2 postdocs at UBC in evolution, cognition and culture

Joe Henrich informs us: The Centre for Human Evolution, Cognition and Culture (HECC) at the University of British Columbia will be hiring 5 post-doctoral researchers as part of a large, international, collaboration among psychologists, neuroscientists, anthropologists, historians, and biologists on the evolution of religion. Below is a call for applications for two of these positions. The first is for a historian to spearhead a systematic and comparative study of religion and prosociality (from the historical record). This person will work with Prof. Ted Slingerland. The second is for comparative ethnographic and experimental studies among living populations across the globe (on religion, ritual and prosociality). This person will work with Prof. Ara Norenzayan and me. We are open to anthropologists, psychologists and economists, among others. If possible, we'd like to have this person in place by September 2012 (or at least by Dec). We know that right now is a bad time to search for post-docs to start this fall. For this reason, we would like to consider applicants that can finish their PhD in the fall (perhaps earlier than anticipated) and come immediately to Vancouver.

Call for Postdocs (2012-2013)

UBC-SFU Cultural Evolution of Religion Research Consortium (CERC)

It will soon be officially announced that UBC-SFU’s Centre for the Study of Human Evolution, Cognition and Culture (HECC; http://www.hecc.ubc.ca/) has been awarded a 6-year grant to explore the cultural evolutionary foundations of religion and morality (see grant summary below), establishing a new research network, “The Cultural Evolution of Religion Research Consortium” (CERC). In addition to establishing a new interdisciplinary program in Religious Studies at UBC, the grant will fund five new postdocs working at the intersection of cognitive science and religion, and at the center of a large international network of historians, cognitive scientists and anthropologists.

Two of the postdoc positions for Year 1 must be filled immediately; these positions are for one year (September 2012-August 2013), but are potentially renewable for an additional 2-year slot, subject to an advertised and competitive search.

 The precise salary level is still being formulated, but will be in the neighborhood of CAD 45,000/year, with access to low-cost room and board in comfortable quarters on campus available.

Historical-Textual Postdoc This component of the larger project will focus on testing various evolutionary hypotheses about the impacts of religious beliefs and practices on sociality and morality using qualitative and quantitative analysis of historical texts from a variety of religious traditions. Candidates for this post will work under the supervision of Prof. Edward Slingerland at the University of British Columbia. Candidates should have substantive expertise in a religious textual tradition, as well as at least some knowledge of the literature in the cognitive science / evolution of religion. Religious Studies Ph.D.s preferred, but others will be considered, and Ph.D.s must be in hand by September 2012. Intellectual fit with the grant activities is the main desideratum, but demonstrated management ability is a plus.

Responsibilities will include helping to manage the grant’s historical-textual team (included visits to partner institutions in Asia, Europe and North America), engaging in grant-relevant analysis of historical texts, and helping to design and implement a new, interdisciplinary program in Religious Studies at UBC.

Experimental-Ethnographic Postdoc This component of the larger project will focus on testing various evolutionary hypotheses about the impacts of different religious beliefs and practices on sociality and morality. This postdoc will be supervised by Professsors Norenzayan and Henrich at the University of British Columbia; Ph.D. in hand by September strongly preferred. The post-doc's responsibilities will center on developing and successfully deploying a battery of experimental and ethnographic measures across a diverse set of human societies by an interdisciplinary and international team of researchers. The position includes both substantial scientific and managerial responsibilities. International travel is required. The following skills are desirable assets: experience in the use of both experimental and ethnographic tools, field work (especially in small-scale societies), statistical skills, proficiency in languages, and team-leadership. The position is open to all fields in the behavioral and social sciences, though psychologists, behavioral economists, and scientifically-oriented anthropologist may be particularly well-suited. Commitments may range from 1 to 3 years, depending on the individuals' experience, training, and background.

Application Procedure Interested applicants should contact CERC’s administrative assistant, Adam Barnett ( This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ), to acquire a full copy of the grant application, and familiarize themselves with its general structure. Applications should consist of a 2-3 page cover letter, relating the applicant’s training to the responsibilities of the grant, as well as a full CV, and should be received by May 30, 2012, sent directly to Mr. Barnett. Depending upon the number and nature of applications, Skype interviews may be arranged for June 2012.

Summary of Grant Focus and Activities

“The Evolution of Religion and Morality”

Religion in some form exists in every society, is one of the defining features of our species, and is also at the center of many contemporary social and political conflicts. From tensions between religious rights and the values of civil society in Canada to controversies over abortion, polygamy, interfaith relations and the teaching of evolution, not a day goes by without religion making international headlines. Despite its ubiquity and centrality to human affairs, however, religion remains, from an academic perspective, one of the least studied and most poorly understood aspects of human behavior. We know much more about the structure of the Shakespearean sonnet, or the intricacies of the human digestive system, than we do about why a person would be willing to die on behalf of a deity, or abandon a life of comfort to become a charity worker dedicated to the poor.

The proposed project (focused on Insight, but with substantial Connection elements) is founded on the conviction that effectively answering the question of what religion is, and why it plays such a ubiquitous role in human existence, requires going beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries, including the line that still divides the humanities and the natural sciences. Our grant proposes to, over 6 years, establish the institutional framework for an interdisciplinary, international partnered research network, with UBC-SFU’s Centre for the Study of Human Evolution, Cognition and Culture (HECC) at its nexus, dedicated to exploring the evolution of religion and morality. The partnered research network will bring together theorists of religion, philosophers, historians, linguists, anthropologists, psychologists, economists, biologists, and mathematicians to generate hypotheses concerning the evolutionary origins of religion and morality, and test them with a variety of methods, including textual interpretation, qualitative historical analysis, quantification of historical data, ethnographic observation, controlled laboratory experiments and mathematical modeling. Our goal is to not only provide novel insights, but also produce results that meet the highest standards of scientific and humanistic inquiry, and that have immediate applications to contemporary political and social issues.

The creation of this research-driven centre would be accompanied by the formation of a new, permanent Program for the Study of Religion at UBC, an undergraduate and graduate training and research program with an unprecedented interdisciplinary character. Including as well a proposed partnership between UBC-SFU, McGill and the University of Toronto, this grant would not only help to establish Canada as a global leader in a crucial field of inquiry, but also create a powerful synergy combining world-class research, HQP training, undergraduate education and public outreach. It would also fundamentally alter the international landscape of the field of religious studies in a manner that simultaneously strengthens and highlights Canadian research expertise and student training, and have important implications for contemporary Canadian and global society. Most generally, it would serve as a model for innovative partnerships that bridge scientific and humanistic training and research, and thereby help to encourage similar interdisciplinary collaborations in the future.

Additional information