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Explaining Atheism

EXPLAINING ATHEISM: THE CAUSAL ORIGINS OF INDIVIDUAL AND SOCIETAL NON-BELIEF

2022-2024

£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)

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.

OPPORTUNITIES

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

POSTDOCTORAL FELLOWSHIP

The programme will employ a Postdoctoral Fellow for 33 months to work with the programme team on the core cross-cultural survey project. Please see the advertisementposition specification, and important further information for applicants for further details. The deadline for applications is 6 December, 2021 and the position is expected to begin 24 January, 2022.

 PROJECT MANAGER

The programme will employ a Project Manager for 33 months to manage the administrative tasks of the project and will have a key role in overseeing the successful management of our three grant competitions and two main conferences. Please see the advertisement and position specification for further details. The deadline for applications is 6 December, 2021 and the position is expected to begin 24 January, 2022.

 PHD STUDENTSHIPS

In collaboration with the Explaining Atheism programme, Queen’s University Belfast is providing two fully funded studentships (funded by the Department for the Economy, Northern Ireland) to support doctoral research that will contribute to the programme’s broad goals and participate in our core research projects. 

The recipient of the Quantitative studentship will work with the core team on the central cross-cultural survey project examining the causes of atheism and be invited to pursue additional research that reflects their own personal interest in the causes of atheism. The appointed researcher will work with a supervisory team led by Dr Jonathan Lanman (Institute of Cognition and Culture, Queen’s University Belfast) and supported by Dr Aiyana Willard (Psychology, Brunel University London).

The recipient of the Qualitative studentship will work with the core team to analyze hundreds of existing interviews from Brazil, China, Denmark, Japan, Sweden, UK, and USA in order to examine how the causal factors identified elsewhere in the project manifest in individuals’ lived experience, illustrate and deepen our understanding of those processes, and generate new theories about how people and societies become non-believing. The appointed researcher will work with a supervisory team led by Dr Jonathan Lanman (Institute of Cognition and Culture, Queen’s University Belfast) and supported by Dr. Lois Lee (Religious Studies, University of Kent).

The recipients of both studentships will be invited to pursue additional research that reflects their own personal interests in the causes of atheism. The deadline for applications for both studentships is 18 February, 2022. Further details on the studentships and how to apply can be found here.

 

GRANT COMPETITION: REQUEST FOR PROPOSALS

The Explaining Atheism programme will hold three grant competitions. RFP1 and RFP2 will fund research projects of varying sizes while RFP3 will focus on public engagement and impact.

We are currently requesting proposals for RFP1, which will provide £850,000 for international, multidisciplinary research from the human sciences (including anthropology, cognitive science, psychology, political science, history, and sociology) to advance our understanding of the causal origins of atheism. We aim to fund 8 to 10 projects of up to 23 months in duration; individual researchers or project teams can apply for funding to a maximum project value of £200,000.

We are now inviting submission of Letters of Inquiry, following which we will invite a limited number of researchers and research teams to submit full proposals. Please refer to this information sheet for further details on the RFP and how to apply for funding. The deadline for Letters of Inquiry is 28 February, 2022.

 

FURTHER INFORMATION

For further queries, please contact: explainingatheism@qub.ac.uk