The Visionary 97-year-old Stewart Morris Sr. – One of HBU’s Founding Fathers

He is 97-years-young, spry, alert, and when the topic of HBU is discussed there are tears in the eyes of Stewart Morris Sr. At the invitation of Dr. Morris, Billy Graham responded to come and presented the Dedication sermon of Houston Baptist College in 1963. Every 12th-grade student from the public schools in Houston enjoyed the bus ride to new campus on this notable, historic day. HBU celebrates it’s 20,000 graduate in May 2017!
To know Stewart Morris Sr. is to love him. He is inimitable and an encyclopedia of both the history of HBU and Houston. @RobertBSloan, President of HBU, creatively initiated the vision plan to dramatically expand HBU On Line academic programs and Dr. Morris help lead the effort. Dynamic plans and personnel are being pursued toward to goal of making HBU a national Christian University! Dr. Sloan’s entrepreneurial spirit is captured in HBU’s Ten Pillars vision which is yet another distinction of the University (www.hbu.edu)
As a Founding Father who was instrumental in establishing and supporting the Christian mission of HBU, Dr. Stewart Morris Sr. received the inaugural  Founders Medal presented by @RobertBSloan at the biannual Spirit of Excellence Gala in November 2016. Dr. Morris remains a visionary today, and his continued involvement is visible in every area of the University.
Rising from office clerk to the head of a publicly-held international corporate giant, Stewart Morris Sr. has devoted his career to the management, growth, and expansion of Stewart Information Services Corporation (SISCO) and its subsidiary companies known as Stewart Title. Morris succeeded his father, William Carloss Morris, after his death in 1950, when Stewart Title was comprised of only eight offices and a handful of Texas-based agents. Morris, with older brother Carloss, has seen the company expand to 50 states and 13 foreign countries, with offices and agents in over 9,000 locations.
The University expresses their thanks to Dr. Morris. HBU is poised for dramatic, strategic growth, uniquely, in the mega city of Houston where 12MM people live within a 200-mile radius. There is no place in America quite like Houston – the largest philanthropic city of America.
What did Dr. Morris do after our 52-minute filmed interview? On a golf cart, ice cream in hand, he cruised throughout the campus envisioning the growth of HBU in the days to come!

“I Wrote Myself to a Better Understanding,” – Jerry Johnston with Sociologist Rodney Stark

I asked sociologist Rodney Stark about his own faith. He replied, “I wrote myself, my way to a better understanding of things.” His books are classics:  “How The West Won: The Neglected Story of the Triumph of Modernity,” “For The Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witchhunts, And The End of Slavery,” “America’s Blessings: How Religion Benefits Everyone, Including Atheists,” “God’s Battalions: The Cast for the Crusades,and “The Triumph of Faith: Why the World is More Religious Than Ever,plus many more. I recommend you get them.

In our techno-savvy culture, one of our problems is people are not reading. The late George Gallup – gallup.com – wrote: “We revere the Bible but we don’t read it. Wheaton College research indicated biblical illiteracy of incoming freshmen:  80% could not place Moses, Adam, David, Solomon and Abraham in chronological order; Half of the students could not sequence Moses in Egypt, Issac’s birth, Saul’s death and Judah’s exile, and one-third could not identify Matthew as an apostle from a list of New Testament names.

One hundred and fifty freshmen in a Christian college were selected in a scientific survey (PISA – Program for International Student Assessment) because they were active members of evangelical churches and grew up going to church. The students were given a test about their biblical knowledge. Here are the answers they provided: The history of Abraham was found in the book of Ruth. The Roman persecution was the greatest event described in the Old Testament. The Exodus was the return of the Jews to Palestine after World War II. Genesis was the first Gospel. The mother-in-law of Ruth was Mary Magdalene and her famous great-grandson was Noah! We have a problem.

