Oxford University scientists will carry out experiments on hundreds of people in a bid to understand how the brain works during states of consciousness.
One aspect of the two-year study will involve followers of both religious and secular beliefs being burnt to see if they can handle more pain than others.
Some volunteers will be shown religious symbols such as crucifixes and images of the Virgin Mary during the torture.
Researchers believe the study may improve understanding of faith, how robust it is and how easily it can be dislodged.
The team from the newly-formed Centre for Science of the Mind also want to include people with survival techniques in the torture experiments, which may help the special forces easily identify people with high pain thresholds.
Volunteers will have a gel containing chilli powder or heat-pad applied to the back of their hand to simulate pain.