The Science of Religion

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Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of California, Berkeley, are just some of the schools that you have at your fingertips with edX. Through massive open online courses (MOOCs) from the world's best universities, you can develop your knowledge in literature, math, history, food and nutrition, and more. These online classes are taught by highly-regarded experts in the field. If you take a class on computer science through Harvard, you may be taught by David J. Malan, a senior lecturer on computer science at Harvard University for the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. But there's not just one professor - you have access to the entire teaching staff, allowing you to receive feedback on assignments straight from the experts. Pursue a Verified Certificate to document your achievements and use your coursework for job and school applications, promotions, and more. EdX also works with top universities to conduct research, allowing them to learn more about learning. Using their findings, edX is able to provide students with the best and most effective courses, constantly enhancing the student experience.

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Sciences & Technology
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23854 reviews

Course Description

Drawing on new scientific advances, this religion course examines foundational questions about the nature of religious belief and practice.

The course is based on the idea that religion is a naturalistic phenomenon — meaning it can be studied and better understood using the tools of science. Religious belief and practice emerge naturally from the structure of human psychology, and have an important impact on the structure of societies, the way groups relate to each other, and the ability of human beings to cooperate effectively.

Topics to be covered will include traditional and contemporary theories of religion, with a special emphasis on cultural evolutionary models.
 

Production of this MOOC was partially funded by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada Partnership Grant on ‘The Evolution of Religion and Morality’ (PI: Edward Slingerland), and represents one of this grant’s major know...

Drawing on new scientific advances, this religion course examines foundational questions about the nature of religious belief and practice.

The course is based on the idea that religion is a naturalistic phenomenon — meaning it can be studied and better understood using the tools of science. Religious belief and practice emerge naturally from the structure of human psychology, and have an important impact on the structure of societies, the way groups relate to each other, and the ability of human beings to cooperate effectively.

Topics to be covered will include traditional and contemporary theories of religion, with a special emphasis on cultural evolutionary models.
 

Production of this MOOC was partially funded by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada Partnership Grant on ‘The Evolution of Religion and Morality’ (PI: Edward Slingerland), and represents one of this grant’s major knowledge mobilization and research dissemination initiatives.

Reviews 9/10 stars
71 Reviews for The Science of Religion

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10/10 starsCompleted
3 years, 3 months ago
Anew way to go through the science rhino religion and rituals. Of all faiths around but mainly its relation to psychology, and history. . It is simple in discussion And deep in knowledge
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Renato Dávalos

10/10 starsTaking Now
2 years, 8 months ago
Pretty thorough introduction to the scientific study of religion. Even though I haven't completed the course, I am really enjoying it.
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FELIX-KINGSLEY OBIALO profile image
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FELIX-KINGSLEY OBIALO

8/10 starsTaking Now
2 years, 10 months ago
Is there an academic journal for this course? If there is how does one access it? If there is none, what might be all the ways to begin one? I ask because this course gives hope to the import of religion in human existence. It is also edifying to know that there is a scientific understanding of religion. we must therefore get researches rooted in religion to find a voice or outlet through a scientific journal.
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Ayla Bonji profile image
Ayla Bonji profile image
10/10 starsTaking Now
  • 1 review
  • 0 completed
3 years, 1 month ago
Almost done with the course and can already say I really enjoyed it. I never took any psychology courses before and generally found it understandable. Both professors were good at explaining everything clearly and using real-world examples to explain the theories and studies covered in the courses. They also made excellent use of stock images and videos making the videos a pleasure to watch and feel less like the typical lectures. I appreciated the extra's after every module as well, making it clear how much effort was put into developing this course. I feel like I have a lot more knowledge about the role and function of religion in society and history. I really hope the same time will develop a new course.
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10/10 starsCompleted
3 years, 3 months ago
A fresh approach as to why we humans are so devoted to our faith traditions based on scientific studies in the cognitive sciences. Logically presented without emotional appeals - outstanding course. Helps me frame my world view in a more pragmatic manner that I can support.
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Sally Thompson

