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.



Please refer to this page for information on the project's lectures, audio recordings of events and other project activity archives.

Latest Blog Posts

Steve Clarke's blogs
Russell Powell's blogs
Lena Groeger's blogs
Pedro Perez' blogs

Latest Publications

Steve Clarke, 'Intuitions as Evidence, Philosophical Expertise and the Development Challenge’, Philosophical Papers, forthcoming in July 2013.

Russell Powell and Steve Clarke's paper 'Religion as an Evolutionary Byproduct: A Critique of the Standard Model' has been published in the latest issue of the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science (63(3): 457-486). It has also been included in the 'Editor's Choice' selection of 'exemplary articles' chosen by the journal editors (freely available, no subscription required).

Forthcoming Events

Book Launch: Religion, Intolerance and Conflict: A Scientific and Conceptual Investigation

Date and time: 6.45pm, Thursday 13 June 2013
Speaker: Professor Nigel Biggar
Venue: New Ryle Room, First Floor, Radcliffe Humanities, Woodstock Road, Oxford OX2 6GG.
Further details: All are welcome, but booking is required. RSVP to . Wine and light refreshments will be provided.

"Religion, Intolerance and Conflict: A Scientific and Conceptual Investigation", edited by Steve Clarke, Russell Powell, and Julian Savulescu.

Introduction by Professor Nigel Biggar, Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology and Canon of Christ Church.

About the book:

  • Fills a significant gap in the existing literature on religion, intolerance and conflict
  • Brings together contributions from world leading academics across many disciplines
  • Each contribution is tightly focused on the core set of questions the volume seeks to address
  • Has significant implications for public policy for the promoting of religious tolerance

src book coverThe relationship between religion, intolerance and conflict has been the subject of intense discussion, particularly in the wake of the events of 9-11 and the ongoing threat of terrorism. This book contains original papers written by some of the world's leading scholars in anthropology, psychology, philosophy, and theology exploring the scientific and conceptual dimensions of religion and human conflict.

Authors investigate the following themes: the role of religion in promoting social cohesion and the conditions under which it will tend to do so; the role of religion in enabling and exacerbating conflict between different social groups and the conditions under which it will tend to do so; and the policy responses that we may be able to develop to ameliorate violent conflict and the limits to compromise between different religions. The book also contains two commentaries that distill, synthesize and critically evaluate key aspects of the individual chapters and central themes that run throughout the volume.

The volume will be of great interest to all readers interested in the phenomenon of religious conflict and to academics across a variety of disciplines, including religious studies, philosophy, psychology, theology, cognitive science, anthropology, politics, international relations, and evolutionary biology.

Pre-order on OUP website here:

Forthcoming Publications

Authored Book
Steve Clarke’s The Justification of Religious Violence is now under contract with Wiley–Blackwell (3 May 2012)

Edited Volume
'Religion, Intolerance and Conflict: a Scientific and Conceptual Investigation', edited by Steve Clarke, Russell Powell and Julian Savulescu, Oxford, Oxford University Press, forthcoming (under contract)

Journal Articles
Clarke, S. and Roache, R.,‘Introducing Transformative Technologies into Democratic Societies’, Philosophy and Technology, forthcoming. Available online first at :

Russell Powell and Steve Clarke, ‘Religion as an Evolutionary Byproduct: A Critique of the Standard Model’, British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, forthcoming.

Russell Powell, Steve Clarke and Julian Savulescu, 'An Ethical and Political Argument for Prioritizing the Reduction of Parasite-Stress in the Allocation of Healthcare Resources’, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, forthcoming.

Book Chapter
Clarke, S. ‘Coercion, Consequence and Salvation’, in Scientific Approaches to the Philosophy of Religion, edited by Yujin Nagasawa, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming.


During September 2011 - July 2012, SRC is visited by Helen De Cruz, a postdoctoral fellow at the Research Foundation Flanders, University of Leuven, and a Templeton fellow at the University of Oxford. She completed her PhD thesis on the philosophy of mathematics in 2007. Her current interests include philosophy of cognitive science and philosophy of religion. On the Templeton fellowship, she investigates the cognitive basis of intuitions in natural theology. Webpages: | University of Leuven

Johan De Smedt, a research fellow at Ghent University, will be visiting SRC for academic year 2011-2012 . His PhD thesis entitled Common minds, uncommon thoughts. A philosophical anthropological investigation of uniquely human creative behavior, with an emphasis on artistic ability, religious reflection, and scientific study was defended in 2011.He works on the implications of cognitive science of religion for philosophy of religion, and on the cognitive basis of scientific practice. Webpages: | Ghent University

4-10 April 2011, SRC visited by Dr Marguerite La Caze, a senior lecturer in philosophy at the University of Queensland. She has research interests and publications in European philosophy in the fields of ethics and political philosophy. Her publications include The Analytic Imaginary (2002: and Integrity and the Fragile Self with Damian Cox and Michael Levine (2003: Her current interests include research on forgiveness and reconciliation in post-genocide Rwanda, and lying and sincerity in politics.