My father is dying of inoperable stomach cancer. Daily I battle a variety of emotions because of his pain. Dad turned 90 on April 11. Yesterday, he told me that he is giving me his Bible which he purchased in 2006. “I want you to have it as a gift,” he said, “but I am hoping I stay alive long enough to finish reading it the 50th time before I give it to you.” I did the math. My dad has averaged reading his Bible nearly five times a year for the last eleven years. And he started reading the Bible long before 2006. I am going to have his Bible rebound and will cherish the gift.

Billy Graham wrote about regrets in his autobiography, Just As I Am, “I would spend more time studying the Bible and meditating on its truth … it is far too easy for someone in my position to read the Bible only with an eye on a future sermon, overlooking the message God has for me through its pages.

Jerry: I’ve read that you’re a cultural Christian, I mean so how do you mix your faith experience in all this? I’m tring to figure all that out.

Rodney: For most of my adult life I was most certainly a non-believer. 

Jerry: OK

Rodney: But I was also very much pro-Christian. I mean, I have always believed that this was a Christian civilization. Always believed that science grew out of Christianity. I don’t have any problems with that at all, I just had problems with believing, which didn’t trouble me a lot and it certainly didn’t make me any kind of an aggressive anti-… you know… at all. It was just a fact. And I think I wrote myself, my way to a better understanding of things. 

Jerry: Uh-huh.

Rodney: And uh … and that’s what it meant to be a cultural Christian. I’m glad churches were good things.


Researchers, Drs. Jerry and Cristie Jo Johnston, are Executive Producing a quick-paced film via transcontinental, staccato interviews documenting the shocking rise of the non-religious.

Jerry Johnston Interviews Mike Bickle of IHOP – “Young People Want Something to Die For”

Before you write off all Millennials as religiously disaffiliated, consider @ihopkc where every week, 24-hours-a-day, 84 worship services per week are conducted, and there is literal non-stop, prayer and worship. @ihopkc is a magnet of spiritual intensity that draws people from all over the world. Yes, there are men and women of all ages. But, look closer in the seats, and you will find a strong contingent of millennials in deep devotion to Jesus Christ. And, it never stops … every day … every night reminiscent of the Old Testament Levitical priests who were consecrated to the Lord.
Mike Bickle @mikebickle and I have been friends for 35 years. I have repeatedly told people, when asked, “I have never met a man with such passion for Jesus as Mike Bickle. His spiritual intensity has produced a global movement. Annually, 25,000 young people attend his Onething Conference in frigid temperatures. Further, IHOP University is growing with hundreds of millennials intent on changing the world by their faith – another vision that came from Mike.
The International House of Prayer has continued in non-stop prayer led by worship teams since September 19, 1999, and is committed to combining 24/7 prayers for justice with 24/7 works of justice. Around 1,500 people (staff members, students, interns) serve full-time on the missions base, investing fifty hours per week in the prayer room, classroom, and ministry outreaches. Mike is also the founder of the International House of Prayer University which includes a full-time Bible school, music school, and media school.
Call it the dichotomy of American culture – millennials leaving organized religion and the church while, simultaneously, multiplied thousands of young people are exhibiting an intensity of Christian faith that is a bit shocking to the average church goer. Mike told me that there are now 20,000 “prayer centers” all over the world just like IHOP. Many received inspiration to begin from the example that ensued from his “believe-God-at-any-cost” faith.
 
We met and discussed the condition of American Christianity. 
JERRY JOHNSTON: 70% of young people in the UK don’t believe in God.  Over 50% are nones.  They kind of fast forward our culture by two decades at least. You’ve been in the UK.  What do you take away from that as you look at America now?

MIKE BICKLE:  And again I think you are right.  I think they’re a decade or two ahead and I think we’re following Mother England as we have for years, following right in the track and I think it’s that reducing of what’s going on in the pulpit backfired.  Though it made a lot of folks gather in a certain way, it lost the interest of the young people.  Because a lot of folks think the young people just want cool media and I think they do want cool media.  I think you can’t deny what’s happening in the culture.  We are a product of our culture in part.  But young people want to be challenged.  Young people want something to die for.  It’s like the preacher said if you don’t have something to live for you don’t have anything to die for.

