Non religious belief


Public Engagement (RFP3)


Through a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation, the University of Kent will provide funding for journalists, film-makers, website designers, curators, academics and others to advance the public’s scientific understanding of unbelief. 

Atheism, humanism, secularism, and religion are significant topics of interest and debate in public life. Yet, despite the large numbers of people identifying as nonreligious – now the world’s third largest ‘religious’ population – academic research and media coverage tend to hone in on a much narrower set of nonreligious perspectives and beliefs. New cultural movements like the Sunday Assembly (or ‘Atheist Church’) and activist movements, associated with prominent figures such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, have taken centre stage, while the beliefs and unbeliefs of many millions of nonreligious people around the world who may not share their views are left unexplored and uncommented upon. Moreover, coverage of atheism and unbelief is frequently pitted in terms for or against them, rather than offering more balanced, data-based discussion. This is not necessarily for want of trying: because academic researchers have only recently begun to engage seriously with non-affiliates and non-theists, the kind of scientific knowledge that stands to enrich public discussion in this area has been lacking. 

The £2.3m Understanding Unbelief initiative is a major programme of research dedicated to tackling these issues. Its main goal is build a more accurate account of the diverse array of phenomena commonly labeled as ‘unbelief’. What different kinds of beliefs and attitudes do ‘unbelievers’ have about God(s), other supernatural powers, and the moral status of religious traditions, and do these vary across national contexts? What kind of affirmative beliefs are bound up with unbelief? How is unbelief shaped by existential beliefs about the origins of life and what happens to us when we die, and how do these beliefs affect people’s day-to-day lives? Do these beliefs also vary across national settings? How do gender, class, ethnicity and other demographic factors shape unbelief? The Understanding Unbelief programme aims to address these and related questions through a large, international, and interdisciplinary program of research and, ultimately, to build a much more rigorous account of just what ‘unbelief’ entails. 

The Public Engagement funding stream will be cornerstone of this work. Through it, we will seek to appoint a number of media professionals, academics, and others experienced in public engagement activities to communicate research data and findings in more precise and/or innovative ways and to wide audiences, and to work with researchers to ensure that they are aware of the questions and interests that matter to wider publics. This funding stream will therefore provide funding to support public engagement activities, as well as opportunities for media professionals, curators, and others involved in this work to engage with academic researchers in their work.

We expect to launch this funding stream in summer 2017, with funding application deadlines in the autumn. 

For more information on the Understanding Unbelief programme, please visit the programme website at www.understanding-unbelief.net. To receive updates on this and other funding opportunities, register to join the programme mailing list by emailing your name and institutional affiliation to info@understanding-unbelief.net. Enquiries should also be directed to info@understanding-unbelief.net.