Dr. Kathleen Corriveau and Dr. Rebekah Richert Receive Second-Largest Grant Ever Issued by the John Templeton Foundation

Dr. Kathleen Corriveau, BU Wheelock Associate Professor of Applied Human Development and Dr. Rebekah Richert, University of California Riverside Associate Professor of Psychology have received the second-largest grant ever issued by the John Templeton Foundation.

The $10 million grant, to be disbursed by Templeton over five years, will fully implement a network they have named The Developing Belief Network. The network will consist of international researchers who will study how religion impacts children’s world views.

“There are so many domains of knowledge that children cannot learn through first-hand experience alone. One of them is the development of religious beliefs,” said Corriveau, who directs the Social Learning Lab. “Most studies exploring how these beliefs form have focused on families from Western cultures and who practice only a subset of the world’s religions. We hope this network will begin to capture cultural uniqueness and universals.”

The project will look at the role of religion in children’s lives, how children form an understanding of the supernatural and coordinate that understanding with their science learning, as well as how children form ideas and stereotypes about people from their own and other religious groups, and how those stereotypes influence social interactions, such as whether to act selflessly toward others.

There are researchers throughout the world engaged in related research. But the researchers aren’t formally linked and there isn’t enough diversity among them, nor a common research methodology.

Corriveau and Richert say it’s a critical point in history to gain new insights, due to two factors: people are coming into more frequent contact with those who have other religious beliefs, and there is greater tension between science and religion.

In the first phase of the study, proposals will be considered to form the network of between 12 and 24 research sites throughout the world. A website has been launched (www.developingbelief.com) with links to resources and study information. By the end of the fifth year, when the funding concludes, the researchers will have built a large dataset and video library and plan to have secured additional funding to sustain the research collaborative. The outcomes will be communicated to lay audiences, including through the web site, social media, and press overtures.

The research network will address many questions about the diversity of child development around the world. But the first research projects will examine how children develop an understanding of and belief in supernatural entities—gods, spirits, angels, demons—and causes—magic, miracles—with a focus on children from religious and spiritual homes and communities around the world. Further, the researchers will examine how children’s beliefs relate to their understanding of science and medicine and to their social interactions with others.

The John Templeton Foundation, founded in 1987, is a philanthropic organization that funds interdisciplinary research about human purpose. It awards about $70 million a year in research grants and programs.

Corriveau and Richert believe the research ultimately won the large award because of its close alignment with the foundation’s purpose. Templeton funds research that addresses the significance of religious experiences, how we conceptualize the divine, and how religions and their communities are changing throughout the world.