Imaginary friends and made-up stories: how to explore (non)religious imaginaries without asking belief-centred questions

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Abby Day transformed research into nonreligion by demonstrating how to talk about belief without asking religious questions. This article aims to go a step further by demonstrating a way of exploring (non)religious imaginaries without asking belief-centred questions. It does so by suggesting that researchers 1) ask what people are willing to commit their precious time to doing and subsequently 2) pay attention to the myths they tell in sustaining these actions and the way that the imagination brings these to life.

I suggest that asking people what they believe may force them into a response that forecloses the complexity of their imagination. Focusing on the belief-based distinctions between purportedly ‘religious’ and ‘nonreligious’ people as has proved particularly popular in the psychology of religion reproduces a (post)Protestant understanding of religion as deeply held belief. Recent developments in sociology and anthropology suggest that this is an inaccurate understanding of many religious people. I suggest that it also places conceptual constraints on explorations of nonreligious imaginaries.

Perhaps it does not matter whether people believe that a literary figure really existed or whether or not people believe in life after death. Instead what matters is the agentive force the characters they are imagining have over their lives.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3
JournalSecularism & Nonreligion
Publication statusPublished - 5 Mar 2020
Externally publishedYes


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