Is Religion Natural? The Chinese Challenge
Project Lead: Dr. Justin L. Barrett
Post-doctoral researchers: Dr. Melanie Nyhof, Dr. Ryan Hornbeck, Justin Gregory
Center Staff: Rebecca Sok, Gregory Foley, Tyler Greenway
Funded by: Templeton World Charity Foundation at $1.6 million dollars
Project dates: July 1, 2011 – June 30, 2014
Does religious development in early childhood scaffold moral development?
As part of “The Chinese Challenge” project, funded by TWCF and led by Barrett and Ryan Hornbeck in collaboration with Liqi Zhu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, we are examining whether children who acquire beliefs in gods are more likely to acquire particular classes of moral beliefs, e.g., concerning loyalty, purity, and harm. For instance, it may be that acquiring god concepts helps stretch general Theory of Mind facility including the ability to empathize with others unlike oneself.
Research in the cognitive science of religion (CSR) has converged on the thesis that tendencies toward religious and spiritual thought, feelings, and actions may be part of largely invariable human nature. The fact that the world’s largest nation—China—is officially secular, allegedly has a long history of dominant non-religious philosophies, and reportedly has a large proportion of atheists challenges the naturalness of religion thesis, doesn’t it? This project and its collection of selected sub-projects will address this big question empirically using state-of-the-art techniques.
The project has been designed with two aims in mind:
(1) Scientifically address one of humanity’s big questions
(2) Create a blue print for a new and growing body of scholars to continue asking and answering such questions in the world’s largest nation.
The project is comprised of ten coordinated work-packages (WPs) involving 11 relevant experts, including collaborations between scholars from Fuller, University of Oxford, Boston University, Grand Valley State University, Cal State Fullerton, and the Chinese Academy of Science.
WP 1: Teleological andIntentional Reasoning about the Natural World
WP 2: What Constitutes a Person?
WP 3: Afterlife and Pre-life Beliefs
WP 4: Revisiting the Preparedness Hypothesis
WP 5: Religious Practicesin Contemporary China
WP 6: Religion and moral development: Contemporary and Historical Perspectives
WP 7: Ancient Chinese Conceptions of Divinity
WP 8: Counterintuitivenessin Communication and Oral Tradition
WP 9: Spiritual Expression in the Wake of Forced Secularization
WP10: On-line research hub for Chinese CSR