Johns Hopkins University

Spring 2008
Vol. 5, No.2


William R. Brody to Retire from Presidency

Lattman to Lead Hauptman-Woodward Institute

A Learning Lab for Conservation

A Super Bowl He Won't Soon Forget

Student Standouts

Mellon Foundation Boosts Support for Humanities

The Financial Side of Economics

Writin' About a Revolution

>Conversation in Bloom

Admissions by the Numbers

Moving a Mummy, Going Green

Faculty News

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Conversation in Bloom

The School of Arts and Sciences recently celebrated the inaugural year of special discussion exploring the cognitive science of religion, as well as the culmination of a lecture series featuring Yale University psychology and linguistics professor Paul Bloom.

The four-part series was made possible by a 2007 Templeton Research Lectures grant, which was awarded to Johns Hopkins through an international competition managed by the Philadelphia-based Metanexus Institute.

The grant is providing for the Johns Hopkins Evolution, Cognition, and Culture Project, which includes not only Bloom’s lectures, but also interdisciplinary exploration among faculty members from across the sciences and humanities of such questions as: To what extent do shared features of the human mind explain commonalities among cultures? To what extent do aspects of evolution explain shared mental features? In what ways does cultural change affect human evolution?

Bloom’s first lecture, “Bodies and Souls,” focused on “common-sense dualism”—the idea that people view the world in terms of physical or natural and supernatural—as both the foundation for religious concepts and a philosophical position with moral consequences.

Expanding upon ideas from the first lecture, Bloom used his second lecture to address philosopher Peter Singer’s “Moral Circle” concept, a term used to describe all that matters to an individual, while his third lecture, “Religion Is Natural,” examined why people believe in God, noting that some aspects of religious belief, including belief in the Divine and supernatural beings, are common among young children.

“The Pleasures of Transcendence,” Bloom’s final lecture of the year, shifted from the cognitive underpinnings of religion to religious “pleasures,” such as moral purity and transcendence.

Bloom will soon begin work on a book as the end product of his year as the university’s Templeton Fellow. He hasn’t outlined its exact structure yet but says he’s thinking about calling it Why Do Babies Believe in God? Bloom says his experience as the Templeton Fellow was “terrific,” noting the significance of “extending the study of psychology and cognitive science to domains such as morality and religion.”

The faculty committee involved in the project, led by associate professor of philosophy Steven Gross, will soon name its second distinguished lectureship.

For more information on the project, please visit