Hillsdale College


Oneness. An experimental philosophical approach.

Helen De Cruz (Saint Louis University)
Johan De Smedt (Saint Louis University)

Total Award Amount: $179,864
Start Date: July 1, 2022
End Date: June 30, 2024

arrow pointing down


The idea that everything that exists is part of some fundamental entity or process occurs in a wide range of religious, spiritual, and philosophical traditions. The one underlying entity has been called the Dao, Brahman, God, and various other metaphysical principles. In the philosophical and psychological literature, this idea is referred to as “oneness.”

According to some traditions, from this sense of oneness originate ethical demands, in particular, to show care and concern not just for human beings close to us but for humanity at large, and also for other living beings, landscapes, cultural artifacts, and ideas. Oneness is a psychologically established phenomenon: people can, under some conditions, feel that there are no strict boundaries between themselves and others, or that they are part of a larger interconnected whole.

The aim of this project is to conceptually and empirically investigate oneness through the methods of experimental philosophy of religion. We want to focus on the following three questions: What is the origin of oneness beliefs? How does oneness relate to other cognitive measures of how people conceive of the universe and their place within it, notably intuitive teleology? How do ethical demands flow from the sense of oneness?

Our intended outputs are two empirical papers, a short monograph, and a workshop on the philosophy and psychology of oneness.

Project Team

Helen De Cruz (Saint Louis University)

Helen De Cruz holds the Danforth Chair in the Humanities at Saint Louis University. She had appointments as Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor) at Oxford Brookes University, assistant professor at the VU Amsterdam, postdoctoral fellow of the British Academy at Oxford University, FWO postdoctoral fellow at the University of Leuven, and as Templeton residential fellow at Oxford University. She earned her PhD in philosophy at the University of Groningen in 2011, and a PhD in archaeology and art sciences at the Free University Brussels in 2007. Her main areas of specialization are philosophy of cognitive science and philosophy of religion, and she has also published in general philosophy of science, epistemology, aesthetics, and metaphilosophy. Her work is concerned with the question why and how humans form beliefs in domains that are quite remote from everyday life, such as in mathematics, theology and science.

Johan De Smedt (Saint Louis University)

Johan De Smedt is a Research Fellow at Saint Louis University from July 2022. He is a philosopher with specializations in philosophy of cognitive science, philosophy of archaeology, and the field of science and religion. The basic question that motivates his research is how evolved, ordinary human cognitive processes give rise to extraordinary products of human creativity, such as the arts, theology, and the sciences. He earned his PhD in philosophy at Ghent University in 2011. He was previously co-investigator of “Evolution, ethics, and human origins: A deep-time perspective on human morality” (2017-2020, Oxford Brookes University and Saint Louis University), a project funded by the John Templeton Foundation. Recent publications include the monograph The challenge of evolution to religion (with Helen De Cruz, Cambridge University Press, 2020) and the edited volume Empirically Engaged Evolutionary Ethics (with Helen De Cruz, Springer, 2021).