Azim Shariff joins UBC as the Canada 150 Research Chair in Moral Psychology

Azim Shariff (3rd from left) and the Canada 150 Research Chairs at the announcement with Canada’s Minister of Science, Kirsty Duncan.

Dr. Azim Shariff is one of three globally recognized researchers joining the University of British Columbia this year, bringing international talent in the fields of evolutionary genomics, functional genetics and social psychology as Canada 150 Research Chairs.

Azim Shariff

Dr. Shariff joins UBC through the Canada 150 Research Chairs Program. The program was established by the Government of Canada in celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary to attract top-tier scholars from abroad to strengthen Canada’s research programs.

Shariff will be the Canada 150 Research Chair in Moral Psychology. Currently at the University of California, Irvine, Shariff is a social psychologist whose research focuses on where morality intersects with religion, cultural attitudes and economics. Another rapidly expanding part of his research looks at human-technology interactions and the ethics of automation, including self-driving cars.

“All manner of new and thorny ethical quandaries emerge when we turn the moral decisions we make as human drivers over to pre-programmed algorithms,” said Shariff. “The impact of self-driving cars—and greater automation in general—will be transformational. Moral psychology research will be critical in addressing the human-level issues that emerge.”

For Shariff, who grew up in Vancouver and received his PhD in psychology from UBC in 2010, it’s good to be home.

“I was lucky enough to grow up in Vancouver, and then lucky enough to come back to do my graduate studies at UBC”, says Shariff. “The psychology department was then, as now, phenomenally strong in research, supportive in mentorship, and vibrant in its intellectual culture. What an opportunity it is, then, to come back as a faculty member after my time out in the American wilderness. It’s good to be home.”

Azim Shariff and his team will research how people’s moral psychology—their feelings about right and wrong—shapes and is shaped by social institutions and group behaviours. One of his main goals is to advance a scientific approach to addressing longstanding questions about religion’s impacts on moral behavior. Shariff will also study how people’s moral psychology affects their attitudes about pressing issues, such as climate change, criminal punishment, income inequality, and emerging technologies like self-driving cars. By applying their expertise in moral psychology to these and other important societal concerns, the chair will enhance Canadian research landscape. Shariff will join UBC in July 2018.

View the UBC’s news release and the Government of Canada’s news release.