"Daniel Dennett and the Scientific Study of Religion" in Amherst, NY, Dec. 2-3, 2011

Friday, December 2, 2011 - Saturday, December 3, 2011

Location: CFI--Transnational

1310 Sweet Home Road
Amherst, NY 14228
United States

Daniel Dennett and the Scientific Study of Religion:
A Celebration of the Fifth Anniversary of
Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon

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LOCATION: Center for Inquiry Transnational, 1310 Sweet Home Road, Amherst, New York
DATES: Friday (evening) and Saturday (day), December 2–3, 2011

Daniel Dennett’s 2006 book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon is a bold vision of religion as an entirely natural phenomenon, amenable to study by the various social, behavioral, and cognitive sciences. The theme of this conference is the further pursuit of the scientific study of religion along the major lines elaborated by Dennett, together with pioneering research that is presently advancing this important interdisciplinary effort.



6:30pm   | Welcoming words by hosts

6:45pm  | Opening Address by Pascal Boyer: “Why There Is Almost Certainly No Such Thing

7:30pm  | Azim Shariff: “Science of Religion, Science and Religion”

8:15pm   | Response and dialogue with Daniel Dennett


9:30am  | Andrew Newberg: “If Neurotheology is the Answer, What is the Question?”

10:30am | Break 

10:45am | Session on Psychological Mechanisms of Religion

James Thomson: “The Song of Serotonin and the Dance of Dopamine: How Ritual
Neurochemistry and Solidifies Religious Belief”

Maarten Boudry: “In Mysterious Ways: On Petitionary Prayer and Subtle Forms of

12:00pm | Catered lunch at CFI

1:30pm  | Wesley Wildman: “Dennett on the Value and Future of Religion”

2:15pm  | Linell E. Cady: “Religion, Secularism, and Science: A Kaleidoscopic Revisioning”

3:30pm  | Break

3:45pm  | Session on Religion and Culture

Helen De Cruz and Johan De Smedt: “Religion as a Cognitive Technology”

Paul Shrell-Fox: “Judaism in Scientific Perspective”

5:00pm   |   Dinner (visit local restaurants)

6:30pm  | Gregory Paul: “The Improving Status of Democratic Atheism and It's
Advantages Here and Abroad”

7:15pm  | Linda LaScola: “Preachers Who are not Believers – Preliminary and Ongoing Findings”

8:00pm  | Daniel Dennett: “The Tender Trap and the Dogs that Aren’t Barking” 


Daniel Dennett, PhD is Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University and Co-Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts. Among his many books relating to science and religion are Science and Religion: Are They Compatible? (with Alvin Plantinga, 2011); Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (2006); Freedom Evolves (2003); and Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (1995).

Pascal Boyer, PhD is Henry Luce Professor of Individual and Collective Memory at Washington University in St. Louis. He teaches in the Psychology and Anthropology departments. Boyer is a leading investigator in naturalistic explanations of religion. His book Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought (2002) has been a leading text in the study of religion for a decade.

Linell E. Cady, PhD is Professor of Religious Studies and the Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict at Arizona State University. Cady’s work has primarily focused on the relationship between religion and the public/private boundary, with primary attention to the American context. Her writings explore the construction of the modern category of religion and its interface with understandings of the secular and the public; the contested role of religion in public life; and method and theory in the study of religion and theology. She recently co-edited a book with Elizabeth Shakman Hurd on Comparative Secularisms in a Global Age (2010).for a decade.

Linda LaScola, MSW is co-author, with Daniel C. Dennett, of “Preachers who are not Believers” (Evolutionary Psychology Volume 8(1), 2010. An independent researcher, she founded LaScola Qualitative Research in 1984. Her expertise is in research analysis and conducting group and individual interviews in business, non-profit, and clinical settings. Ms. LaScola's background includes post-graduate training in group dynamics, psychotherapy and psychosocial assessment (M.S.W., Catholic University). She has served on the board of the Qualitative Research Consultants Association (QRCA) and is co-creator/author of QRCA’s original and recently updated “Guide to Professional Qualitative Research Practices.”

Andrew Newberg, MD is Director of Research at the Myrna Brind Center for Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and Medical College. He is also Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. His work attempts to better understand the nature of religious and spiritual practices and experiences. This has been compiled into his latest book, Principles of Neurotheology (2010), which reviews the important principles and foundations of neurotheology.

Azim Shariff, PhD is Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregon. His research encompasses cultural and evolutionary psychology, society and personality, religion, and morality. Some of his research is done with collaborator Ara Norenzayan, and a recent article of theirs is “Mean Gods Make Good People” (Shariff & Norenzayan, 2011).

Gregory S. Paul, labeled the church's public enemy #1 by MSNBC, has been publishing leading edge peer reviewed research on the psychosociology and theology of religion and atheism and popular commentary in major venues. The latter includes senior authoring one of the most widely read Washington Post opinion page essays ever, and a six part series on the advance and advantages of atheism for the Washington Post On Faith site.

Wesley Wildman, PhD is Associate Professor of Philosophy, Theology, and Ethics at Boston University’s School of Theology. He is Founding Director of the Institute for the Biocultural Study of Religion. His recent book is Religious Philosophy as Multidisciplinary Comparative Inquiry: Envisioning a Future for the Philosophy of Religion (2011), and another book is forthcoming, titled Religious and Spiritual Experiences (2011).


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Conference program is scheduled for:
Friday, December 2: 6:30pm-9:30pm
Saturday, December 3: 9:30am-9pm

Registration: $79 for the public, $59 for Friends of the Center, and $29 for students (valid student ID required).
(Includes Saturday morning coffee and snacks w/ catered lunch and refreshments)

Local Accommodations:

A special $99/night group rate is available at the following hotels, including shuttle service to and from CFI.
Please call to reserve in the "Center for Inquiry" block:

Candlewood Suites Buffalo/Amherst (1.1 mi.) - 1-800-225-1237
Hotel Indigo Buffalo/Amherst (1.1 mi.) - 1-877-846-3446

Other Local Options:
Motel 6 Buffalo-Amherst (0.7 mi.)
Comfort Inn University (1.2 mi.)
Red Roof Inn Unviersity at Buffalo Amherst (1.2 mi.)
Buffalo Mariott Niagara (1.4 mi.)
Ramada Amherst (1.8 mi.)


For more information about the CFI Institute, please visit our web site.
Specific questions? Email a CFI Institute representative
or call us at (716) 636-4869 ext. 408

CFITransnational is located directly across from the University at Buffalo's North Campus
Free parking is available at the Center

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