Project overview

Science and Religious Conflict Project

This project was funded by an Arts and Humanities Research Council standard grant, and ran from January 2009 until June 2012.

Project Summary

The past decade has seen an explosion in empirical work on moral reasoning. We are coming to understand how people's moral judgments are shaped by interactions with others in their society. There are good reasons for thinking that people's moral judgements are mostly intuitive (recent empirical work by Jonathan Haidt and his collaborators supports this view) and that people's intuitions are powerfully shaped by the institutions around them, including religious institutions. There is also evidence that deeply religious societies may conceive of morality in ways that more secular societies find difficult to understand, making the process of overcoming moral differences very challenging. We will investigate this recent work, in cognitive science, neuroscience, evolutionary biology and social psychology to try to understand the behaviour of people involved in disagreements about religious matters, including disagreements between distinct religious groups, disagreements within particular religious groups and disagreements between religious groups and a broader society. We will try to understand whether moral differences reflect religious disagreements, or whether they are independent of them. Our aim is to help develop policies that can enable religious disagreements to be resolved before conflicts are generated. In order to achieve this goal we need to understand how religious perspectives give rise to moral views that lead to conflicts and how there might be scope to resolve those conflicts while allowing religious differences to be tolerated.

Research topics

1. The ways in which states of religious disagreement can trigger cognitive and affective biases in individual reasoning. 
2. How ordinary reasoning about religious truth claims might lead to disagreement.
3. How social dynamics may contribute to the ways in which states of religious disagreement trigger cognitive and affective biases in the reasoning of individuals leading to conflict.
4. How work in evolutionary biology may help us to understand group disagreement, and in particular religious disagreement. How it may contribute to generating novel solutions to assist the resolution of disagreements.
5. How we might be able to alter the ways in which religious disagreements take place so as to mitigate or eliminate the effects of cognitive and affective bias in individual reasoning that may otherwise trigger or exacerbate religious conflicts.

Our conferences

Visit our Conferences page for details of our conferences and links to resources.


Visit our Publications page for details of all publications arising from the grant, including the books The Justification of Religious Violence authored by Steve Clarke, and Religion, Intolerance, and Conflict edited by Steve Clarke, Russell Powell and Julian Savulescu.