Researchers, Drs. Jerry and Cristie Jo Johnston, are Executive Producing a quick-paced film via trans continental, staccato interviews documenting the shocking rise of the non-religious.

Jerry Johnston Interviews Noted Sociologist Dr. Rodney Stark at Baylor University

Where there is life, there is growth. So, I traveled to Waco, TX, and asked renowned American sociologist of religion, PhD Rodney Stark @BaylorISR“Is Jesus Christ Unique?” Stark has spent a lifetime studying the impact of religion on people in the various nations of the world. He is a profound writer whose many books circle the globe and are worthy of your attention.

For instance, Stark, co-director of Baylor University’s Institute for the Studies of Religion, documents Christianity in China is surging – 40 new churches are starting up every week and that does not include the inestimable “underground” churches in the most populous nation on earth (1.371 Billion people). He, along with his co-author sociologist Xiuhua Wang wrote,  A Star in the East: The Rise of Christianity in China.

America’s Christianity is shrinking while China’s is growing – there is something disturbing with this scenario. “In America, much of the slip in Christianity’s numbers is being driven by the millennial ‘me’ generation, well known for tending to avoid commitment and institutions of every kind, not just religious, “ wrote Michael Guillen of USNWR (May 14, 2015).

In 1966, the Cultural Revolution in China outlawed all belief systems entirely, except for atheism. But, it hasn’t worked! In fact, Stark reminded me that after six decades of teaching atheism to the people of the former Soviet Union, it registered only 7 percent “atheist’ – just one or two percentage points ahead of the United States of America. As we have learned Christianity is thriving in Russia.

Cristie Jo and I have filmed now with over 100 distinguished leaders of atheism, agnosticism, secularism, sociology, and Christian apologetics, and next week we will film with both Richard Dawkins and Richard Swinburne in OxfordEngland – one is a noted atheist and the other is one of the most respected Christian philosophers in the world.

Repression has not worked in stopping or slowing Christianity. Rather, Christianity seems to thrive under adversity as the present phenomenon in numerous countries indicates. Regardless of what you believe about Jesus Christ, He certainly did make an impact, as Stark said, in a manner unequalled.

Jerry: Is Jesus Christ unique among the other figures or founders of faith?

Rodney: Certainly … what is so peculiar is that we know so little. You know he didn’t leave a book. Um … but uh … certainly no one else has ever had that impact. I mean, people like Buddha and what not, they’re just not very important by comparison. Um … yeah, I think he’s unique.


Researchers, Drs. Jerry and Cristie Jo Johnston, are Executive Producing a quick-paced film via trans continental, staccato interviews documenting the shocking rise of the non-religious.

Jerry Johnston interviews Saint Andrews’ Professor N.T. Wright

Everything in Christianity hinges on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Sociologist Rodney Stark, PhD, told me yesterday that no one in human history made the impact of Jesus Christ. The absolute axis of the Christian faith rests on the resurrection. In Gospel narratives we observe the behavior of the closest followers of Jesus before His resurrection: timid, afraid, vacillating. Afterward, they are transformed, unstoppable, and authenticate their faith by their own martyrdom. Peter was audacious enough to stand in front of thousands in Jerusalem during the festival of Pentecost and boldly proclaim. Fifty days earlier, he could not stand up to a young girl who questioned him regarding his association to Christ. Life transforming? No question. How else do you explain it?

More than anyone in history, Jesus is controversial. On our film journey, Cristie Jo and I have listened as He has been both vilified and praised – certainly not ignored. Everyone knows who He is … the top leaders of atheism, agnosticism, secularism, sociology, and humanism. To some, Jesus is an expletive (interestingly, we don’t swear using the names of other religious figures), and yet to many others, Jesus is worshiped and adored. Stark confirmed to me, as I have been told, that one of the largest Christian populations in the world is in China, a communist nation – he wrote an entire book on that subject. How did Jesus defy obscurity after two millennia? Easter Sunday, Jesus draws a bigger crowd in America than the Super Bowl, hands down!

