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Modeling Religious Change (MRC) extends existing social-science methods for conceptualizing change in religious and non-religious populations by using computer modeling and simulation (M&S). MRC adopts a big-theory approach that integrates disciplines relevant to the complexities of social change, including demography, social psychology, cognitive science, and political economy. Sometimes fertility patterns don’t tell the whole story about demographic change, and religious switching and environmental factors become vital. MRC identifies the conditions under which these factors change in relative importance in order to create theory-based simulations of religious and non-religious identity and change in USA, Norway, and India. If resources permit, MRC will expand in limited ways to China, Argentina, Nigeria, and New Zealand.

MRC employs novel input datasets that encode measurement assumptions and other types of uncertainty. These assumptions correspond to parameters in a computational simulation whose causal architecture reflects a synthesis of the best theories of religious identity and change for a country. The simulations are calibrated and validated against input datasets and then generate assumption-relative forecasts, explicitly linking assumptions and forecasts. A web-based tool enables researchers to explore the forecast datasets, create population forecasts by specifying measurement assumptions, and display the effects of changing assumptions. Films, animations, and online outreach will explain the critical importance of religious and non-religious identity and change for security, ecology, culture, economy, and international relations.

By creating computer simulations of the social systems within which religion resides and changes, MRC delivers proof of concept for a new approach to studying religious and non-religious change, inviting demographic study of religion and non-religion to expand beyond its traditional methodological boundaries.