Friday, October 16, 2009

Call for Papers: Towards a Unified Science of Religion

The deadline is December 15th, but the conference is in Middle Earth:

Towards a Unified Science of Religion

A conference sponsored by the Department of Philosophy
University of Otago
New Zealand


The belief in gods, demons, and other supernatural agents is a persistent feature of human culture, which cries out for explanation. In the last twenty-five years explanations of religion have reached a new level of sophistication. We now have a range of different scientific theories of religion, in cognitive science, anthropology, and evolutionary psychology, drawing upon a significant body of empirical data. This conference, sponsored by the Department of Philosophy at the University of Otago, will bring together researchers from these different disciplines and different theoretical perspectives, to explore the possibility of a unified science of religion.

Call for Papers

Participants are invited to submit paper proposals presenting original research on any topic related to the theme of the conference. The proposal should take the form of an abstract of no more than 200 words, and should be submitted electronically (along with contact details) to the conference secretary: Jonathan Jong by 15 December 2009.

Further Information

Further details about registration and accommodation and will be available on this site soon. The conference programme will be available on this site in late December.

Conference Organisers: James Maclaurin and Greg Dawes.

Conference Secretary: Jonathan Jong


Sabio Lantz said...

The biggest problem with this project is the word "religion". It is too broad. I've always felt that religion should be categorized like a psych syndrome where if you have 6 out of, say, 13 traits, you qualify as a religion. THEN, go for the 13 traits. I think that endeavor would be meaningful.

Salman Hameed said...

Sure - but this is exactly what some people have tried to do in the last two decades (for example, Boyer in "Religion Explained" or Atran in "In Gods We Trust" or Dennett's "Breaking the Spell" and others). I don't know about this specific meeting, but in general this is exactly the reason why academics are taking cognitive and anthropological theories of religion seriously. In fact, the annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion is in Denver next week. Check out their website here.

At the same time, I think your point is well taken as often "religion" is used quite casually without a proper definition. If you get a chance, check out this paper by Peter Harrison: ‘“Science” and “Religion”: Constructing the Boundaries’, The Journal of Religion 86 (2006), 81-106. It brings up some of problems associated with the usage of these terms (Laura Sizer and I assign this paper at the beginning of our science & religion classes...and we find it very useful for discussion).

Sabio Lantz said...

Indeed, I am a novice and non-professional. But I threw together a quick sketch on Religious Syndrome to show my thoughts -- if you have time, take a look and offer a suggestion or reference or two. I learn well by committing my ideas, no matter how raw, to words. Thanx.
I will try to find the paper you mention -- no idea if it is available on-line?

Salman Hameed said...

Oh- I think you raised a very important issue. Check out Daniel Dennett's book, Breaking the Spell. Even if you don't agree with his whole premise, his first 50-75 pages are a summary of the research in this field in the past 2 decades or so.

If you don't find Harrison's paper eseily, send me an e-mail and I will send you a pdf.

Sabio Lantz said...

Dennet's writing (back when I read him 15 years ago) seem unnecessarily convoluted and self-important -- basically poor writing. Is that book any better? I will see if I can get a library copy for those first pages -- I will definitely give it a read. Thanx.

Salman Hameed said...

Dennett's tone may still be a problem - but his summary is quite good (thats why you should check at least the first 50-75 pages). You may also check "Why would anyone believe in God" by Justin Barrett. I haven't read it - but I have heard good things about it too. Interestingly, he is also an Evangelical. He talks about it at the end of the book.

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