10/10 starsCompleted
3 years, 1 month ago
This is a very good course for anyone who wonders about the power of religion to shape human behaviors and history. The instructors were personable and the videos held my interest. I looked forward to the weekly sessions.
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10/10 starsCompleted
3 years, 3 months ago
One of the best. Great teachers and great production values. Addictively interesting. Even if you already know a little bit about the subject matter there will likely be some material that is new. I hope this team does some other classes for edX.
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8/10 starsCompleted
3 years, 3 months ago
A great place to start learning about religion from the scientific perspective. The video lectures of Prof. Slingerland and Prof. Shariff (great lectures) will give you an introduction to many topics from various fields (e.g. evolution theory, physiology, cognitive science) and will present the up to date (at least up to the recording date) research work which is currently done on these subjects. On top of this you have many expert video lectures as bonus material that will allow you to learn more about most of the topics covered in this course. I took this course from an agnostic point of view (more or less) so I can not say if it will be offensive to religious people, but I think this course manages to present everything in a balanced way and it also includes self - critic and critic towards science so all you need is an open mind and the ability to at least hear opinions that might be counter to your own beliefs.
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10/10 starsCompleted
3 years, 3 months ago
This course was fun and interesting. I looked forward to the new content each week. The professors were great and I especially loved getting to watch interviews with a variety of other experts in the field.
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10/10 starsCompleted
3 years, 3 months ago
Well organized and presented. The human mind and how it works may be "the final, or at least the next, frontier" for mankind. Heretofore, religion has been un-examined properly by science because it is hard to do and religion tried to wall itself off as another "magisteria", immune from such evaluations. No more. This course examines religion as a human phenomenon susceptible to the techniques of psychology and sociology. Even these mysteries will be solved by science and we will understand ourselves better. Highly recommended.
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10/10 starsCompleted
3 years, 3 months ago
As a veteran of over 150 MOOCs I have no problem endorsing this as one of the most worthwhile and thought provoking courses I have completed and a welcome antidote to both religious detractors and religious fanatics. This course will broaden the horizons of both believers and non believers. Religion can be studied and understood independent of specific belief systems and it is not something to be despised, disregarded, privileged or protected. As facets of religion are inevitable products of our cognitive and psychological faculties religion is to be acknowledged and respected as part of the human story. If you missed this iteration of the course, mark it for attention next time it is offered. You won't regret it.
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10/10 starsCompleted
3 years, 3 months ago
This course was the perfect balance for me. I work fulltime and The Science of Religion was for pure learning pleasure. The time per week was about 3 hours - not too much and not too trivial, the quizzes challenging and the subject matter fascinating.
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10/10 starsCompleted
3 years, 3 months ago
I've just finished this outstanding and challenging course. What lies behind religion is a question I've never explored. The University of British Columbia team provided a course based on wide-ranging sources and perspectives. Individually, I wondered where we were begin taken, but by weeks five and six the direction became clear. Well done Canada! (Kiwi student.)
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10/10 starsCompleted
3 years, 3 months ago
Just finished the course. It was a brilliant approach to many of the mysteries that surround human adherence to religious practice. And Slingerland and Shariff both make for clear and engaging presentions of the material. And people of faith should not be put off by the naturalistic presuppositions of the course. The neo-Darwinian evolutionary framework actually enhanced my respect for religious practice in all its adaptive value and complexity. This is also the first edx course I have seen with 'gag reel', featuring out-takes from the recordings!
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10/10 starsCompleted
3 years, 3 months ago
A course definitely worth taking for anyone even remotely interested in the subject. The professors are wonderful and the course is packed with content.
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10/10 starsCompleted
3 years, 3 months ago
I was surprised to learn that so little is known scientifically about religion. There is a lot of relevance to the state of social changes today. The state of knowledge outlined in this course is a good starting point and it will be interesting to follow future developments. .
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10/10 starsCompleted
3 years, 3 months ago
An exciting and thought-provoking course, helped me look at religion from a different point of view that made a lot of sense and helped me understand my own cognitive tendencies too. I had a lot of 'aha' moments during this course! Also, it introduced me to a rich bibliography and online databases that are very useful tools.
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10/10 starsCompleted
3 years, 3 months ago
I thought the course was well designed and presented. I learned a lot. I have a few suggestions. As someone with very little knowledge of the course material I thought the due dates to be very restrictive. I needed more reflective and investigative time for each modular. I would have liked to have the data and charts in a separate file to explore more. I believe this was marked as beginner. I think it should have been higher in rating. If you adjust due dates that might be helpful. I feel it was a great course. Thanks!
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10/10 stars
3 years, 3 months ago
All aspects of this course are noth professional and well presented. As a layperson it allowed me to come in at my own level of interest. Excellent and eye opening.
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JUAN AZPIROZ profile image
JUAN AZPIROZ profile image