From January to March 2011 the project was visited by Dr Graham Wood, who is an Academic Visitor at both the Oxford Centre for Neuroethics and the James Martin 21st Century School Program on Ethics and the New Biosciences. Graham has a teaching and research position within the School of Philosophy at the University of Tasmania in Australia. He holds a BA in Philosophy from the University of New South Wales, a Graduate Diploma in Environmental Studies and a PhD in Philosophy, both from the University of Tasmania. His research interests include the implications of developments within the cognitive sciences for both moral and religious belief. During 2009 and 2010 Graham conducted research examining the possible role of ‘mental modules’ in the generation of religious belief, funded by the Cognition, Religion, and Theology Project based at the University of Oxford.

From September 2010 - September 2012 the project was visited by Dr Pedro Jesús Pérez, from the University of Valencia. His visit was funded by the Spanish Ministry of Education. In his postgraduate research he analysed the ways in which deliberative democracy treats the problem of religious pluralism in the public sphere. This research was put forward in his dissertation ‘Deliberative democracy. Public reason and non-public reasons from the point of view of John Rawls’ (thesis awarded honours). Now he plans to delve deeper into this subject, developing research on neuropolitics surrounding the sources of moral disagreement and its application to the role of religion in political debate. More concretely, he hopes to focus on the confrontation between rational and emotional theories surrounding the origins of moral judgements and the influence of religious convictions on the formation of such judgements. He intends to draw conclusions on the ways our brain interferes with moral or religious convictions during participation in public debate.

For Spring and Summer 2010 the project was visited by Rosana Trivino, a postgraduate student in Bioethics at the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Madrid.

'The work that I am developing now is related to the subject of my doctoral thesis –“Beliefs and Health: the influence of convictions in the Public Health System”-. My research is aimed at exploring the conflicts that arise when religious convictions condition health treatments, studying comparatively how to face such conflicts. The relevance of this issue is justified by the increasing importance of the patient’s will in the doctor-patient relationship, when compared to the former paternalistic model, and by the multiple religious choices that currently exist in Spanish society. Core points for both religion and medicine, as life, death and suffering, take a special relevance against this new multicultural background. In this context, the Healthcare System becomes a bench laboratory where new difficulties are faced. My aim at the Uehiro Centre is to analyse the Spanish situation, comparing it to the reality in countries with a longer multicultural tradition, as is the case in the United Kingdom.'

For Spring 2010 the project was visited by Lena Groeger. Lena studied biology and philosophy at Brown University and is especially interested in the intersection of science and religion, as well as how developments in science inform our understanding of morality. An aspiring journalist, she is interested in making the themes and questions raised by this interdisciplinary area available and relevant to the general public. During her stay at Oxford she wrote short articles and blog posts about a variety of topics relating to the SRC project. Lena will be pursuing a graduate degree in science journalism in the fall. Lena has written a scientific critique of Religion and the New Atheists, text of which is available here

Items of Interest 2010

November: Steve Clarke and Dominic Wilkinson will talk at a special seminar on 'Can we speak of healing miracles at Lourdes,' Blackfriars Hall, Oxford, 23rd November at 16:30. Entry is by invitation only and all interested should email

April: Symposium on Theoretical Biology, Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research, University of Vienna. Russell Powell spoke at and participated in a panel discussion on adaptationism.

7-10 April: European Society for the Study of Science and Theology (ESSSAT) Conference. Russell Powell and Steve Clarke gave a talk on "Is Religion and adaptation or a byproduct? An assessment of competing approaches to the explanation of religion as a behaviour." Conference programme

18 February: Roger Trigg authored a report entitled 'Free to Believe? Religious Freedom in a Liberal Society,' which 'makes a strong case against the modern secular distortion of the ideal of religious toleration, and emphasises especially that the ideas and ideals of secular humanists are no less contentious than those of religious believers. A valuable contribution to a difficult exchange' (Stephen RL Clark, Professor of Philosophy, University of Liverpool). 'Professor Trigg builds a powerful case for holding that human beings have a prima facie natural right to the "free exercise" of their religion and that this is not to be equated simply with the right to free speech. "Free to Believe?" is a rich, probing and lucid critique of some of the dynamics shaping how liberal democracies in the West are dealing with religiously diverse citizens' (Nicholas Wolterstorff, Noah Porter Professor of Philosophical Theology Emeritus, Yale University). The report is published by Theos, a public theology think tank, undertaking research and commenting on social and political arrangements, aiming to impact opinion around issues of faith and belief in society.

