Much of what we know about nonreligious people focuses on what they lack. That is, we know about what nonreligious people don’t do and don’t believe. For example, they don’t (often) go to church and they don’t (often) believe in God. But what do they do? What do they believe? We think that there is a positive or substantial content to nonreligion – something that is more than just an absence. But we need the right research tools to measure it. This is what our survey aims to achieve.
Is nonreligion just an absence?
How does the research work?
We have completed a pilot survey in Canada to test the effectiveness of the questions, and we have taken what we learned to revise and translate the survey for each of the NCF project countries (Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Finland, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States). The survey asks about people’s personal, cultural, and social values, including attitudes and behaviours on ethical questions, and orientations towards politics, science, law, education, and life’s meaning. The survey also examines people’s involvement with religion, spirituality, and their identification with nonreligious labels such as atheism, agnosticism, or humanism. The survey will launch in the coming months. We will collect a sample of approximately 1,000 responses in each of the countries.
What are we finding so far?
The Canadian pilot study we ran in 2021 had a small sample size, so it is difficult to draw strong conclusions from it. Nonetheless, we have seen some interesting preliminary results that build upon previous findings. Our results suggest that the nonreligious have a strong left-leaning position on political and social questions. The overwhelming majority supports policies like universal basic income, higher taxes for the rich, access to abortion, and same-sex marriage. They also possess concern for the environment and an orientation to helping others in need. But there are also differences between our respondents, particularly regarding questions about whether there are absolute truths, how much is knowable, and whether life has meaning. On these issues we see diversity within the nonreligious population.
These results are only tentative, but with a larger sample size in the international survey, we will be able to learn much more about the nonreligious population.