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Explaining Atheism



£2.7 million from the John Templeton Foundation

PI: Jonathan Lanman (QUB)

Co-PIs: Lois Lee (Kent), Aiyana Willard (Brunel)

Co-Is: Stephen Bullivant (St. Mary's/Notre Dame Australia), Miguel Farias (Coventry)

Project Manager: Claire Berlyn (QUB)

Atheism, agnosticism, and other forms of non-belief in God or gods are widespread and growing, raising public debates about the personal and social impacts of non-belief and how to include such perspectives in legal frameworks, education, and public policy. Further, the growth of non-belief, as well as its uneven distribution around the world, raises questions for the scientific study of religion and culture. If beliefs in God or gods are largely the products of evolved human psychology, then how are we to explain the growth and distribution of atheism, agnosticism, and other forms of religious non-belief? What are the main causes of atheism?

 With generous funding from the John Templeton Foundation, in collaboration with Queen’s University Belfast (Jon Lanman), Brunel University (Aiyana Willard), University of Kent (Lois Lee), St Mary’s University Twickenham/University of Notre Dame Australia (Stephen Bullivant), and Coventry University (Miguel Farias), Explaining Atheism is the first major research initiative of its kind to examine the causes of atheism across disciplines and across cultures.

The 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 Explaining Atheism programme provides a number of opportunities for researchers and others to join our team.




Call for Proposals


Through a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation, Queen’s University Belfast is pleased to announce the launch of an Early Career Awards initiative as part of the Explaining Atheism programme.

The Explaining Atheism programme is an international, multidisciplinary research programme cutting across the human sciences that aims to advance our understanding of the causal origins of atheism. Our Early Career Awards programme will fund approximately 6-8 awards of up to £35,000 (total pot: £200,000) to support projects of up to 18 months in duration from early career researchers whose work can advance our understanding in this area. Funding may be used to support a number of research activities, including new research, further dissemination of existing research and the development of future research projects. Further details on this and on eligibility requirements and the application procedure are outlined in the RFP2 Information Sheet.

To apply please complete the RFP2 Application form.

The closing date for applications is 19 August 2022.

If after reading the Information sheet you have additional questions about the call or the application process you can contact us at

Other Grant Opportunities

The Explaining Atheism programme is funding three grant initiatives. RFP1 and RFP2 will fund research projects of varying sizes, while RFP3 will focus on public engagement and impact. RFP1 is now closed and we expecting to announce awards in Summer 2022.

RFP3 is planned to launch in Winter 2022/23.

Follow us on Twitter @ExplainingAthe1 for the latest news on our grant competitions and other programme activities.


This project was made possible through the support of Grant 61928 from the John Templeton Foundation. The opinions expressed on this website are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation.

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