UP builds a top-notch cognitive lab for research into religion

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Tuesday 17 April 2018, 13:51 - Text: Milada Hronová

A cognitive laboratory for research into religion will be built within two years for Religious Studies, unit of the Department of Sociology, Andragogy and Cultural Anthropology at the UP Faculty of Arts. It will become one of the few workplaces in Europe where religious behaviour is studied by means of modern technologies.

Religious Studies as a secular study of religion is one of the youngest disciplines at Palacký University, officially launched by opening a double maior in 2015. It is an interdisciplinary study dealing with the study of various religious traditions, their doctrines, ritual behaviours, and organisation.

The Olomouc team members specialise in several research topics. They focus on historical, sociological, and anthropological research into religious traditions of Europe, Asia, Africa, Central and Southern America, and also on studying of various forms of atheism and non-belief in modern society, as well as new religious movements, including the study of magic and witchcraft.

“Cognitive research will be yet another, and quite crucial interdisciplinary approach at the humanities that will allow the use of modern research methods, procedures, and technologies during the research into religion – not only on cultural and social levels, but also on biological level,” said associate professor Tomáš Bubík, the head of the Religious Studies unit.

The cognitive laboratory will be situated at 26 Třída Svobody, thanks to funding by the Operational Programme “Science, Research and Education”. The main objective of the project is to establish and develop doctoral study in Religious Studies. The lab should also allow postgraduate students and researchers to broaden their knowledge beyond traditional disciplinary borderlines and help them acquire knowledge from neurosciences and behavioural and cognitive sciences. The research team of supervisors and their postgrads will study religious behaviour on physiological, emotional, and behavioural levels, and investigate how the human mind and body respond to religiously grounded stimuli and what cognitive mechanisms are used.

“The main assumption in this approach is that religion is part of human evolutionary equipment which includes the brain and mind,” added Tomáš Bubík, who is the project grantee. The research will employ, apart from standard equipment for measurement of basic biometrical functions, devices such as an eye movement tracking, a special EEG for research into electric brain activity, and a motion capture system (Mocap) to record movements of objects. Religiously motivated stimulations in the lab will employ 3D projection and virtual reality. Experiments will be held not only in the lab, but also in the field research, that is, in participants’ natural environment, for which mobile lab devices will be used.

“We believe it will enrich the research in Religious Studies and contribute to a better understanding of religious phenomena, and at the same time, allow for a better interconnection between humanities and natural sciences,” concluded Tomáš Bubík.