On/File: A Continuing Record of People, Movements, Groups, and Events Impacting Religion: July 2018

The Modeling Religion Project uses computational models and simulations to evaluate the role of religion in societies under stress. The project, run by the Center for Mind and Culture in Boston, led by Wesley Wildman, the Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center at Old Dominion University, and the University of Agder in Kristiansand, Norway, uses a virtual environment to study the real world’s complex systems. To explore these human dynamics with a computer, the researchers designed an artificial world populated by computer-controlled characters, called “agents,” programmed to follow rules and tendencies identified in humans through psychological experiments, ethnographic observation and social analysis. These agents and their environment are tested against real-world examples, such as the data gathered on church attendance before and after an earthquake. In the model’s virtual world, the researchers found patterns in how different types of groups use religious rituals to manage their terror. It was found that “culturally diverse groups whose members dealt with hazards fairly well preferred coping through rituals with small groups of friends, which were unlikely to explode in violence. But culturally homogeneous populations whose members had low tolerance for hazards preferred rituals on a very large scale, and those kinds of rituals had the potential to be quite dangerous.” (The Conversation, July 11).