Exploring the Challenges and Potentialities of the Database of Religious History for Cognitive Historiography


  • Brenton Sullivan Colgate University
  • Michael Muthukrishna London School of Economics
  • Frederick S. Tappenden McGill University
  • Edward Slingerland University of British Columbia




religion, digital humanities, cultural evolution, cognitive historiography


This article explores the potential impact and contribution of the Database of Religious History (DRH) project within the field of Cognitive Historiography. The DRH aims to bring together, in a systematic and open-access format, data on religious groups from across the globe and throughout history. By utilizing robust, open-source technologies and best-practice software principles, the DRH constitutes a novel and innovative approach to historical and cultural studies. As a contribution to the scientific study of both religion and history, the DRH offers data amenable to statistical analyses, thus providing tools for assessing diachronic cultural innovation and adaptation, the testing of grand narrative theories of religious change, and for enriching and revitalizing traditional fields such as comparative religions, history of religion(s), and anthropology of religion. In this article we explore the methods employed in collecting and digitizing historical data, identify our unit of analysis, outline the challenges of recruiting historians of various fields, and highlight the DRH’s methodological potential for both Religious Studies and Cognitive Historiography.

Author Biographies

Brenton Sullivan, Colgate University

Brenton Sullivan is Assistant Professor in the Department of Religion, Colgate University, Hamilton, New York.

Michael Muthukrishna, London School of Economics

Michael Muthukrishna is Assistant Professor of Economic Psychology in the Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Frederick S. Tappenden, McGill University

Frederick S. Tappenden is an Affiliate Member of the School of Religious Studies, McGill University, Montreal, QC, and Lecturer in Religious Studies at Concordia University, Edmonton, AB.

Edward Slingerland, University of British Columbia

Edward Slingerland is Distinguished University Scholar and Professor of Asian Studies at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC. He is also Director, Cultural Evolution of Religion Research Consortium, Director, Database of Religious History, and Co-Director, Centre for the Study of Human Evolution, Cognition, and Culture.


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How to Cite

Sullivan, B., Muthukrishna, M., Tappenden, F. S., & Slingerland, E. (2018). Exploring the Challenges and Potentialities of the Database of Religious History for Cognitive Historiography. Journal of Cognitive Historiography, 3(1-2), 12–31. https://doi.org/10.1558/jch.31656



Digital Humanities, Cognitive Historiography and the Study of Religion