University of Oxford
Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council


Part of the Institute for Science & Ethics


A programme of the Oxford Martin School


Linked with the Oxford Centre for Neuroethics and the Oxford Uehiro Centre



SRC in brief:

huntington graphic

SRC will use the latest developments in cognitive science, neuroscience, evolutionary biology and social psychology to understand how moral judgements and intuitions differ among different groups in society, with particular attention to their role in religious conflict.


2012 Conference: The Science and Religious Conflict Project team in the Faculty of Philosophy at Oxford University hosted a second successful conference on 18-19 June, Reducing Religious Conflict. For further information, including links to audio files and powerpoints, see conference page.

2010 Conference: The project hosted a highly successful conference 17-19 May, Does Religion Lead to Tolerance or Intolerance? Perspectives from Across the Disciplines - please see the conference page for more material, including audio of the talks. Video coverage of many of the talks is also now available, courtesy of The Science Network.

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.

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


As of February 2010 the project had been running for 14 months, and a progress report was submitted to the AHRC. Please click here to view the report.







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