The cognitive science of religion

Here's an introduction to the cognitive science of religion, in video form! It includes a quick history of the discipline, including tracing its roots to historical religious studies. 

  Spectrums Project

What is modeling?

This video introduces the Simulating Religion Project and discussing the all-important question: What is computer modeling, anyway?

  Spectrums Project

Simulating religious violence

Listen up - religious violence is bad news. That's why we're studying the psychological, social, and economic roots of religious terrorism using computer simulations. Learn more by watching the video below.

  Spectrums Project

Theories of Religion

Today's topic is "theories of religion!" Watch this video for a fun and informative overview of academic theories of religion and how they can be used to inform computer models of human society and cognition.

  Spectrums Project

Capitol Hill Modeling and Simulation Expo

This video describes the Modeling Religion Project in overview format. The video was originally shown at the 2016 Capitol Hill Modeling and Simulation Expo.

  Spectrums Project

Religion is embodied, but computer modeling isn't

This video takes a look at the differences between the messy reality of living religion and the abstractions of computer simulations. How can they be reconciled?


  Spectrums Project

Spectrums Project Webinar

IBCSR's Spectrums Project is an ambitious attempt to apply what is known about ideological spectrums in politics and morality to the field of religious beliefs and practices. The Project's goal is twofold: firstly, to deepen understanding of why human beings adopt a spectrum of religious and theological viewpoints; and secondly, to discover strategies for mitigating the problems associated with religious extremism and polarized religious discourse. This video is a webinar run by Wesley Wildman, PI on the project, for a group of religious professionals grappling with the practical manifestations of ideological conflict in their settings.

  Spectrums Project

Sex Differences and Religion Project

The biological evolution of sex in our planetary ecosystem is a complex story covering millions of species and billions of years. The human species further complicates this story with the bio-cultural evolution of sex and gender in complex social niches. Religion and spirituality have played important roles in this process, both influencing and being influenced by sex and gender differences. This project employs perspectives from biological and cultural evolution, developmental biology, anthropology, sociology, psychology, social construction, cognitive neuroscience, neuroimaging, and ethics to understand the intricate multi-directional influences among sex, gender, religion, and spirituality. Watch this video to find out what's happening.

Sex Differences and Religion Project


Boston University PhD in Religion and Science

Although a fully independent research institute, IBCSR has a unique relationship with Boston University, where its founding directors teach and do research as professors. Some of IBCSR's researchers and fellows are housed within one of BU's schools or departments. In a testament to the interdisciplinary vibrancy of the university along the south bank of the Charles, the Graduate Division of Religious Studies offers a uniquely broad and deep PhD program in Religion and Science. Students must master a dizzying array of subjects, including secular religious studies, the history and philosophy of science, and a specific scientific field, including significant lab experience. Most students also build significant expertise in philosophy of religion, from Abrahamic or Greek to Vedic or Chinese traditions. Some students in the Religion and Science PhD program are IBCSR fellows, including Lindamood Fellows. Learn more below.

Track IV

Dimensions of Spirituality Project

What does it mean when someone says that she's "spiritual?" What about when someone says he's "spiritual but not religious?" While we all think we know what these words mean, a closer look shows that we're not necessarily all saying the same thing when we use the word "spiritual." Hoping to understand what people really mean when they use the word spiritual, IBCSR researchers are teaming up with a leading sociologist of religion at Boston University, Nancy Ammerman, to develop a research survey that will identify people's own understanding of what it means to be spiritual. This project is called the Dimensions of Spirituality Project to reflect the multifaceted nature of the concept of spirituality as it's used in everyday life. With this project, we're working to advance our understanding of one of the most notoriously vague categories in the study of religion by bringing it right down to earth. The video below explains how.


Neuroscience and Religious Cognition Project

The Neuroscience and Religious Cognition Project, headed up by Patrick McNamara at the Boston VA Medical Center, is a multi-pronged, three-year research project to track the neurological roots of religious cognition. By combining fcMRI (functional connectivity MRI) brain scans with neuropsychological assessments and interviews, NRCP researchers are working to crack the secret of religion's relationship to dopamine networks, reward motivation, and self-control. The team is particularly studying Parkinson's disease patients, a subset of whom sometimes lose interest in their religious beliefs. Understanding how this process unfolds may help improve PD patients' quality of life while enhancing our understanding of the neural underpinnings of religious cognition. The video below explains the details of the project and shows what happens behind the scenes at the lab.


IBCSR Publications and Outreach

IBCSR takes its mission to provide outreach very seriously. We know that there's no shortage of new, fascinating knowledge about religion and culture being produced every day – a respectable amount of it by our own researchers. But that knowledge doesn't do any good if nobody knows about it. That's why overcoming the "silo effect" that can fracture important academic research into disciplinary splinters is a cherished goal of IBCSR's directors and researchers. It's also why we work hard to maintain outreach websites such as and, publish books such as Science and the World's Religions, co-publish the journal Religion, Brain & Behavior, and produce the monthly IBCSR Research Review. The video below descibes these publications and outreach efforts and more.

Publications and Outreach

Introduction to IBCSR

What does IBCSR do? Who are the people behind it? What is their mission, and do they have an angle? This video answers all these questions. It's a ten-minute introduction to the Institute for the Bio-Cultural Study of Religion, its goals, and its people. Interviews with Founding Directors Wesley Wildman and Patrick McNamara complement informative looks at IBCSR's many websites and conversations with affiliated scholars. It's like arriving on the bank of the Charles River and getting an in-person tour (but without that Boston traffic!). Click on the image below to view the video as a pop-up directly in your browser window.

Intro to IBCSR