CEDRR talk: "Insights from the RIP Project: Simulating Secularising Societies between Norway and Poland"

  • 14 April 2022
    4:00 PM – 6:00 PM

Online discussion with Konrad Talmont-Kaminsky from the Religion, Ideology & Prosociality: Simulating Secularising Societies project will take place via ZOOM link stated above.

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.

Konrad Talmont-Kamiński, PI of the Religion, Ideology, Prosociality project

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