I asked one of the brightest thinkers in the world, British theologian N. T. Wright, author of The Resurrection of the Son of God (740 pages!), why Jesus was so unique and why the resurrection was so important. He spoke about Jesus in a manner, I must admit, I have never heard before … one of absolute familiarity. Candidly, I left the interview wanting to know more, much more, about Jesus.

N.T. Wright:

“1 Corinthians 15 is extremely important first because it includes the very early testimony which has already become kind of a formula. Paul says you know what the gospel was, the Messiah Gnostic says according to scripture was buried, raised on the third day according to scripture and was seen. And Paul is there quoting a formula which he knows the Corinthians will recognize and which he knows the other apostles too will have preached the same thing. But then Paul goes on to explain it and it’s one of the longest sustained arguments that he writes anywhere and it’s a very carefully structured argument and it has fulfilled the ancient scriptural prophecies and Paul is quoting several of them. And in particular it has launched new creation. 1 Corinthians 15 is really working with Genesis 1 and 2 in saying as in Adam, but now selling the Messiah. So that what’s happened is the beginning of new creation and that’s the only way you can understand it.”


Researchers, Drs. Jerry and Cristie Jo Johnston, are Executive Producing a quick-paced film via trans continental, staccato interviews documenting the shocking rise of the non-religious.

Jerry Johnston on the Rise of Christianity in Russia – Philip Renner Interview

Christianity on the rise in Russia? Meet Philip Renner, son of Rick and Denise Renner, founders of the Moscow Good News Church, which runs 4,000 in attendance in the heart of Russia’s mega-city of 13,000,000. One Russian leader states, “Nowadays it is hip to be religious in Russia.” There are 30,000 churches in Russia and they are gaining in prominence. Cristie, myself, and friends, Rick and Denise, were equally inspired early in our careers by Dr. William Bennett, pastor of First Baptist Church, Ft. Smith, AR. Who could forget Dr. Bennett’s 5:00a.m. breakfast meetings when he would want to conjugate a Greek verb and talk about biblical texts?

The Christian Thinkers Society with Jeremiah Johnston now sets it site on a ministry tour in the 15 union republics of the former USSR. Philip Renner, young and dynamic, is impressive and has a distinct worship ministry imbued by parents “who do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen” (2 Cor. 4:18). He has visited ministered in many of those republics. The day he came to Houston, he was with us he was fasting. We were so impressed with his faith and look forward to working with him in the future.

Has America’s Christianity become impotent? Why are the nones on the rise? Did you know the “nones” are now actually forming quasi-churches? Faith in the USA is in serious trouble whether we recognize it or not.

Conversely, Philip Renner grew up in Moscow. The entire interview with Philip Renner, which is absolutely fascinating, can be found on the Christian Thinkers Society Facebook page and www.jerryjohnston.com.

JERRY: Tell us about that facility (church) in Moscow, it’s gorgeous- the pictures I’ve seen.

PHILIP: Well, God said, “Build the church in Moscow.” And to build the church in Moscow is very very difficult, extremely expensive. A lot of people would say it’s just impossible. Laws about building in Russia and Moscow they’re changing all the time. But that building’s there because we live by faith and not by sight and we speak things that are not as those they were, as though they are – Romans 4:17. God took what was invisible and made it visible.

JERRY: I recently listened to the pastor at Resurrection Life in Grand Rapids talk about the multiplied thousands of people that Good News Church and Rick Renner Ministries, and Philip Renner, your brothers have done.

PHILIP: Well the church is about 4,000 people which is one of the biggest churches in Moscow.

www.philiprenner.com
www.renner.org
www.mgnc.org
www.jerryjohnston.com


Researchers, Drs. Jerry and Cristie Jo Johnston, are Executive Producing a quick-paced film via trans continental, staccato interviews documenting the shocking rise of the non-religious.

Jerry & Cristie Johnston Interview Frank Schaeffer … A Self-Described Atheist Who Prays?

