The Institute for the Bio-Cultural Study of Religion (IBCSR) has been awarded a $2 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation (templeton.org) for a three-year project in computer modeling and simulation for the scientific understanding of religion. Dr. Wesley J. Wildman, a leading expert on using agent-based and system-dynamics models to investigate religion, is the principle investigator (PI) for the project, which will expand on the Institute's already-running Simulating Religion Project and its publications. The Templeton Foundation’s support of the Modeling Religion Project will further that research, using a variety of types of models and complex virtual minds to investigate the role religion may have played in transformational shifts in civilizational form, such as the move from hunting and gathering to settled agriculture, the shift from early civilizations to the Axial Age, and the transition to modernity. The project will also create a platform for modeling and simulation accessible to non-programmers, and will invest resources in explaining the value of simulation and modeling for a wider audience through outreach efforts and a documentary film.
IBCSR will enjoy the fruits of rich collaboration in this undertaking. Dr. Wildman has brought together an international team of world-class scholars both from the simulation and modeling community and from the world of the scientific study of religion. IBCSR will be collaborating particularly with the Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center (VMASC) at Old Dominion University, which houses many of the world's top experts in modeling and computer simulation. These interactions among these researchers promise to be transformative.
Computer simulation and modeling provides a robust, powerful way to test hypotheses and hone theories about cognition, society, and religion – realms where rigorous experiments are famously hard to carry out. For the first time, computer modeling technology is powerful enough to gather up all the major theories of religion and test their predictions in rich simulated worlds. This project might make history.