Is human nature fundamentally religious? If so, what does this mean for the past, present, and future of religion and theology? Cognitive science of religion (CSR) has rejuvenated these questions with theories and findings that support religion’s “naturalness.” Nevertheless, theory has outpaced evidence. Evidence for any naturalness of belief in gods, of religious ritual, or of any other area of religion requires broadly cross-cultural data to supplement experimental and developmental data. The current project would fortify CSR with new data from around the world bearing upon two topics: is there a natural “grammar” for religious ritual, and does local physical geography impact the distribution of beliefs in gods? These are just two questions that require anthropological field data collected from numerous cultural and religious contexts to either support or challenge existing theories concerning the alleged naturalness of religion. Given simple protocol and online training, those who collect the data need not be scholars but cultural experts. Thus, we may make unprecedented progress on these questions through piloting a new means of data collection: recruiting religious ministers to provide data points concerning their local religious environments. We will begin with Fuller Theological Seminary’s alumni network and, if successful, this pilot project will (1) provide a blueprint for future data collection addressing similar questions concerning religion, (2) create a new database for others to mine (target: 600 ritual descriptions, 600 superhuman agent descriptions), (3) make progress on two specific research questions resulting in two journal article manuscripts, and (4) help erode unnecessary barriers between religious leaders (ministers) and science by involving them in scientific research.
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