Academics from the Benedict XVI Centre for Religion and Society at St Mary’s University, Twickenham have secured £2.7m funding in partnership with five other universities to conduct a research programme on the social-scientific study of atheism.
The funding from the John Templeton Foundation will allow researchers from Queen’s University Belfast (lead institution), Coventry University, Brunel University, Kent University, Notre Dame Australia, and St Mary’s to investigate atheism, agnosticism, and other forms of non-belief in God or gods. This research will expand upon the same team’s earlier ‘Understanding Unbelief’ project, funded by a £2.3 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation, which ran from 2016 to 2020.
Non-belief is widespread and growing and is raising public debates about its personal and social impacts, and how to include such perspectives in legal frameworks, education, and public policy.
The study of atheism and related areas has rapidly grown over the past two decades, after a long period of neglect. So this is one more exciting step forward for the subfield.
Prof Stephen Bullivant
The research programme has several components. Firstly, it involves grant competitions, to generate and fund research from across the human sciences, investigating the causes of atheism across demographic groups, cultural settings, and historical periods.
Secondly, its core interdisciplinary research team will work across these areas to build a more integrated understanding of the causal origins of individual and societal non-belief through new cross-cultural surveys and secondary data analysis of several existing datasets.
Finally, the programme includes public engagement activities that aim to develop knowledge exchange between academic researchers in this field and wider publics. Together, these strategies aim to produce the most systematic scientific account of the causal origins of atheism, agnosticism, and other forms of non-belief to date.
The new Explaining Atheism project will also involve Benedict XVI Centre PhD student Tim Kinnear, who will be working with Prof. Bullivant on research into the role of the internet in secularization.
Speaking of the research, Director of the Benedict XVI Centre Prof Stephen Bullivant said, “I’m delighted to be working again with the Project Lead, my longtime colleague and friend Dr Jonathan Lanman at Queen’s, and the rest of the team. It’s a particular pleasure to be involving one of the Centre’s brilliant postgrads, whose own PhD research is pioneering the application of Machine Learning methods within the sociology of (non)religion. The study of atheism and related areas has rapidly grown over the past two decades, after a long period of neglect. So this is one more exciting step forward for the subfield.”