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Understanding Nonreligion in a Complex Future

This project will identify the social impact of the rapid and dramatic increase of nonreligion. The increasing number of people who identify as having no religion (nones) poses new challenges to those societies experiencing simultaneous intensification of religious diversity and renewed presence of religion in the public sphere.

About the project

A new paradigm is required to understand the characteristics of nonreligion, its role in transforming society, and its operationalization by socially diverse actors. Diversity—even ‘cultural diversity’—is routinely discussed in terms of how different faiths/religious populations can live together. New conceptualizations of nonreligion are needed that show the role of nonreligion in citizenship, morality, and culture. 

There is a tendency to equate nonreligion with atheism, which represents only a small component of the phenomenon we are investigating. We include agnosticism, humanism, spiritual but not religious, atheism, and indifference, to name but a few manifestations of nonreligion. Nonreligion is difficult to measure and to map because current social scientific methods have not captured the rapidly changing nature of both nonreligion and religion in their myriad forms.

In order to develop evidence-based constructive policies, we need a better understanding of the moral and social dimensions of nonreligion, the social and cultural circumstances of its emergence, and how nonreligion and religion are negotiated in social institutions such as health, law, education, and in the areas of the environment and migration.


The key research objectives are to  

  • develop new research tools to measure and describe nonreligion
  • analyze the social impact of nonreligion
  • expand the conceptualization of diversity to include nonreligion
  • map conflicts and collaborations between religious and nonreligious social actors
  • reconceptualize models for living well together which are inclusive of the religious and the nonreligious


The Principal Investigator of the project is Lori Beaman, the Canada Research Chair in Religious Diversity and Social Change. The team is comprised of internationally recognized researchers who will lead the projects in their home countries.

Inger Furseth is one of the co-investigators who make up the Steering Committee, responsible for project development, implementation, and the dissemination of results. 


The project is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada


2019 - 2025

Published Aug. 5, 2019 10:30 AM - Last modified Feb. 1, 2022 3:47 PM