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Researchers to explore why atheism is growing across the world

An interdisciplinary team of researchers led by Queen’s University Belfast have launched a new project ‘Explaining Atheism’, to test popular and academic theories about why some people are atheists and why some are not.

Dr Jonathan Lanman and Dr Lois Lee
Pictured at the Explaining Atheism Programme launch at Queen's are (L-R) Principal Investigator Dr Jonathan Lanman, Senior Lecturer in Cognitive Anthropology from the School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics at Queen’s and Co-Principal Investigator Dr Lois Lee, from the University of Kent.

‘Explaining Atheism’ aims to better understand the growing population of atheists and agnostics in the world, correct inaccurate stereotypes, and give insight into the future of both belief and non-belief.

The project is being led by Principal Investigator Dr Jonathan Lanman, Senior Lecturer in Cognitive Anthropology from the School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics at Queen’s; Dr Lois Lee from the University of Kent and Dr Aiyana Willard from Brunel University London; working in collaboration with colleagues Dr Connair Russell from Queen’s; Professor Stephen Bullivant from St Mary’s University, Twickenham, and the University of Notre Dame, Sydney; Dr Miguel Farias from Coventry University; and a number of additional international researchers.

The core research team will investigate the causes of atheism and agnosticism in six countries (Brazil, China, Denmark, Japan, the UK, and the USA), with a wider team of affiliated researchers investigating Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, New Zealand, Republic of Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Mauritius, and Poland.

Speaking about the project, Dr Jonathan Lanman said: “There are growing numbers of atheists/agnostics in countries across the world. Our recently completed ‘Understanding Unbelief’ programme looked beyond the stereotypes and helped to document some of the world’s rich diversity in atheism and agnosticism.  Now Explaining Atheism aims to answer the questions of why and how this growth is happening and consider what our answers might mean for the future of religion, atheism, agnosticism, and of our societies.” 

Dr Lois Lee commented: “These are not only academic questions but matters of public debate, policy and law. We are keen to engage the public and the media in our work and we have a funding initiative specifically for those working outside of academia – in policy, documentary photography and film, the arts, digital media and data visualisation, education and beyond – to help us make sure our work is not only exciting for academics but reaching and learning from wider audiences.” 

The ‘Explaining Atheism’ project was awarded £2.7 million in funding by the John Templeton Foundation and will run over a three-year period.

The team launched the Explaining Atheism website which features extensive background information on the project, videos and emerging research findings, with more to come over the course of the project.

Dr Aiyana Willard said: “We are excited to launch the Explaining Atheism website.  It brings together short films explaining our particular approach to answering these difficult and contentious questions and also provides a number of resources for those looking to explore these questions themselves.”

For more information, please visit the Explaining Atheism website and follow on Twitter: @ExplainingAthe1.




Media enquiries to Zara McBrearty at Queen’s Communications Office on email: