The Cognitive and Cultural Foundations of Religion and Morality

2017–2020: Templeton World Charity Foundation
Principal Investigators: Harvey Whitehouse and Jonathan Jong.

This project explores the relationship between religious beliefs and moral beliefs across cultures. Although there is much diversity in the particular cultural manifestations of religious and moral beliefs, there are also some commonly recurrent patterns and themes. Religion, for example, often involves supernatural agents and collective rituals. Morality often involves notions of fairness and purity. There is, furthermore, a widespread belief that religion and morality are deeply connected, but it is unclear how—if at all—they are in fact related. This project therefore aims to collect cross-cultural empirical evidence on this alleged connection.

Subproject 1 is a large-scale cross-cultural survey that will enable us to quantify the relationships between different moral domains and different religious themes. It will also involve measures of individual and cultural differences, to look at how these variables affect the relationship between religion and morality.

Subproject 2 is a series of experiments to be conducted at field sites around the world (e.g., Burma, Japan, Fiji). These experiments enable inferences to be made about the psychological mechanisms involved in connecting religious and moral ideas.

The project will thus supply much-needed empirical evidence to recent theorising about the evolution of religion and morality.  

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