We learned something interesting in our two-hour filmed interview with self-identified atheist Frank Schaeffer, son of the late theologian Francis Schaeffer. Frank told us that he prays.

FRANK SCHAEFFER:  “When I pray in the morning when I get up; when I use the words ‘Jesus’, and ‘Christ’, and ‘God’, and all these other things that I was raised with.  And you say to me, ‘Then, why do you use that?’  And I have a real answer for you – although you didn’t ask it.  ‘Because I was raised that way.  You got a problem with that?  That’s who I am.’  And somebody else is somebody else.  But rather than reach for some intellectual explanation like, this is right and everybody else is wrong; or this is the truth; or I put it correctly – I just simply say, ‘You know, at this stage of my life, as a 64 year old, I’m ready to admit that I’m who I am because I was raised that way, because my life experience points in that direction.’  But what I’m very, very certain about is that I’ll never be a None, any more than I’ll be an Evangelical again, because I embrace the fact of paradox itself, which is past explanation.”

That is a bit of a mind-bender. Perhaps, if you can understand ‘paradox’ you may be able to discern Frank’s statement.   While there may be a Nones phenomenon proliferating in America of adults disaffiliating with the organized church or religion, there is no shortage of people who pray.

Only a small percentage of nones are atheists. Indeed, the majority has an interest in some form of spirituality. The current $2.8MM Templeton Foundation research grant, Understanding Unbelief, is a three-year scholarly study profiling nones. Who exactly are they? What is their ethnicity? Why are they leaving? Why do a significant percentage of nones pray. It will be fascinating research.

The late sociologist-novelist-priest, Andrew M. Greeley, in his research center, claimed 78 percent of Americans pray, more than half (57 percent) daily, and that 1 in 5 atheists still pray daily! Since Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1440, Google Books claims 129,864,880 books have been authored and published. Did you know that the topic of prayer is one of the most popular topics – over 2,000 different published works on prayer?

After enduring WWII and becoming President, Eisenhower commented to Senator Carlson regarding the White House, ‘Frank, this is the loneliest house I’ve ever been in.’ President Reagan later retelling the story indicated Senator Carlson replied, “Mr. President, I think this may be the right time for you to come and meet with our prayer group. And Eisenhower did just that. In 1953 he attended the first combined prayer breakfast.” History repeated itself today at the Sheraton in Washington, D.C.

What is it about prayer that engages people?

 


Researchers, Drs. Jerry and Cristie Jo Johnston, are Executive Producing a quick-paced film via trans continental, staccato interviews documenting the shocking rise of the non-religious.

Jerry & Cristie Johnston Interview J. P. Moreland

In our high tech, digital world, do we take the time to think seriously? Are we asking and answering the deeper questions? As we reach for our iPhone every 10 minutes, according to a recent report, when are the moments we drill down deeper about the issues of life and eternity? Are contemporary sermons too shallow? Do we live too much in the area of the euphoria of our faith always subjective to feelings-of-the-moment while suffering from our lack of cognition? Seminar sermons, skyscraper sermons (one story upon another) are giving indication of insufficiency. One in three Millennials has disaffiliated from the church. How can we begin to calculate the future religiosity of the “postmillennial” cohort that now number more than 60 million people? These kids and teens have no concept of life without the Internet and have been called the App Generation and Generation Z.

The Best Schools recently named “The 50 Most Influential Living Philosophers,” and evangelical J. P. Moreland made the list along with Simon Blackburn, Daniel Dennettand others. So Cristie and I flew to Los Angeles and drove to Moreland’s home in Yorba Linda, California for a fascinating filmed interview. When I asked J.P. how he felt about the condition of the contemporary church, he responded, “It makes me sad.”