Items of Interest 2009

23 October 2009: An investigation into the motivation behind Tamil Tiger suicide bombers, conducted by Jennifer Heath-Brown, a school student visiting this project on work experience.

22nd October, Professor Tony Coady (CAPPE, University of Melbourne) gave a St Cross Special Ethics Seminar on "Religion, Public Reason and the Liberal State." Abstract: Modern liberal democracies are uneasy with religion for a number of reasons, many of them related to its perceived dangers as discussed in the first lecture. But quite apart from such dangers, it seems that there is a case for placing certain restrictions and provisos on the activities of religious people and on their modes of interaction with the political order. One of the most obvious of these is the protection of freedom of religion which entails some restriction of the exercise of political powers by religious bodies, such as churches. One thing that “the separation of church and state” means is that there should be no religious tests for public office; another is that the civil rights of citizens should not be abrogated by the power of religious authority and this makes the idea of an established state religion at least highly contentious. These restrictions should be welcome both from the viewpoint of religious integrity and democratic political pluralism. But beyond these qualifications to the role of religion in political life, there are various forms of what I will call “exclusionism” that try to give principled reasons for excluding religious concerns and reasoning from the public arena. Philosophers such as Robert Audi and John Rawls are exclusionist though Audi’s is a stronger form than Rawls’s. In different ways, they employ an idea of “public reason” as an ideal that restricts the role that religious values and beliefs can play in political discourse and practice. These outlooks will be discussed and criticised, and some rather different suggestions will be made about principles that should govern the intervention of religious people into the political arena. Text of lecture

16 October: Professor Tony Coady (CAPPE, University of Melbourne) gave a public lecture on "How Dangerous is Religion?" (link to audio of lecture). The idea that religion is dangerous has come to prominence recently partly as a result of terrorist attacks, often suicide bombings, carried out in Western cities by people professing a brand of Islamic fundamentalism. Partly in reaction to these attacks as well as to the political successes of fundamentalist Christian movements within Western countries, especially the United States, there have been a number of books attacking religion that have made much of the dangers of religious belief. These criticisms merely articulate a widespread belief in the dangers of religious commitment which has itself often been a presupposition or explicit premise in arguments for the nature and value of a liberal, secular state. This talk will attempt to evaluate the alleged dangers of religion on a number of fronts, for example, the tendency of religion to promote violence, to foster undesirable character traits such as subservience to authority, and to engender civil disharmony through the urge to bring about conformity to a singular truth. It will be argued that the case against religion on these grounds is much weaker than it seems and that this has consequences for the constitution of a secular state that will be more fully explored in the next lecture. Text of lecture

25 July 2009: Dr Steve Clarke talked on Australia's ABC National Radio programme "The Philosopher's Zone." Audio of interview

16-17 July: The 2009 Australasian Philosophy of Religion Conference, University of Sydney, on the 16th and 17th of July. Dr Steve Clarke gave a talk on "Salvific Exclusivism, Liberalism and Tolerance."

14-16 June: The Concept of God and the Cognitive Science of Religion: An International Conference at Birmingham. Dr Steve Clarke gave a talk on "Should I Tolerate Your Religion?"

27 January: Professor Ronald Cole-Turner (Pittsburgh Theological Seminary) gave an Uehiro Centre lecture on "Human Enhancement and Christianity: A Case of Friendly Fire?" (link to audio of lecture). The religious impulse for human transcendence, especially in Christianity, lies deep below the current debate over the morally-acceptable use of technology for purposes that go beyond therapy to enhancement. Are religion and technology merely different visions of the human future and different means to similar ends? I shall argue that the difference between religious and technological visions of human enhancement is significant but that the two are not incompatible. A religious perspective, I suggest, raises critical questions for the secular enhancement project, such as who or what do we mean to enhance, and how far. At the same time, the emergence of the technologies of human enhancement challenges Christian notions of the human future with the prospect that technology might deliver what religion promises.

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