Distinguished University Scholar

Professor of Asian Studies

Associate Member, Depts. of Philosophy and Psychology

Director, Database of Religious History

I received a B.A. from Stanford in Asian Languages (Chinese), an M.A. from UC Berkeley in East Asian Languages (classical Chinese), and a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Stanford University.

My research specialties and teaching interests include Warring States (5th-3rd c. B.C.E.) Chinese thought, religious studies (comparative religion, cognitive science and evolution of religion), cognitive linguistics (blending and conceptual metaphor theory), ethics (virtue ethics, moral psychology), evolutionary psychology, the relationship between the humanities and the natural sciences, and the classical Chinese language.


My first trade book, Trying Not to Try: Ancient China, Modern Science and the Power of Spontaneity was released by Crown (Random House) in March 2014, and has been translated into five languages. My current primary work in progress is an academic monograph with the working title Deconstructing Orientalism: Cognitive Science, Digital Humanities and the Myth of Mind-Body Dualism in Early China, currently under contract at Oxford University Press (and an article-length version of which was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion in 2013). Other recent major publications include a recent Behavioral and Brain Sciences target article on the cultural evolution of religionCreating Consilience: Integrating the Sciences and the Humanities (co-edited by myself and Prof. Mark Collard of SFU), a statement on the importance of a “second wave” of science-humanities cooperation, and articles including a qualitative coding analysis of ancient Chinese texts published in Cognitive Science, a response to the situationist critique of virtue ethics published in Ethics, and the article "Metaphor and Meaning in Early China," which was awarded the 2012 Annual Best Essay award from the journal Dao.

I am Primary Investigator on a $3 million, 6-year SSHRC "Partnership Grant" awarded last year to UBC-SFU's Centre for Human Evolution, Cognition and Culture (HECC) on the topic of "The Evolution of Religion and Morality," which has resulted in the creation of an interdisciplinary, international Cultural Evolution of Religion Research Consortium (CERC), as well as plans for a new program in Religious Studies at UBC. We hope this project will not only do quite a bit to illuminate the cultural evolutionary origins of religion and its link to human cooperation, but also change the way scholars approach problems in religious studies. See the CERC link in the sidebar and my Media section for more details.

Another of my primary responsibilities is directing the Database of Religious History, an on-line, quantitative and qualitative encyclopedia of the religious cultural historical record that aims to systematically collect information on past religious groups from around the world in a standardized form, providing a large-scale, novel digital humanities resource for the religious studies and scientific communities. An article describing the project and its projected uses is forthcoming in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion. Another piece forthcoming in JAAR, "The Distant Reading of Religious Texts," describes our work on large-scale, computer-assisted text analysis.

On the teaching front, I have been teaching a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on the edX platform on Chinese Thought: Ancient Wisdom Meets Modern Science for several years (the latest running begins September 6 2016), and am currently developing a new MOOC on the Science of Religion.

During the 2015-16 academic year I served as a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, and from 2005-2015 I was Canada Research Chair (Tier II) in Chinese Thought and Embodied Cognition.

The Database of Religious History

Full C.V.

photo by Paul Joseph

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