The Understanding Unbelief studentship is a fully funded Collaborative Doctoral Award PhD studentship between the University of Kent (Department of Religious Studies) and the John Templeton Foundation. The studentship will run for three years (full-time equivalent). The appointed researcher will work with a supervisory team lead by Dr Lois Lee (Religious Studies, University of Kent), and be an active member of the Understanding Unbelief programme team.


Joanna Malone

Joanna Malone was awarded the Understanding Unbelief studentship in September 2017. She has a background in anthropology having graduated from the University of Southampton in 2013 with a BSc in Applied Social Sciences – Anthropology, and then gained an MSc in Social and Cultural Anthropology from the University of Oxford.

Joanna’s PhD research will qualitatively explore the experiences, understandings and significance of unbelief for older adults living in the UK and how this manifests itself in everyday life. The research will examine the nature of unbelief for older adults from a range of different ethnic and social backgrounds, and who do not participate in a nonreligious organisation in the UK.

Joanna will explore peoples’ life histories to understand their unbelief and whether it has held in all circumstances. If people are apostates, have they ever reverted back to belief? Have they ever been drawn to a belief during difficult life circumstances? Has their unbelief ever been challenged and if so, what was the driver? The research will explore the lives of unbelievers as holistically as possible, recognising the everyday reality of being an unbeliever.

Specifically, the research aims to investigate, the life histories of older adults in relation to their unbelief (including their backgrounds, childhood, religious background). The significance and expression of their unbelief in older adults’ everyday lives. The implication of their unbelief in relation to specific life events (e.g. education, relationships, family, illness, death, loss). Whether unbelief holds in all circumstances or whether they have resorted to religious belief, practices or traditions in certain circumstances, and the significance of this. And lastly, whether ethnic and social background has any influence on the nature of unbelief.