JUAN AZPIROZ

8/10 starsCompleted
3 years, 3 months ago
Very good Instructors of University level that explain matters with competency and clarity. Course Content seems coherent once the course was finished but was not that clear before. In any case I think the level of conferences was high. Provider is really excellent with a magnificent organisation, teaching systems, references and so on. English used throughout the course was good in the videos, for non-english speaking students. But in the questions I found it a little too complex.
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8/10 starsCompleted
3 years, 3 months ago
This is an excellent course and an excellent introduction to the subject for anybody interested in religious studies. It gives the state of the art of academia in the field. However, if you are expecting a post-graduate level course, this is a graduate-level course. The lectures are all quite short (the time needed to complete the course for me was way below the recommended time). The topics that are discussed are not delved in any depth and many topics are not addressed at all. Prof. Slingerland and Prof. Shariff still manage to gift us with some clever insights, for which I am grateful. I learned, but I was not challenged. I was hoping for a repeat of Prof. Slingerland's other course, "Chinese Thought: Ancient Wisdom meets Modern Science," which I am not ashamed to say counts as one of the highlights of my life, and which was truly deep and intellectually challenging, prompting very interesting high-level discussions on the boa... This is an excellent course and an excellent introduction to the subject for anybody interested in religious studies. It gives the state of the art of academia in the field. However, if you are expecting a post-graduate level course, this is a graduate-level course. The lectures are all quite short (the time needed to complete the course for me was way below the recommended time). The topics that are discussed are not delved in any depth and many topics are not addressed at all. Prof. Slingerland and Prof. Shariff still manage to gift us with some clever insights, for which I am grateful. I learned, but I was not challenged. I was hoping for a repeat of Prof. Slingerland's other course, "Chinese Thought: Ancient Wisdom meets Modern Science," which I am not ashamed to say counts as one of the highlights of my life, and which was truly deep and intellectually challenging, prompting very interesting high-level discussions on the board. I had high expectations, hence my mild disappointment with this course, although I understand that given the subject, this approach was necessary. I am looking forward to a level 2 Science of Religion, for an encore of the stellar and incisive performance I was hoping for :-)
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10/10 starsCompleted
3 years, 3 months ago
This course delivered so much more than I expected: not only an understanding of religion from a scientific pov, but also of how evolution works in general, and how culture and biology work together. I've done a lot of MOOCs and this one is in my top 3.
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10/10 starsCompleted
3 years, 3 months ago
I recommend this course highly - interesting content, well organized, presented with an engaging blend of lecture dialogue, graphics, and illustrative video imagery. The speakers, both core and guests, are outstanding. I would very much look forward to a follow-on, next level course.
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10/10 starsCompleted
3 years, 3 months ago
This is an excellent course. It is well organized and the professors did an excellent job of explaining the more difficult, scientific topics and concepts. My background is in business and accounting, so the material was a stretch for me but with the way the material was presented and the bonus material I was able to grasp most of the concepts. This course aroused my curiosity and left me wanting to learn more about the subject.
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8/10 starsCompleted
3 years, 3 months ago
Interesting course. I wasn't sure what this course would entail, but I learned a number of things that I did not expect to. I will want to review this material now that it is archived. I was refreshed to see what was to be said about scientistic approaches as opposed to recognizing how science has its limitations in the humanities. Thanks
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10/10 starsCompleted
3 years, 3 months ago
I found the course very interesting and informative. Sheds a new perspective on why we do things. Because I undertook the course strictly from a curiosity perspective, I found it somewhat challenging in the as there were no pre-requisites recommended. It was well worth my time investment although I did not apply for the final accreditation certificate.
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10/10 starsTaking Now
  • 1 review
  • 0 completed
3 years, 3 months ago
This was one of the most enjoyable courses I have done, either as a MOOC or as an actual university course. I love that they cited the relevant papers for each section. I have printed and read several of them to deepen my understanding and knowledge of the course materials. The professors were knowledgeable and measured in their presentation of the material. The edx app is not my favorite (at least when compared to Cousera's app). But when viewed in a browser, I have zero complaints. I wish people I knew in real life would have taken this course so we could talk about the information.
