​Cognitive and Cultural Foundations of Religion and Morality

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  • Project Duration:

    February 1, 2017 - January 31, 2020

  • Core Funding Area:

    Big Questions

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Director: Prof. Harvey Whitehouse

Institution: The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Oxford

How can we best understand the relationship between religion and morality? In 2015, Harvey Whitehouse and Ryan McKay published a peer-viewed white paper in Psychological Science. In it, they surveyed the state of the psychology of religion and morality research. They concluded that, for the most part, studies equate “religion” with “belief in God” and “morality” with some form of prosocial behavior. This has led to inconsistent (and imprecise) findings about the nature of the relationship between religion and morality. To move the field forward, the authors of this paper argued for breaking down religion and morality into their underlying cognitive components. Our project will conduct psychological research on these two topics so essential to the Templeton World Charity Foundation: religion and morality. Using both social psychology and the cognitive science of religion, this project will investigate the foundations that underlie expressions of religion and morality across cultures. Its primary goal is to produce discovery science about the nature of the relationship between religion and morality. Underpinning this proposal is the “fractioning” approach to religion and morality suggested by Whitehouse and McKay. The primary intended outputs are theoretical articles published in peer-reviewed journals and substantive empirical articles.


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