J.P. Moreland’s background is spread across multiple disciplines: B.S. in chemistry from the University of Missouri; M.A. in philosophy from the University of California, Riverside; and a Th.M in Theology from Dallas Theological Seminary prior to earning his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Southern California in 1985. He currently holds the title of Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University in La Miranda California and is a member of the Board of Advisors for the Center on Culture and Civil Society at the Independent Institute. Moreland’s work combines metaphysics, philosophy of mind, chemistry, and theology, and he is known for his defense of the existence of God and the supernatural.

J.P. MORELAND: “In fact, Os Guinness wrote a book a few years ago called The Gravedigger File, where he made the point that some of the very tools the church was using to gain short term success, by making its message easy to understand and making things comfortable for people, ultimately became the church’s gravedigger over the long haul.  And you cannot have a flourishing church if you don’t have Christians valuing learning why they believe what they believe and being able to graciously, without being angry, to speak and dialogue about those in the public square.”


Researchers, Drs. Jerry and Cristie Jo Johnston, are Executive Producing a quick-paced film via trans continental, staccato interviews documenting the shocking rise of the non-religious.

Jerry & Cristie Johnston Interview Phil Zuckerman at Pitzer College

A Christian student attends a university and is confronted with very aggressive, seemingly knowledgeable professors challenging the tenets of Christianity they have embrace during their young life. What happens? Statistically, approximately 75 percent or more stop attending church in their new environment, and many never return.

The Pew Research Center often quoted 2014 study,America’s Changing Religious Landscape,” states that, “The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of the U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing.” Sounds grim. Atheists and agnostics have repeatedly told us there are 55 – 70MM “nones” in America. Is it true? In 1950, only two percent of adult Americans were “nones.”

Pew again, “Between 2007 and 2014, the Christian share of the population fell from 78.4 percent to 70.6 percent.” Yet, their data indicates the religiously detached “unaffiliated” phenomenon was driven among “mainline Protestants and Catholics.” In contrast, evangelicals have lost less than 1 percent of their market share holding steady at about 1 in 4 Americans (25.4 percent).

Pitzer College is one of the Claremont Colleges in California. The college has a curricular emphasis on the social sciences, behavioral sciences, international programs, and media studies. Cristie and I filmed with renowned scholar, Stephen T. Davis, PhD, the Russell K. Pitzer Professor of Philosophy, at Claremont McKenna College, who is a solid believer in Jesus Christ.

His impressive colleague, Phil Zuckerman, PhD, at Pitzer College, is an atheist, and filmed with us as well. Maybe you watched him as he interpreted religion @chelseahandler on Netflix. He is articulate and very sharp. How would the average “Christian” university student respond to Phil’s remarks?

“So basically, secularization is what we call the process whereby religion weakens or just appears in a society over time.  Now there have been many theories to explain how this might happen and some of those are sort of general universal theories of secularism saying, you know, no matter what society we’re in, no matter what country, if X happens the result is going to be a weakening of religion.  And these are kind of, you know, universal theories.

“So the big universal theories are — well, as populations get more educated, strong religious belief tends to go down.  As societies becomes more technologically advanced, religiosity tends to weaken a little bit.  The biggest theory that I have the most data, is what they call the existential security theory which is basically that when people in a society are existentially secure meaning they have, you know, food, shelter, a relatively stable government, access to medicine and healthcare and life is essentially more or less secure, barring you know some extreme.  Those societies tend to have religiosity go down.  Societies that are more racked with more precarious situations — life is nasty, brief and short, housing is scarce, jobs are scarce, health and medicine are scarce, there’s political instability, a lot of war, corrupt governments — those societies tend to have higher levels of religiosity, and tend is the operative word here.  It’s not an absolute.  We work in tendencies, correlations and averages in social science.  So on average, societies that are most secure — where people have the best housing, healthcare, job situation, stable governments, democracies — they tend to be more and more secular, religion tends to weaken there.  And in societies that are racked with more social problems and life is more precarious for your average person, religion tends to be strong there.  So that’s the bigger, larger picture.”

It is time for believers to learn how to ‘critically think.’ Cristie and myself are working on multiple, digital, informative tools to help them do just that.

