Dr Lois Lee joined the Department of Religious Studies in 2017 as a Research Fellow. She is Principal Investigator on the Scientific Study of Non-religious Belief project at the UCL Institute of Advanced Studies, and the Understanding Unbelief programme in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Kent, both of which are majorly funded by the John Templeton Foundation. 

Lois received a BA (Hons) in History from the University of Leeds and her MPhil and PhD in Sociology from the University of Cambridge, before taking up research and teaching roles at the University of Kent's Department of Religious Studies and UCL's School of Public Policy; Institute of Advanced Studies. Her early research focused on religious and nonreligious identities and beliefs in relation to nineteenth century political thought, before moving on to contemporaneous, sociological studies of people who are identified as nonreligious. 

Lois' doctoral research explored what it means to be nonreligious and argued that not only is nonreligious culture a present and influential force in contemporary societies but that its study also helps us to recognise the existential, meaning-making dimension to the lives of nonreligious people – something that the nonreligious and religious have in common.

Research interests

Lois' current research interests centre on the nature of the existential in modernity, with an empirical focus on nonreligious populations. Building on past work at the Religion and Political Theory Centre at UCL’s School of Public Policy, her work engages normatively as well as scientifically with questions around the role of religious and nonreligious existential culture in public life. Theoretically, her research concerns the concept of religion and egalitarian conceptual approaches (such as ‘worldview’, or her own concept of ‘existential culture’); secularisation and other theories of religious change; and socio-political approaches to religion and existential culture, including political secularism and pluralism.

As Principal Investigator of the Understanding Unbelief programme (Jan 2017-Sept 2019), her work focuses on the way in which social structures and regional cultures shape the religious and existential beliefs and commitments of so-called unbelievers, addressing questions about the nature and diversity of those beliefs and commitments. 

As well as core research undertaken by Lois and the programme team, the Understanding Unbelief programme involves numerous academic and non-academic collaborators from around the world.

Lois has a strong interest in working with research communities in the wide dissemination of research. She is founding director of the Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network (NSRN), co-editor of the journal, Secularism and Nonreligion (S&N) and co-editor of the NSRN book series, Religion and Its Others: Studies in Religion, Nonreligion and Secularity (De Gruyter). She also works with community groups as well as national and local media to disseminate her own - and NSRN's - research outside academia.



