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Completed projects

Project title: 'The neurology of religion'
(Prof. Alasdair Coles and Dr Claire Redfern)

The project involves a study of religious belief, behaviour and practice in people with neurological diseases affecting the basal ganglia (Parkinson's disease) and frontal lobes (frontal variant of frontotemporal dementia) in Cambridge, UK. Cohorts of patients with these conditions are already well established and characterised within the clinical neuroscience department at Cambridge University, with comprehensive psychometric and radiological data, so the specific research effort will be to apply standardised measures of spirituality (the Brief Multidimensional Measure of Religiousness/Spirituality).

The aims of the study are to assess the role of the frontal lobes and basal ganglia in mediating religious experience, behaviour and belief; to describe the extent to which deficits in these structures impose "bottom-up" restraints on religious behaviour, belief and experience, thereby complementing Project 1: 'Genes, Determinism and God'; and to determine to what extent these deficits can be overcome by the individual. In so doing, we will promote a model that is unusual in the neuroscience literature as it recognizes the limits of reductionism and examines the capacity of the self, as an emergent characteristic of the whole, to exert "top-down" freedom of choice.


Project title: 'Restoring Spiritual Values to European Science - the New Renaissance'
(Prof. John Wood and Dr Diana Beech)

In 2009 the European Commission's senior advisory board on the European Research Area published a vision document entitled "Preparing Europe for a New Renaissance - a strategic view of the future of the European Research Area." This document and the subsequent report 'Realising the New Renaissance' have been extremely influential in the forthcoming European programme 'Horizon 2020' which will commit 80b€ over the period 2014-2020 for both basic and applied research. In the first document it states:

"Our world is changing. We face mounting challenges: of global warming, scarce water, energy shortages and healthcare, to name a few. Their solution will require new ideas, discoveries, talents and innovations - the fruits of research. To achieve them, we must start by changing the way we do research. We must reorganize, to create a truly open European Research Area marked by free movement of people and ideas. We must rethink the way science interacts with politics and society, so our governance is based on best-available evidence. We must rewrite the social contract between the researcher and society, so that freedom of thought is balanced by responsibility for action. We must open our markets, our companies and our knowledge institutions so they work together more productively. Above all, we must create an environment in which the best ideas thrive, the brightest people prosper, and our excellence is rewarded - while at the same time improving the cohesion of our society. These are big demands, and imply fundamental change in the way we think, work and research - indeed, change as great as any in our history. We call this change a 'new Renaissance', deliberately invoking the memory of a comparable revolution in thought, society and science."

All this is very laudable but on what spiritual or other basis does it build? Throughout the document and others that have emanated from the European Commission the main message is one of economic survival. This is in marked contrast to the visionaries and founders of the European Union such as Robert Schuman and Jacque Delors and even more different from the ideals of the first Renaissance in Europe.

The aim of this project is to, without prejudice, analyse the current situation by referring to the early documentation and speeches of the founding fathers to compare these with current documentation. This will be followed by a number of structured interviews with leading policy makers and politicians in Europe especially comparing the underlying values of the older member states with those of the newer ones with their communist and catholic/orthodox backgrounds. The findings will be field tested in an open workshop prior to constructing a manual/book which will essentially act as a benchmark or even a wake-up call for future decision makers. Above all the project aims to ask policy makers what values they are applying (if any) and what will be the consequences of their actions.


Project title: 'The Role of Faith, Hope and Love in an Uncertain World'
(Prof. Bob White)

Much of the daily lives of people are governed by forces external to themselves, particularly when it comes to the impact of natural disasters and other smaller scale events that arise from our interaction with the material world. This project investigates the role of religious values, and in particular religious faith, hope and love in shaping the response of individuals, local communities and the wider national and international world to the uncertainties of the physical world in which we live. Natural disasters bring us face to face with some of the most fundamental questions about our understanding of the deepest realities of human nature. This is true both for those caught up in disasters and for those who hear about them through today's ever-present media.

Ironically, as humankind becomes more and more technologically advanced and as we understand ever more about the science of the physical world in which we live, more people are killed every year by disasters. It is likely, indeed, that in our lifetimes there will be an earthquake that kills more than a million people.

This project explores the relationship between natural disasters and the faith or spirituality of those affected, a novel way of exploring the relationship between science and faith.