Brunel University London: Researchers to explore why atheism is growing across the world

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An interdisciplinary team of researchers have launched a new project to test popular and academic theories about why some people are atheists and others are not.

‘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 Dr Jonathan Lanman, Senior Lecturer in Cognitive Anthropology at Queen’s University Belfast, Dr Aiyana Willard from Brunel University London, and Dr Lois Lee from the University of Kent.

The core research team will investigate the causes of atheism and agnosticism in Brazil, China, Denmark, Japan, the UK, and the USA, with a wider team of affiliated researchers investigating the topic in a further 13 countries across the world.

“There are growing numbers of atheists/agnostics in countries across the world,” said Dr Lanman. “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 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.”

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