  • Lee, L. (2017). New and alternative careers in butinage: A comment on Gez et al.: Religious butinage as dynamic identity. Current Anthropology [Online] 58:141-159. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1086/690836.
    In ‘From converts to itinerants: Religious butinage as dynamic identity’, Yonatan N. Gez, Yvan Droz, Edio Soares and Jeanne Rey (2016) argue that, in order for scholars to adapt to theories of religion that recognize its complex, situated and fluid aspects, it is crucial that they have better concepts for describing religion in these terms. This practical approach is compelling, and the notion of butinage that they offer is intriguing – and
    promising. Most associated with the activity of bees as they move from flower to flower, foraging for nectar, gathering and delivering pollen as they go Gez. et al. 2016), the notion of butinage achieves what has eluded many other scholars working with relational social theories: where others have fallen back on synchronic metaphors and/or analytic modes – ‘snapshots’, ‘assemblages’, etc. – butinage is a metaphor that powerfully evokes a sense of networks of relations existing across time. For the purposes of analysis, the notion helps us work with religiosity not through moments, but through careers. And it does so in a way that captures, most vividly, the physicality and spatiality of the actor – the butineur – in their relation with culture (‘nectar’).
  • Lee, L. (2015). Ambivalent Atheist Identities: Power and Non-religious Culture in Contemporary Britain. Social Analysis [Online] 59:20-39. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.3167/sa.2015.590202.
    In Britain, most non-theists and atheists do not identify themselves as such in explicit terms, yet non-theistic cultural threads are interwoven through everyday discourses. This article calls for more extensive ethnographic engagement with these more diffuse—and therefore less visible and less commonly researched—forms of non-religious culture. Based on exploratory fieldwork conducted in South East England, it draws attention to one set of these indistinct non-religious forms: 'authentic' and 'inauthentic' ambivalent atheist and non-religious self-understandings and self-representations. It demonstrates how these identities may be subjectively meaningful and culturally significant and how they may be simultaneously empowering and disempowering. Scrutiny of ambivalent atheist identities points to complicated dynamics between non-religion and power and the value of attending to poorly or unmarked non-religious cultures through ethnographic work.
  • Lee, L. (2014). Secular or Nonreligious? Investigating and Interpreting Generic ‘Not Religious’ Categories and Populations. Religion [Online] 44:466-482. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0048721X.2014.904035.
    In research dealing with religious affiliation, generic nonreligious categories – ‘no religion’, ‘not religious’, ‘nonreligious’, ‘nones’ – are frequently used to measure secularity and secularisation processes. Analysis of these categories is, however, problematic because they have not received dedicated methodological attention. Using qualitative research conducted in the UK, this article investigates what nonreligious categories measure and, specifically, whether they indicate non-identification or disaffiliation as assumed or an alternative form of cultural affiliation. Findings suggest that generic nonreligious categories are sometimes used to express substantive positions and public identities, and that these are diverse. These findings flatten distinctions between religious and nonreligious categories as ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ respectively and indicate problems therefore in using nonreligious identification to measure secularity and secularisation. They suggest nonreligious identification is, however, a useful indicator of the advance of nonreligious cultures and the ‘nonreligionisation’ of societies.
  • Day, A. and Lee, L. (2014). Making Sense of Surveys and Censuses: Issues in Religious Self-identification. Religion [Online] 44:345-356. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0048721X.2014.929833.
    Censuses and surveys shape decisions, discourse and debates about people and their lived environments. The outcomes, in the case of a census, inform governments about resource distribution but also shape people's self-understanding about who they are and where they may be going. How people self-identify on censuses and surveys produces certain types of knowledge. This introduction emphasises the impact of those instruments on knowledge production and how numbers can be employed, often anecdotally, to further interests and claims. The way academics use and interpret such instruments has ethical and normative dimensions: numbers are not neutral but shape and are shaped by perceptions and identities. This introduction to a thematic issue of Religion introduces the contributing authors' diverse – historical, qualitative and quantitative – approaches that work together to produce their own kind of multi-disciplinary, academically located knowledge.
  • Lee, L. (2012). Research Note: Talking about a Revolution: Terminology for the New Field of Non-religion Studies. Journal of Contemporary Religion [Online] 27:129-139. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13537903.2012.642707.
    The recognition of non-religion as a significant social, cultural, and psychological phenomenon represents a sea change—or revolution—in social scientific thinking about religion and modernity. The speedy expansion of the field has, however, left its terminology lagging behind, with most scholars drawing on concepts familiar to the disciplinary or other cultural settings within which they work. The result is a terminology that is used inconsistently, imprecisely, and often illogically. This research note aims to draw attention to this situation and to suggest a working terminology. Focusing on core terms, I argue for: using ‘non-religion’ as the master concept for this new field of study, demoting ‘atheism’ from its illogically central role in the current discussion, untangling ‘secularism’ and ‘secularity’ from both these concepts. This will allow social scientists to be more precise in how they use the four concepts and better equip them for analysing the relationship between them.
  • Bullivant, S. and Lee, L. (2012). Interdisciplinary Studies of Non-religion and Secularity: The State of the Union. Journal of Contemporary Religion [Online] 27:19-27. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13537903.2012.642707.
  • Lee, L. (2012). Locating Nonreligion, in Mind, Body and Space: New Research Methods for a New Field. Annual Review of the Sociology of Religion [Online] 3:135-157. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1163/9789047429470_008.
    This paper introduces the general methodological problems facing researchers who wish to account for nonreligion, before identifying the one assumption that researchers are likely to bring to this generally unfamiliar field of enquiry and which is already and demonstrably limiting the scope of research methodologies. The author uses findings from his own research, an exploratory project working with nonreligion and secularity in south east England, to demonstrate that, to the contrary, the latter forms exist and provide alternative possibilities to researchers in the field. The general aim of the chapter is to help open up sociology to the wide-ranging prospects that the study of nonreligion presents, whilst also providing some potential new 'ways in' to this new and broad field of study. The chapter has attempted to clarify the confused concept of nonreligion, a necessary foundation for any research design in the area.
  • Lee, L. and Heitmeyer, C. (2011). Education, Education, Education: British Higher Education and the Attempt to Quantify Quality. Critique and Humanism 36:205-226.
  • Lee, L. (2011). From “Neutrality” to Dialogue: Constructing the Religious Other in British Non-religious Discourses. Modernities Revisited [Online]. Available at: http://www.iwm.at/publications/5-junior-visiting-fellows-conferences/vol-xxix/lois-lee-2/.
    Traditionally, the “secular mindset” has been thought of as a nonentity, the absence of a substance (religion) rather than a substance itself. If it has been seen to exist at all, this existence has involved the sole characteristic of being “neutral” towards all religion. In recent years, however, many have argued that the secular perspective is normative rather than neutral – and the idea of secularism as a substantial social phenomenon is becoming increasingly popular. With little empirical research to refer to, however, this work has so far delivered only a simplistic, sometimes caricatured picture of the so-called “secular consciousness,” and one which emphasizes how the religious “other” is perceived. As well as a central role for the characteristic of rationalism, the secular consciousness is seen to be anti-religious, an advocate of the privatization of religion and a supporter also of the continued, arrogant dominance of secular views. This paper uses findings from the first ethnographic investigation of everyday European nonreligion, which, I argue, is a closely related concept to secularism – at least as it has been conceptualized in the literature in question. These data – from a study of individuals and communities from London and Cambridge in the UK – enrich and complicate existing understandings of the “secular consciousness” in a number of ways, suggesting that these conceptions are over-simplifications and cannot be assumed. These findings further the critique of “neutrality” as a description of what it means to be other than religious or spiritual, but suggests, more constructively, the possibility of treating both nonreligion and secularity as more positive and variegated social phenomena – and ones that might have roles to play as invested partners in the inter- and multicultural dialogue that many European Modernity are looking towards and relying upon.


