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St Mary’s Academic Launches Report at Major Vatican Atheism Conference

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St Mary’s Academic Launches Report at Major Vatican Atheism Conference

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The global multi-university Understanding Unbelief programme to advance the scientific understanding of atheism and nonreligion will today, 28th May, present results from its research at the Vatican in Rome.

The multidisciplinary research programme, a collaboration between St Mary’s University Twickenham, University of Kent, Coventry University, and Queen’s University Belfast, maps the nature and diversity of ‘unbelief’ across six countries including Brazil, China, Denmark, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the USA. The research is supported by a £2.3 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation, and is led by the University of Kent.

Researchers, including Director of the Benedict XVI Centre for Religion and Society Prof Stephen Bullivant, asked unbelievers about attitudes to a range of issues. These included supernatural phenomena, including life after death and astrology, whether the ‘universe is ultimately meaningless’ and what values matter most to them.

The researchers used internationally recognised terms to identify unbelievers - atheists (i.e., people who ‘don’t believe in God’) and agnostics (i.e., people who ‘don’t know whether there is a God or not, and don’t believe there is a way to find out’).

Key findings from the research include:

  • Unbelievers exhibit significant diversity both within, and between, different countries
  • In all six countries, majorities of unbelievers identify as having ‘no religion’
  • Relatively few select ‘atheist’ or ‘agnostic’ as their preferred (non)religious or secular identity
  • Popular assumptions about ‘convinced, dogmatic atheists’ do not stand up to scrutiny
  • Unbelief in God doesn’t necessarily entail unbelief in other supernatural phenomena and the majority of unbelievers in all countries surveyed expressed belief in one or more supernatural phenomena
  • A common supposition – that of the purposeless unbeliever, lacking anything to ascribe ultimate meaning to the universe – does not bear scrutiny
  • Most unbelievers endorse objective moral values, human dignity and attendant rights, and the ‘deep value’ of nature at similar rates to the general populations in their countries
  • Unbelievers and general populations show high agreement concerning the values most important for ‘finding meaning in the world and your own life’. ‘Family’ and ‘freedom’ ranked highly for all.

The full ‘Understanding Unbelief’ report is available here.

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