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Understanding Unbelief

SSNB/NSRN methods series

The Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network (NSRN) is an international and interdisciplinary network of researchers; the network was founded in 2008 to centralise existing research on the topic of nonreligion and secularity and to facilitate discussion in this area.

In 2016, in collaboration with the Scientific Study of Nonreligious Belief (SSNB) project- the predecessor project of the Understanding Unbelief programme, the NSRN began a series of blogs providing practical guidance for the empirical study of nonreligious individuals, institutions and cultures, as well as exploring outstanding methodological challenges and new opportunities. Here we provide links to the original series and to the NSRN’s ongoing occasional series of methods blogs.

February 2017

Beyond ‘Religion versus Emancipation’. Formulating Methodological Considerations about ‘the Secular’ in Public Controversies.

Nella van den Brandt

Nella van den Brandt introduces the 2016-2021 project “Beyond ‘Religion versus Emancipation’: Gender and Sexuality in Women’s Conversions to Judaism, Christianity and Islam in Contemporary Western Europe”, hosted at the Philosophy and Religious Studies Department of Utrecht University, the Netherlands. She argues that, by examining controversial events, her project sheds new light for understanding of how secularity shapes and is shaped by public discourse. Read more here…

October 2016

On the Virtues of a Meaning Systems Framework for Studying Nonreligious and Religious Worldviews in the Context of Everyday Life

Ann Taves

Ann Taves explores one of the central questions in contemporary nonreligious studies – and a long-standing religious studies, too: how to understand and describe the object of study. Providing an overview of recent propositions arising from psychology, sociology and anthropology, she sets out a proposal for a meaning systems approach. Read more here…

September 2016

What’s in a name? …

Lois Lee and Stephen Bullivant

Lois Lee and Stephen Bullivant address the need for a common set of accessible and rigorous terms for the study and wider discussion of atheism, nonreligion, secularity et al.. They explain how their new project, The Oxford Dictionary of Atheism, will address this need and introduce a glossary of key terms excerpted from the Dictionary that are already available for use. Read more here… 

August 2016

Using Neuromodulation to Change Belief – and Unbelief 

Valerie van Mulukom

Valerie van Mulukom introduces cognitive research exploring how religious beliefs can be modulated. She shows how reframing such research as stimulating of ‘unbelief’ open new avenues for new ways of exploring the nature of unbelief and its similarities and dissimilarities to religious and spiritual beliefs. Read more here…

Honest Answers to Awkward Questions

Will Gervais

psychologist Will Gervais introduces us to the unmatched count technique for survey research.  This technique is designed to allow survey takers to give more honest answers to awkward questions (e.g. Do you believe in God?) and to allow researchers to make more accurate population level estimates of socially sensitive phenomena (e.g.  the prevalence of atheism). Read more here… 

June 2016

Creating Data about Nonreligious Belief  

Abby Day

Abby Day is a leading sociologist of ‘belief’. Here, she sets out what working with ‘belief’ as a significant category of self-understanding can achieve, for religious ‘unbelievers’ as much as for ‘believers’. She encourages the use of analytical tools that respond to the complexity and multidimensionality of belief, and introduces her own seven-point method as one such approach. Read more here…

You Get What You Ask For: The Importance of Question Wording in Surveys  

Ryan T. Cragun

Sociologist Ryan T. Cragun considers bad, better and best ways of asking interview questions about religious affiliation and belief. Read more here…

Not for Girls? Gender and Researching Nonreligion

Marta Trzebiatowska

Marta Trzebiatowska explores how we need to structure our methodologies to take account of gender – and how our methodologies may themselves be structured by gender. Read more here…

May 2016

Measuring Atheism: Differentiating Non-religiosity and Anti-religiosity  

Egbert Ribberink, Peter Achterberg and Dick Houtman

Egbert Ribberink, Peter Achterberg and Dick Houtman explore the problematic nature of measuring and differentiating atheism, non-religion and anti-religiosity and call for using existing large-scale surveys to understand said phenomena. From their recent research they detail the particular obstacles they overcame and elucidate how different questions on measuring non-belief produce much different answers. Read more here… 

Angels and the Digital Afterlife: Studying Nonreligion Online

Tim Hutchings

Tim Hutchings argues that the scope and significance of digital methodologies for the study of – and beyond – ‘nonreligion’ is much broader and more promising than is often perceived. Read more here… 

Measuring Implicit Religious and Nonreligious Belief 

Elisa Järnefelt

Elisa Järnefelt introduces us to methods for researching, not the religious-like and religion-related beliefs we consciously think we hold, but the ones we unconsciously hold – which work to shape our attitudes, behaviours and relationships with others beneath our awareness. Read more here… 

April 2016

Research Methods for the Scientific Study of Nonreligion

Lois Lee, Stephen Bullivant, Miguel Farias and Jonathan Lanman

The NSRN will work in collaboration with the Scientific Study of Nonreligious Belief* project to present a series of blogs providing practical guidance for the empirical study of nonreligious individuals, institutions and cultures, as well as exploring outstanding methodological challenges and new opportunities. In this opening blog, the series editors, Lois Lee, Stephen Bullivant, Miguel Farias and Jonathan Lanman, introduce the series. Read more here…