  • Lee, L. and Bullivant, S. (2016). Oxford Dictionary of Atheism. [Online]. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acref/9780191816819.001.0001.
    This new dictionary provides definitions of terms related to the subject of atheism, ranging from those of historic importance, including the history of the term ‘atheist’ itself, to crucial concepts in the contemporary study of atheism and related topics, such as nonreligion and postsecular. Coverage includes secular and humanist organizations, significant events in the history of atheism such as the Scopes Monkey Trial, neologisms by or about atheists including ‘Bright’ and ‘New Atheism’, and parodic religions and deities such as Pastafarianism and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Atheism is a growing subject of study with a significant scholarly presence emerging online, and many of the new terms covered represent the first authoritative definitions for this subject.
  • Lee, L. (2015). Recognizing the Non-Religious: Reimagining the Secular. [Online]. Oxford University Press. Available at: https://global.oup.com/academic/product/recognizing-the-non-religious-9780198736844?q=Recognizing%20the%20Non-religious:%20Reimaging%20the%20Secular&lang=en&cc=gb#.
    In recent years, the extent to which contemporary societies are secular has come under scrutiny. At the same time, many countries, especially in Europe, have increasingly large nonaffiliate, 'subjectively secular' populations, whilst nonreligious cultural movements like the New Atheism and the Sunday Assembly have come to prominence. Making sense of secularity, irreligion, and the relationship between them has therefore emerged as a crucial task for those seeking to understand contemporary societies and the nature of modern life.

    Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in southeast England, Recognizing the Non-religious develops a new vocabulary, theory and methodology for thinking about the secular. It distinguishes between separate and incommensurable aspects of so-called secularity as insubstantial - involving merely the absence of religion - and substantial - involving beliefs, ritual practice, and identities that are alternative to religious ones. Recognizing the cultural forms that present themselves as non-religious therefore opens up new, more egalitarian and more theoretically coherent ways of thinking about people who are 'not religious'. It is also argued that recognizing the nonreligious allows us to reimagine the secular itself in new and productive ways.

    This book is part of a fast-growing area of research that builds upon and contributes to theoretical debates concerning secularization, 'desecularization', religious change, postsecularity and postcolonial approaches to religion and secularism. As well as presenting new research, this book gathers insights from the wider studies of nonreligion, atheism, and secularism in order to consolidate a theoretical framework, conceptual foundation and agenda for future research.

