Science and Religious Conflict Conference (May 2010)

'Does Religion Lead to Tolerance or Intolerance? Perspectives from Across the Disciplines'

An interdisciplinary and international three-day conference organised by the Science and Religious Conflict Project team.  The conference aimed to discuss empirically informed approaches to an understanding of the ways in which religion increases or decreases tolerance.  This event was held as part of the AHRC funded 3 year project on 'Science and Religious Conflict Project ( 

Date: 17-19 May, 2010
Venue: The James Martin 21st Century School, University of Oxford
Convenors:  Dr Stephen Clarke and Dr Russell Powell

Speakers:  Daniel Batson, University of Kansas  |  Patricia Churchland, University of California at San Diego  |  Tony Coady, University of Melbourne  |  Robin Dunbar, University of Oxford  |  Owen Flanagan, Duke University  |  Benjamin Kaplan, University College London  |  Miles Hewstone, University of Oxford  |  Dominic Johnson, University of Edinburgh  |  Sue Mendus, University of York  |  Ara Norenzayan, University of British Columbia  |  Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Duke University  |  Roger Trigg, University of Oxford  |  Harvey Whitehouse, University of Oxford

Notes on the conference: The Science and Religious Conflict Project Conference on Religion, Tolerance and Intolerance took place between May 17th and May 19th 2010 at the James Martin 21st Century School in the Old Indian Institute in Oxford. The conference included 13 papers as well as responses to all of these by commentators, general discussion of all of the papers, as well as a summary of the conference proceedings and a panel discussion. It was a well attended event and involved some very lively exchanges.

Conference speakers included leading international figures from a variety of disciplines who spoke on various dimensions of the complex causal relations between religion, tolerance and intolerance. Among them were evolutionary anthropologists, biologists, and philosophers of science, including Robin Dunbar (Oxford), Patricia Churchland (San Diego), Dominic Johnson (Edinburgh) and Harvey Whitehouse (Oxford), who explored the relation of religion to individual and social cognition, group cohesion, intergroup aggression, and cultural evolution. Psychologists Dan Batson (Kansas), Ara Norenzayan (British Columbia), and Miles Hewstone (Oxford) probed the psychological boundaries of altruism and the correlation between various religious orientations and prejudice/intolerance. Philosophers Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (Duke), Tony Coady (Melbourne), Sue Mendus (York) and Owen Flanagan (Duke) spoke on the philosophical and psychological implications of religion for tolerance, compassion, compromise, and military conflict. Theologian and philosopher Roger Trigg (Oxford) considered the theological and social implications of recent work in the cognitive science of religion, and the historian Ben Kaplan (University College London) discussed the diversity of socio-political solutions to religious conflict in early modern Europe. 

The conference finished up with summarizing remarks by Richard Dawkins (Oxford) and a panel discussion convened by Roger Bingham from The Science Network, which included Professor Dawkins, Patricia Churchland, Owen Flanagan, and others on topics ranging from the rationality of religious belief to the conflict between religious and scientific worldviews.  Much of the conference was filmed by the Emmy award-winning producers of the Science Network and all of it has been recorded.

ResourcesProgramme  |  Background reading  | Videos (The Science Network)

Monday 17 May Powerpoint Audio

Robin Dunbar:

[PDF: 3.99MB] 

'Is religion adaptive? Integrating cognition and function'  
Commentator:  Janet Radcliffe Richards [MP3: 57 mins, 51.8MB]

Dominic Johnson: 

[PDF: 121MB] 

'Is religion an adaptation for inter-group conflict?'
Commentator:  Russell Powell [MP3: 50 mins, 46.6MB]

Ara Norenzayan: 

[PDF: 1.39MB] 

'Religion as parochial altruism'
Commentator:  John Wilkins [MP3: 54 mins, 49.7MB]

Harvey Whitehouse:


'Religion, cohesion, and hostility'  
Commentator: Michael Wong [MP3: 42 mins, 28.8MB]

Tuesday 18 May Powerpoint Audio

Roger Trigg:


'Religious toleration, religious freedom and human nature'   
Commentator:  John Perry [MP3:48 mins,43.5MB]

Ben Kaplan:


'A tale of two churches'
Commentator: Mark Sheehan [MP3:44 mins,40.6MB]

Walter Sinnott-Armstrong:

[PDF: 293KB]

'Religion and compromise'  
Commentator: Nick Shackel [MP3: 53 mins, 48.2MB]

Tony Coady:


'Religious disagreement and religious accommodation'
Commentator:  Liz Carmichael [MP3: 50 mins, 45.8MB]

Sue Mendus:


'Religious toleration and political liberalism' 
Commentator:  Nick Southwood [MP3: 46 mins, 41.6MB]

Wednesday 19 May Powerpoint Audio
Daniel Batson:

[PDF: 8.83MB]

'Personal religion, tolerance, and universal compassion'
Commentator:  Steve Clarke [MP3: 51 mins, 47.1MB]

Owen Flanagan:

[PDF: 77.7KB]

'The view from the East pole:  Buddhist and Confucian
soteriologies and tolerance'

Commentator:  Guy Kahane [MP3: 51 mins, 46.9MB] 

Patricia Churchland:


'The relation between the neurobiology of morality and religion' 
Commentator: Julian Savulescu [MP3: 59 mins, 54MB]

Miles Hewstone:


'Social psychological aspects of religion and prejudice:
evidence from experimental and survey research' 

Commentator:  Ingmar Persson [MP3: 51 mins, 46.5MB]

Richard Dawkins:


Concluding remarks 
[MP3: 17 mins, 20MB]  |  Audio file courtesy of John Booth.

Panel discussion:


Panel discussion led by Roger Bingham of The Science Network  
[MP3: 49 mins, 45MB]  |  SRC videos:  The Science Network website



Science and Religious Conflict is a project funded by an Arts and Humanities Research Council standard grant, running from January 2009 until June 2012.  The project seeks to broadly investigate how cognitive science, especially psychology, can inform our understanding of the genesis and perpetuation of religious conflict. 

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