Stephen T. Davis

www.philzuckerman.com

www.pewresearch.com

 


Researchers, Drs. Jerry and Cristie Jo Johnston, are Executive Producing a quick-paced film via trans continental, staccato interviews documenting the shocking rise of the non-religious.

Jerry Johnston Queries Regarding the $2.8MM Templeton Grant to Study “Nones”

“Nones” represents 21 – 28 percent of American adults have disaffiliated from the church or organization religion. This represents a staggering cohort of 55-70 million Americans.

It was my third time to film with Stephen Bullivant, PhD, this week. We have also filmed in Oxford and London, England. Bullivant was an atheist who helped co-found the Nonreligion and Secularity Network (NSRN) in England with Lois Lee (co-editor of Secularism and Nonreligion and of the De Gruyters-NSRN book series, Religion and Its Others: Studies in Religion, Nonreligion and Secularity), Miguel Farias (he now leads the Brain, Belief and Behaviour group at Coventry University), and Jonathan Lanman (Director of the Institute of Cognition & Culture, and Lecturer in Anthropology at Queen’s University Belfast.) An initial conference was conducted in 2009 in Oxford, England, dedicated to the social scientific study of atheism – 40 years after (March 1969) the request by Roman Catholic Church Second Vatican Council’s symposium on “The Culture of Unbelief” in Rome. Bullivant states, “One-third of all cradle Catholics now identify as having a different religious identity other than Catholic and of those, nearly half of the total, identify as “no religion,” and that is going to be the same for Episcopalians or Baptists—across the board.”

While some may ignore or deny the “nones” phenomenon in North America, the John Templeton Foundation, Understanding Unbelief is a major new $2.8MM dollars research program, aiming to advance scientific understanding of atheism and other forms of ‘unbelief’ around the world. The growth of atheism and other forms of ‘unbelief’ in many parts of the world is attracting increasingly wide attention. Yet significant questions remain about how to understand such phenomena, and scientists rely still on categories developed by social actors, not social scientists, to do so. We do not currently know how best to characterize the various forms of unbelief as psychological and sociological phenomena, the extent to which other beliefs – about religion, or the existential – underpin these forms, how diverse they are, and how they vary across demographic groups and cultures. Yet understanding the nature and variety of unbelief is necessary if we are to answer big questions about the causes of ‘unbelief’ in the future, and its effects on such outcomes as personal wellbeing and social cohesion. The “Understanding Unbelief” project will be the first major scientific research program to address the nature and variety of unbelief.

“Bullivant: Umm, so the Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network began you know kind of three doctoral students in a post-doc in England, and it grew because we realized very rapidly that this was an area that a large number of grad students but also established scholars in the social sciences were starting to get interested in, psychology, anthropology, umm political science, sociology. Umm, so we had a conference in 2009 in Oxford, which was as far as we know the first conference dedicated to the social scientific study of atheism and kind of related phenomena since 1969, which is when the Vatican had one. Umm and, now its, you know there’s there’s dozens of people umm across the world, although, you know, there’s large pockets in North America and western Europe umm working in this area. There’s all kinds of fascinating new stuff coming out.

 Johnston: Well this has been fascinating. Thank you, Dr. Bullivant. And we’ve been talking to Stephen Bullivant, author of the upcoming NonvertMass Exodus, and the 2019 co-leader, of the new John Templeton project. We look forward to connecting with you in the days ahead.”

Stephen Bullivant is a Visiting Fellow at UCL SSS (Secularity and Secularism Studies) at the UCL Institute of Advanced Studies, and Senior Lecturer in Theology and Ethics and Director of the Benedict XVI Centre for Religion and Society at St Mary’s University, Twickenham.

Stephen is co-leader of the The Scientific Study of Nonreligious Belief (SSNB) project and of the Understanding Unbelief (UU) programme. For more information on Stephen’s work, visit his UCL webpage.


Researchers, Drs. Jerry and Cristie Jo Johnston, are Executive Producing a quick-paced film via trans continental, staccato interviews documenting the shocking rise of the non-religious.