Book section

  • Lee, L. (2019). Feeling Rational: Affinity and Affinity Narratives in British Science–Non-religion Relations. In: Jones, S., Kaden, T. and Catto, R. eds. Science, Belief and Society: International Perspectives on Religion, Non-Religion and the Public Understanding of Science. Bristol University Press. Available at: https://bristoluniversitypress.co.uk/science-belief-and-society.
  • Lee, L. (2019). Observing the Atheist at Worship: Ways of Seeing the Secular Body. In: Scheer, M., Fadil, N. and Schepelern Johansen, B. eds. Secular Bodies, Affects and Emotions: European Configurations. Bloomsbury. Available at: https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/secular-bodies-affects-and-emotions-9781350065239/.
  • Lee, L. (2017). Godlessness in the Global City. In: Garbin, D. and Strhan, A. eds. Religion and the Global City. London: Bloomsbury Academic. Available at: http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/religion-and-the-global-city-9781474272438/.
  • Lee, L. (2017). Vehicles of New Atheism: The Atheist Bus Campaign, Non-religious Representations and Material Culture. In: New Atheism: Critical Perspectives and Contemporary Debates. Dordrecht: Springer, pp. 69-86. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-54964-4_5.
    What unites New Atheist contributions in a single culture is their shared radical secularist critique of religion, made on philosophical or moral grounds. Discussion of New Atheism typically focuses on these intellectual aspects, attending to their coherence and impact. This chapter shifts attention from the ideal to the physical, demonstrating how New Atheism and related atheist cultural movements have impacted upon and worked through material environments. I argue that detailed analysis of the media via which New Atheist ideas are communicated reveals impacts and legacies that might otherwise be ignored. The Atheist Bus Campaign is used as a case study. This campaign has attracted much attention, focusing again on its intellectual and activist elements: the intentions behind it, the ideas expressed in it. In addition to this, however, the materiality of the campaign has shaped its impact and set its course in sometimes unexpected directions. The case of the bus campaign illustrates a broader argument that an investigation of the impact and legacy of New Atheism must look not only to its intellectual content but also to the social and cultural vehicles of that content and to their movement through time and space.
  • Lee, L. (2017). Ambivalent Atheist Identities: Power and Non-religious Culture in Contemporary Britain. In: Blanes, R. L. and Oustinova-Stjepanovic, G. eds. Being Godless: Ethnographies of Atheism and Non-Religion. New York, NY & Oxford: Barghahn Books. Available at: http://www.berghahnbooks.com/title/BlanesBeing.
  • Lee, L. (2017). Religion, Difference, and Indifference. In: Quack, J. and Schuh, C. eds. Religious Indifference. Springer, pp. 101-121. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-48476-1_6.
  • Lee, L. (2016). Polar Opposites? Diversity and Dialogue among the Religious and Nonreligious. In: Carroll, A. and Norman, R. J. eds. Religion and Atheism: Beyond the Divide. London: Routledge, pp. 167-176. Available at: https://www.routledge.com/Religion-and-Atheism-Beyond-the-Divide/Carroll-Norman/p/book/9781138891913.
  • Lee, L. (2016). Introduction - Negotiating Religion: A Reflexive Approach. In: Guesnet, F., Laborde, C. and Lee, L. eds. Negotiating Religion: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives. London: Routledge (Taylor & Francis), pp. 1-15. Available at: https://www.routledge.com/Negotiating-Religion-Cross-disciplinary-perspectives/Guesnet-Laborde-Lee/p/book/9781472437297.
  • Lee, L. (2016). Nonreligion. In: Strausberg, M. and Engler, S. eds. The Oxford Handbook of the Study of Religion. Oxford University Press, pp. 84-94. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780198729570.013.6.
    Beginning with a focus on ‘secularism’ in the mid-1990s and extending to the study of ‘secularity,’ ‘atheism,’ and ‘irreligious’ and ‘non-religious’ cultures from the mid-2000s onwards, the study of religion’s various ‘others’ is receiving increasing attention from scholars of religion. This chapter untangles the key topic strands in this broad area: non-religious populations; ‘religious-like’ phenomena such as non-religious lifecycle ceremonies and worldviews; dialectics between the religious and non-religious or secular; and secularist regimes of power. It outlines the theoretical concerns of these projects: rival accounts of secularism/s (e.g. postcolonial critiques, realist ‘multiple’ approaches); new ways of investigating and challenging secularization theory; and ‘egalitarian’ approaches to religion which challenge the idea that religion is unique—a sole example of a type. Each of these overlapping areas of research are young fields, and conceptual resources and distinctions are therefore works in progress and require careful negotiation.
  • Lee, L. and Campbell, C. (2015). Irreligion. In: Segal, R. A. and von Stuckrad, K. eds. Vocabulary for the Study of Religion. Leiden: BRILL.
  • Bardon, A., Birnbaum, M., Lee, L. and Stoeckl, K. (2015). Introduction: Pluralism and Plurality. In: Bardon, A., Birnbaum, M., Lee, L., Stoeckl, K. and Roy, O. eds. Religious Pluralism: A Resource Book. Florence: European University Institute, pp. 1-10. Available at: http://cadmus.eui.eu/handle/1814/37704.
  • Lee, L. (2013). Western Europe. In: Bullivant, S. and Ruse, M. eds. The Oxford Handbook of Atheism. Oxford University Press. Available at: https://global.oup.com/academic/product/the-oxford-handbook-of-atheism-9780199644650?q=The%20Oxford%20Dictionary%20of%20Atheism&lang=en&cc=gb#.
  • Lee, L. (2013). Introduction: Resuming a Sociology of Irreligion. In: Toward a Sociology of Irreligion. Alcuin Academics.

