Center for Modeling Social Systems

The Center for Modeling Social Systems produces scientific and policy-oriented research on the cognitive and cultural mechanisms that shape contemporary challenges facing individuals and societies.


Why a Center for Modeling Social Systems?
The term systems is important because our work is guided by insights into the non-linear dynamics of complex adaptive systems, which require research strategies that take seriously the need for multiple disciplinary perspectives and methodologies. The term social is important because our main emphasis is on modeling, simulating, analyzing, evaluating and predicting the behavior of systems composed of human agents, networks and interactions. The term modeling is important because we hope to contribute at the cutting edge of theoretical and methodological debates around this central aspect of science: the production, validation and verification of models of reality. Although the Center showcases computational models utilizing social simulation technologies, we also incorporate broader research on theoretical (including social scientific and philosophical) models of human systems, thereby linking our work to developments at the forefront of the philosophy of science, such as the “new mechanism.”

At the Center for Modeling Social Systems (CMSS, pronounced “sims”) we use computational modeling and simulation methodologies to analyze, simulate, and predict the conditions under which psychological and societal transformations occur. Our goal is to create new scientific knowledge that enhances our understanding of – and capacity to improve – human social systems.

F. LeRon Shults, Ph.D., Ph.D., Director of CMSS and Professor at the University of Agder in Kristiansand, Norway


The Modeling Religion in Norway (MODRN) Project
This project began July 2016 and will run through June 2019. Funded by the Research Council of Norway. Key personnel: Dr. Carlos Lemos, post-doctoral fellow.

The Modeling Religion Project (MRP)
This project began in July 2015 and will run through June 2018. Funded by the John Templeton Foundation.

Learning About Simulations as a Research Approach (LaSiRA)
This project began in January 2018 and will continue through December 2020. Funded by the University of Agder. Key personnel: Dr. Pauline Vos, co-principal investigator; Amrit Poudel, Ph.D. stipendiat.

Computer Tools for Modeling Religious and Social Conflict (CTMRSC)
This project began in July 2017 and will continue through June 2020. Funded by the University of Agder. Key personnel: Dr. Andreas Prinz, co-principal investigator; Dr. Ivan Puga-Gonzalez, post-doctoral fellow; Themis Xanthopoulou, Ph.D. stipendiat.


Selected publications

Gore, Ross, Carlos Lemos, F. LeRon Shults, and Wesley J. Wildman “Forecasting changes in religiosity and existential security with an agent-based model.” The Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation Society, 21, no. 1 (2018): 1-26.   

Lemos, Carlos, Computational Analysis of Violent Protests in the Arab Spring, Berlin: Springer Publishing, 2017.

Shults, F. LeRon, Wesley J. Wildman, Ross Gore, Justin E. Lane, Christopher Lynch, and Saikou Diallo, “Modeling terror management theory: Computer simulations of the impact of mortality salience on religiosity,” Religion, Brain & Behavior, 8, no. 1 (2018): 77-100.

Shults, F. LeRon and Wesley J. Wildman, “Modeling Catalhoyuk: Simulating religious entanglement in a Neolithic town,” in Ian Hodder, ed., Religion, History and Place. Denver: University of Colorado Press, in press. 

Shults, F. LeRon, Ross Gore, Wesley J. Wildman, Christopher Lynch, Justin E. Lane, and Monica Toft, “Mutually escalating religious violence: A generative model,” Proceedings of the 2017 Social Simulation Conference, Dublin, Ireland, 2017.

Shults, F. LeRon, Practicing Safe Sects: Religious Reproduction in Scientific and Philosophical Perspective. Leiden: Brill, 2018. 

Shults, F. LeRon, Ross Gore, Carlos Lemos, and Wesley J. Wildman, “Why do the godless prosper? Modeling the cognitive and coalitional mechanisms that promote atheism.” Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, in press. 

Shults, F. LeRon, “Can we predict and prevent religious radicalization?” in Gwyneth Øverland, ed., Processes of Violent Extremism in the 21st Century: International and Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Cambridge Scholars Press, in press. 

Shults, F. LeRon and Wesley J. Wildman, “Ethics, computer simulation, and the future of humanity.” Chapter in Saikou Diallo et al., eds, Human Simulation. Berlin: Springer publishing, in press.

Shults, F. LeRon and Wesley J. Wildman, “Multiple Axialities: A computational model of the Axial Age.” Journal of Cognition and Culture, in press.

Tolk, Andreas, Wesley J. Wildman, Saikou Diallo, and F. LeRon Shults, “Human Simulation as Lingua Franca for relating the Humanities and Social Sciences,” Journal of Cognition and Culture, in press.

Wildman, Wesley J., Paul Fishwick, and F. LeRon Shults, “Teaching at the intersection of simulation and the humanities,” in Proceedings of the 2017 Winter Simulation Conference3-6 December, Las Vegas, Nevada.

Selected presentations

  • Shults, F. LeRon, “A Computational Model of Ritual Competence Theory,” presentation at the Cognitive Science of Religion group, American Academy of Religion, 17 November 2017.
  • Shults, F. LeRon, “Modeling and Simulating Refugee Crises,” presentation at the Lesbos Dialogues, Lesbos, Greece, 10 November 2017.
  • Shults, F. LeRon, “Computational Modeling of Cognitive and Psychological Theories of Religion,” presentation at the International Association for the Psychology of Religion, Hamar, Norway, 23 August 2017.
  • Shults, F. LeRon, “Using Computer Modeling, Analysis, and Simulation for Governmental and Corporate Policy Evaluation,” with Justin E. Lane, presentation at the China Goes Globalconference, Kristiansand, Norway, 15 June 2017.
  • Shults, F. LeRon, “Race and the Mind-Culture Nexus: Reflections on a Complex Adaptive System and its Social Uses,” with Wesley J. Wildman, presentation at the Institute for American Philosophical and Religious Thought, Chatanooga, TN,  11 June 2017.
  • Shults, F. LeRon, “How to Predict the Future: Using Multi-Agent Artificial Intelligence Models to Simulate Social Policy,” presentation given at the opening of the Center for Artificial Intelligence Research, Grimstad, Norway, 2 March 2017.
  • Shults, F. LeRon, “Predicting Religious Terrorism,” presentation given at the Religion and the Social Sciences section of the American Academy of Religion, San Antonio, TX, 20 November 2016.
  • Shults, F. LeRon, “Big Method: Linking Big Theories and Big Data to Address Big Challenges,” panel presentation given at the International Association for the Cognitive Science of Religion, Vancouver, Canada, 22 August 2016.
  • Shults, F. LeRon, “The Scientific Simulation of Religion: A Report on the Modeling Religion Project,” presentation at the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion annual conference, with Wesley J. Wildman, Los Angeles, CA. 23 Oct 2015.


Saikou Diallo. Research Associate Professor at the Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center. Co-PI for the MRP and MODRN projects

Ross Gore. Research Assistant Professor at the Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center. Co-PI for the MODRN project

Justin E. Lane. Research Fellow at the Center for Modeling Social Systems, and Ph.D. student at the University of Oxford

Carlos Lemos. Post-doctoral fellow for the MODRN project

Amrit Bahadur Poudel. Ph.D. student with the LaSiRA project

Andreas Prinz. Professor at the University of Agder and co-PI for the CTMRSC project

Ivan Puga-Gonzalez. Post-doctoral fellow for the CTMRSC project

Pauline Vos. Professor at the University of Agder and co-PI for the LaSiRA project

Wesley J. Wildman. Professor at Boston University, and Director of the Center for Mind and Culture. PI for MRP and co-PI for the MODRN project




Fount LeRon Shults

Senior researcher