Religious ‘nones’ now count as the world’s third largest ‘religious’ group - about 1.1 billion people worldwide (Pew Forum 2015a). Non-affiliates are the largest group in several northern European countries and are growing in others, including the US where they make up 23% of the population (Pew Forum 2015b). Added to this, the flourishing of 'New Atheism', secularist activism, and policy debates around non-religious inclusion have all fuelled interest in ‘non-religion’. Yet big questions remain - about how we should characterize non-religious beliefs as psychological and sociological phenomena; how diverse such beliefs are; how they vary across demographic dimensions and cultures; how they arise; and how they affect the lives of those who hold them.
This project will develop and launch a major scientific research program mapping non-religious belief - that is, the religious, religous-like, and religious-related ideas and convictions of non-affiliates and atheists, relating to God(s) and other supernatural agents and to existential questions about the nature and meaning of life and death. Little is known about how such beliefs are psychologically structured, how they manifest in the lives of non-religious people, and how pervasive and diverse they are across social and cultural environments. This lack of knowledge hampers efforts to answer big explanatory questions such as the factors predicting or giving rise to non-theism, ‘apostasy’, and anti-religious sentiment, or about the effects of non-religious belief for well-being, social cohesion and other personal and social outcomes.
Accordingly, this project aims to:
• create authoritative foundational materials to facilitate large-scale research mapping non-religious belief across a number of dimensions
• develop a large grant competition to map non-religious beliefs, and establish the study of ‘non-religion’ as a major sub-field in the psychological and social sciences.