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6/10 starsDropped
  • 1 review
  • 0 completed
3 years, 3 months ago
The timing of the course - over Easter - was always going to be a problem for Christians - but I also had three deaths in my family - not particularly tragic as they were all aged - but it did prevent me from following the course as i would have liked. So this is more an apology for lack of effort than a review. I will say that the instructors get marks for objectivity as they mostly do not consider themselves to be religious, but I did sometimes feel that they were like creatures with no concept of time trying to understand a clock. Having said that, I may well sign up again when my schedule is a little less chaotic.
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10/10 starsCompleted
3 years, 3 months ago
There's no doubt that the course is excellent. So are the instructors and the material. I've taken a lot of different courses and this one is one of the bests. The instructors are really very committed which is not always the case. The only thing that bothered me was the time constraint. Being fully employed I was not able to strictly follow the deadlines for weekly quizzes. So I've received less points as I wasn't able to finish the quizzes on time. My suggestion would be to put only the deadline for all quizzes to be finished and not for each of weekly quizzes separately. It might occur that one week you have more time than in other ones.
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6/10 starsCompleted
3 years, 3 months ago
As someone very involved in the UK and world humanist movement (declaring his interest :-) ) I have been reading about and researching the reasons why we have religion for about 20 years. As originally a science graduate and atheist, I have never found it sufficient to dismiss religion, but have sought to explain it. The reason that I took this course was to find out where Dr Slingerland and his team were positioned and the extent of science based research that I was unaware of. To this extent it was very useful, though because it was targetted at a relatively unknowledgeable audience I found it light on review of literature other than directly linked to Dr Slingerland's team projects. Having a structure for consideration of the cognitive science approaches is very useful. My criticisms are that there was a heavy emphasis of the European post Christ religions and little consideration of the earlier development of religion a... As someone very involved in the UK and world humanist movement (declaring his interest :-) ) I have been reading about and researching the reasons why we have religion for about 20 years. As originally a science graduate and atheist, I have never found it sufficient to dismiss religion, but have sought to explain it. The reason that I took this course was to find out where Dr Slingerland and his team were positioned and the extent of science based research that I was unaware of. To this extent it was very useful, though because it was targetted at a relatively unknowledgeable audience I found it light on review of literature other than directly linked to Dr Slingerland's team projects. Having a structure for consideration of the cognitive science approaches is very useful. My criticisms are that there was a heavy emphasis of the European post Christ religions and little consideration of the earlier development of religion and proto-religious behaviours in early human society, particularly as it explains ritual, for instance, as adaptive at a number of prior levels of social sophistication. The proposition that religion parasites evolved psychological features needs a lot more analysis of how those features were derived and whether the features that psychologically favoured religion co-evolved or not. This may however, be unaddressable with pure science approaches. We could have done with more on Kanneman's fast and slow thinking, relation of purpose and design in the evolution of the supernatural agency proposition, all aspects of what the concept of "counterintuitive" could mean to early man, much more on the impact of narrative processes as a group survival mechanism, The sections on big data and modelling approaches were very interesting though left out some key work on the mathematics of cooperation. The final sections on the future of religion and the limits of science were a poor end to an otherwise sound course (given it's very limited timescale). In particular the projections of the growth of religious demographics in developing countries seems to have left China out of the numbers, and needs a lot of examination of the assumptions in the modelling. But the final bit of science free conclusion based on the notions of Charles Taylor left me wondering where the evidence basis of the original course proposition had gone. As regards processes, I do not find discussion boards at all useful as a way of examining material with other students. I found that quiz questions were very variable in the clarity of both questions and possible answer statements - I assume this is because they are written by several people. Some of the quiz questions almost defied understanding at all. This was compounded by my not being able to find the correct answers to the questions that I had got wrong, which was frustrating. Despite my quibbles, this was overall a very worthwhile experience leading to a lot of new questions and areas of research for me. Thank you.
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