Exploring the belief replacement hypothesis: What secular beliefs do non-believers have, and what psychological functions do they serve?

PI: Dr Valerie van Mulukom, Psychology, Coventry University, UK

Valerie van Mulukom







Project Team

Dr Valerie van Mulukom, Psychology, Coventry University, UK (Principal Investigator)

Dates: 1 October 2017- 31 March 2019

Award: £ 14,918.15

There is a global increase in so-called ‘unbelievers’, or people who do not hold any religious beliefs. However, while unbelievers may not hold religious beliefs, they still hold beliefs about reality, such as ontological, epistemological, and ethical beliefs. The Belief Replacement Hypothesis suggests that such secular beliefs have psychological functions highly similar to those of religious beliefs. However, currently there is no overview of what psychological functions secular beliefs have, nor which secular beliefs there are. This project aims to discover which secular beliefs individuals have, in the UK but also countries with different cultural backgrounds, and whether secular beliefs serve similar psychological functions to religious beliefs.
In Study 1, a systematic review of evidence in the current literature of the psychological functions of secular beliefs will be written, focusing on the range of beliefs and the similarity of functions to those of religious beliefs. In Study 2, questionnaires will be run in three culturally diverse countries to investigate what secular beliefs people hold. In a pilot study conducted by our lab, we found that 62.3% of the unbelievers in our sample had at least one kind of secular belief. These beliefs included belief in science, belief in humanity, belief in self, and belief in nature. In the surveys we will conduct in the UK, Denmark, and Turkey, we will ask participants about their secular beliefs, using our pilot findings. Together, these studies will elucidate our understanding of secular beliefs and their psychological functions.