc.): $45 per year. Note that this is about half the price as a year’s subscription to Religion, Brain & Behavior through Taylor & Francis. Members of IBCSR also receive significant ancillary benefits.

There are two payment options:

  • You can create a user account and pay dues online (using Visa, MasterCard, Discover, AmericanExpress, or DinersClub), and start your membership immediately.
  • Alternatively, after you have created a user account and started your membership application online, you can send a check to IBCSR Membership, 217 High Rock Street, Needham, MA 02492.

When you become a member, please consider also making a donation to IBCSR to help defray the high costs of producing our reliable, information-rich web site and other programs.

Member Obligations

Journal subscriptions to Religion, Brain & Behavior must be for your private use only. Journal issues must be received at your private address, and they may not be placed in a physical or digital library nor in any way used to substitute for an existing or potential library subscription. Evidence of deviation from these conditions will, unfortunately, result in immediate termination of the subscription.

Institute Activities

The Institute sponsors and conducts an array of research, training, and outreach activities. Some of these are are described in the various activities pages.

Reflection on the Institute's Vision

The leadership of the Institute for the Biocultural Study of Religion (IBCSR) has an immodest vision for transforming current and future religion-science interactions, a transformation powered by the clarity of its ideas and the quality of its research. Our ultimate aim is to contribute to a revolution in the cultural understanding of religion through rigorous research-based knowledge of its nature and functions in individuals and groups.


Fundamental Identity

IBCSR is the branch of the Center for Mind and Culture that conducts non-partisan research focused on the scientific study of religion, combining:

  • the sciences of brains and bodies (e.g. neuroscience, cognitive psychology, evolutionary biology, medicine),
  • the sciences of culture (e.g. sociology, anthropology, political economy, history), and
  • the computational sciences (e.g. modeling and simulation, semantic network analysis, machine learning, analysis of massive datasets).



IBCSR's mission is directly related to the mission of the wider CMAC enterprise.

  • Research: IBCSR aims to conduct leading-edge research into the biological and cultural foundations and functions of religion.
  • Training: IBCSR aims to train researchers in the bio-cultural study of religion at the very highest level.
  • Outreach: IBCSR aims to reach out to researchers, scholars, and the general public to build professional networks, to share information about the bio-cultural study of religion, to guide effective public policy and medical care, and to deepen the public understanding of religion and spirituality.

Core Values

CMAC's core values are those of IBCSR as well, and include the following:

  • upholding the highest intellectual standards in all phases of our work;
  • acting ethically toward our business partners and funding sources;
  • maintaining neutrality regarding the ideological promotion or critique of religious traditions, faith communities, and political outlooks;
  • remaining institutionally agile and creative; and
  • maximizing efficiency and productivity by optimizing infrastructure and overhead.


The Institute for the Biocultural Study of Religion was founded by neuroscientist Patrick McNamara and philosopher of religion Wesley J. Wildman. After years of broadening their research, training, and outreach work, the Institute was repositioned as one of several branches of the Center for Mind and Culture in 2017. The Center is a nonprofit corporation under the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as of 2007. As of August 20, 2007, the Center is a public charity with United States federal tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Contributions to the Center or any of its Institutes are tax deductible.





Contact Us

Institute for the Bio-Cultural Study of Religion

Center for Mind and Culture, Inc.

566 Commonwealth Avenue, Suite M-2

Boston, MA 02215

+1 (857) 254-4402

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