Expanding the Field of
Cultural Evolution

Thanks to the generosity of the John Templeton Foundation, the Cultural Evolution Society is running a major funding scheme to address big questions in the field of Cultural Evolution. After all, how our cultures evolve (including how information is transmitted, how people make decisions, and the interaction with our biology) is a pressing issue in a world in which our cultural activities are causing rapid, and drastic, social and physical changes.

On this page, you can find general information about the grant scheme. Once the Research Projects and Applied Working Groups are confirmed in late Summer 2022, there will be further information regarding their objectives, including ways in which you may contribute, plus regular updates on upcoming events and networking opportunities. Please let us know if you would like to be notified of future activities by filling in this form.

Two trees: a has branches that are connected only at the trunk (biological evolution), and b has branches that are interrelated (cultural evolution)
Representation of biological evolution (a) versus cultural evolution (b), after Kroeber (1948:216; redrafted by Dean R. Snow) – read more about cultural evolution

Through this funding scheme, we aim to tackle early career obstacles, western-centrism, traditional disciplinary divides, and division of scientists and public policymakers – see here for details. These aims were embedded in the review process and opportunities for mentoring for those invited to the full application stage, as well as the co-produced Capacity-Building Courses and Capstone Conference we will run.

Research Projects relate to the following thematic areas:

  1. Variation in Creativity and Imagination
  2. Cultural Influences on Access to ‘Reality’
  3. The Impact of Globalization on Cultures
  4. Applying Cultural Evolution to Enhance Global Human Futures

The Applied Working Groups were designed by the applicants, to implement Cultural Evolution initiatives with real impact on, for example, policy (e.g. public health, education), politics, business, climate change, conservation and welfare. They will each organise an international workshop to engage policymakers in using Cultural Evolution to help solve current and future real-world problems.

Find out more about these themes and the Applied Working Groups here.

Capstone Conference

At the end of the grant, a Capstone Conference will take place on 12-13 September 2024 in Durham (UK), following the biennial CES conference (9-11 September 2024, hosted by the Durham Cultural Evolution Research Centre). The Capstone Conference will provide substantial networking opportunities as well as beneficial feedback. A translation/copy-editing fund to assist in the creation of a high-quality article for a capstone special issue in a journal (for those for whom English is not a first language) is available.

The Capstone Conference will highlight the achievements of awardees and the results of the grant as a whole in relation to the intended objectives. On Day 1, the Research Projects of the themes “Variation in Creativity & Imagination”, “Cultural Influences on Access to Reality” and “The Impact of Globalization on Cultures” will present their work, followed by a poster session of grant-independent projects relevant to the grant remit and a networking reception. Day 2 will have an applied focus, including presentations from the Research Project theme “Applying Cultural Evolution to Enhance Global Human Futures” and the four Applied Working Group presentations. This will be followed by a networking dinner before participants depart the next day.

The anticipated audience is ~150 delegates, most of whom will have attended the CES conference (which attracts 300+ delegates). A wider non-attending audience will be facilitated through live-streaming, particularly useful for the more applied day.

Capacity-Building Courses

We are developing Capacity-Building Courses for low- to middle-income countries (LMICs). However, as the co-produced courses are expected to take place mainly virtually, anyone interested will be able to attend. We expect to provide in person opportunities in Ethiopia, Colombia, and Thailand. The courses, entitled “Cultural Evolution: Key Theory and Methods”, will include a package of knowledge and skills vital for enabling independent cultural evolution researchers. They will introduce cultural evolutionary theory and explore key methods used in the multi-disciplinary field, and may include multi-level statistics, experimental design, social network analysis, survival analysis, mathematical modelling (supported by existing online modules funded by the John Templeton Foundation), comparative methods, data management, academic writing, and ethics. Courses will have an identical core, with additional local aspects included if beneficial. The intention is that these Capacity-Building Courses enhance the geographical (and disciplinary) reach of the CES and the John Templeton Foundation by increasing the future capacity of individuals from LMICs to apply for research funding, one of the Transformation Fund’s legacies.

The courses will be free and are primarily aimed at early-to mid-career researchers in the host institution and surrounding regions of our funded projects. The courses are, however, accessible to all applicants to the grant scheme and any other interested individuals. Courses will be developed by the Durham Research Methods Centre (DRMC) with oversight of Project Lead Rachel Kendal, and will  include approximately 5 days of content, including taught theory as well as practical exercises. Fellows of the DRMC, and others from the cultural evolution field, will deliver each course, ensuring expert tuition in the variety of theory and methods.