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Exploring the patterns and processes of religious change in the world today and into tomorrow.

We catalyze scientific research into the trends and dynamics of religious and spiritual beliefs, practices, and identities. We value research that explores religious change from numerous disciplinary perspectives and at multiple scales, ranging from individual religious expressions to global religious patterns. We encourage proposals to apply innovative methodological approaches to describing and explaining the complexities of religious change and the transmission of religious information. Building on earlier grant-making, we seek to support researchers from across the social, cognitive, and behavioral sciences in examining four themes:

  1. Individual change. The term “religion” is an aggregation of a complex mix of beliefs, practices, and identities. Given that religious identity is known to be a poor predictor of individual religious beliefs and practices, we are interested in better understanding the components of religious identity and how these relate to measurements used in religious demography or when studying group membership. We are especially interested in proposals for interdisciplinary efforts to fractionate religious identity and to better understand why and how people switch religious identities.
  2. Information transmission. Information about religious beliefs, practices, and identities is shared across multiple scales—minds, communities, and systems. Information about religion is also instantiated in multiple ways—thought, texts, objects, norms, and narratives, to name only a few. In this research theme we are interested in supporting work that examines the spread of religious beliefs, practices, and identities among individuals and across generations. We are particularly interested in proposals to study religion as a complex adaptive system and the interaction among forms of information and religious behaviors. We encourage the application of quantitative methods and evolutionary approaches to model the transmission of information and explore its role within religious systems.
  3. Institutional innovation. With this research theme we aim to support the exploration of how religious practices, perspectives, and doctrines emerge, persist, change, and decline in the context of institutions. By institutions we refer both to religious institutions, such as groups, congregations, denominations, and faith traditions, but also secular institutions inasmuch as they interact with religion and spirituality. We have a special interest in developing projects that build from economic principles of competition and innovation to examine why some religious institutions are thriving whereas others are declining. We are also interested in proposals to study the ways in which religious societies and organizations contribute to or hinder individual and societal flourishing.
  4. International trends. To better understand the future of religions, we are interested in supporting studies that explore patterns of demographic change and stability in the many forms of religion and spirituality across the globe. We are interested in proposals to study religious pluralism and syncretism in ways that further our understanding of the psychological, economic, and social dynamics of religion. We particularly value projects that can develop and validate tools for gathering large-scale data on changes in religious practices and beliefs.

In addition to proposals that focus on a particular theme, we also welcome integrative, multi-scalar proposals that consider the ways in which two or more of these themes interact. For example, how do institutional innovations differ between religious and secular societies? How do existing religious systems influence the success or failure of novel religious beliefs? How do global changes in religious demography influence how individuals view their own religious identity?

Featured Grants

Project Leader(s): Jonathan Lanman, Lois Lee, Aiyana Willard
Grantee(s): Queen's University of Belfast
Project Leader(s): Cristina Moya, Julio Tumi Quispe
Grantee(s): Regents of the University of California
Project Leader(s): Merril Silverstein, Joseph Blankholm
Grantee(s): Syracuse University