Religion, Ideology & Prosociality: Simulating Secularising Societies
This research project is funded by the Norwegian Financial Mechanism 2014-2020 and operated by National Science Centre.
The Norway Grants aim is to work together for an inclusive Europe and the aim of the project fits in perfectly because it investigates social phenomena related to secularization.
The total budget of the project is over PLN 5.5 million. Its duration is at least 3 years (September 2020 – August 2023).
The project is carried out in partnership between Society and Cognition Unit at University of Białystok and Norwegian Center for Modeling Social Systems at NORCE Research Center.
Throughout developed societies, levels of engagement with religion have been falling. In some countries, such as Norway, this pattern began a number of decades ago and has reached the point where people who participate in religious practices are very much in the minority. In other countries, including Poland, the process has only begun relatively recently, with large generational differences in religious beliefs and practices existing currently.
While we have been able to use sociological data to describe how secularisation proceeds, the question of why it occurs is still far from settled. The fundamental problem is that to explain secularisation it is necessary to simultaneously consider two levels of explanation: social and psychological. Secularisation is a sustained society-wide fall in the levels of religious belief and practice. On one hand, explaining this change requires understanding the individual psychological processes and behaviour as well as the interactions that lead to the large scale result. On the other hand, it also requires understanding how the relevant social variables impact the psychological make-up of individuals. Formulating such multi-level explanations has always proved particularly difficult. And even if a model is formulated, it is particularly difficult to tell what predictions it leads to.
Two different approaches can be pursued to trying to understand such a complex, multi-level phenomenon. One approach is to consider only one level, be it the psychological or the social, and to make simplifying assumptions about the other. The strength of this approach is that it makes the problem much more tractable and, so long as the simplifying assumptions are broadly accurate, does lead to increased understanding of at least part of the overall system. In the case of secularisation, research that has pursued this path has already led to many insights, including the vital role that anxiety and ritual play in transmitting religion. The much more involving and difficult approach is to attempt to represent the interaction between the psychological and social aspects of secularisation. This approach has not been tractable traditionally because of the complexity and unpredictability of the interactions between the levels. However, it does become possible to pursue when, instead of relying on simple theoretical representations, we come to be able to model the phenomenon using information technology. This promises to provide us with completely novel insights into how secularisation occurs. That is the aim of the RIP project.