Edited book

  • Lee, L. (2016). Negotiating Religion, Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives. [Online]. Guesnet, F., Laborde, C. and Lee, L. eds. Routledge. Available at: https://www.routledge.com/Negotiating-Religion-Cross-disciplinary-perspectives/Guesnet-Laborde-Lee/p/book/9781472437297.
    Negotiating religious diversity, as well as negotiating different forms and degrees of commitment to religious belief and identity, constitutes a major challenge for all societies. Recent developments such as the ‘de-secularisation’ of the world, the transformation and globalisation of religion and the attacks of September 11 have made religious claims and religious actors much more visible in the public sphere. This volume provides multiple perspectives on the processes through which religious communities create or defend their place in a given society, both in history and in our world today.

    Offering a critical, cross-disciplinary investigation into processes of negotiating religion and religious diversity, the contributors present new insights on the meaning and substance of negotiation itself. This volume draws on diverse historical, sociological, geographic, legal and political theoretical approaches to take a close look at the religious and political agents involved in such processes as well as the political, social and cultural context in which they take place. Its focus on the European experiences that have shaped not only the history of ‘negotiating religion’ in this region but also around the world, provides new perspectives for critical inquiries into the way in which contemporary societies engage with religion.

    This study will be of interest to academics, lawyers and scholars in law and religion, sociology, politics and religious history.
  • Lee, L. (2015). Religious Pluralism: A Resource Book. [Online]. Bardon, A., Birnbaum, M., Lee, L., Stoeckl, K. and Roy, O. eds. Florence : European University Institute. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.2870/860588.
    Human societies have always been diverse but the modern period is distinctive, shaped by new forms of communication, global migration and media that have given rise to more pronounced and more established forms of diversity and perhaps even to ‘hyper-diversity’. This publication concentrates on religious diversity and it provides a set of conceptual and theoretical resources for approaching different discourses around religious diversity, highlighting in particular the distinctive approaches and sensitivities that emerge from different disciplinary engagements.
  • Lee, L. (2013). Secularity and Non-Religion. Arweck, E., Bullivant, S. and Lee, L. eds. Routledge.
    The present collection brings together a set of essays which shed light on recent research into non-religion, secularity and atheism?topics which have been emerging as important areas of current research in a number of different disciplines. The essays cover a wide span?in terms of the various stances they discuss (secular, atheist, non-religious), the settings in which these topics are relevant (families, wider society, politics, demography) and the different perspectives which relate to socialisation and social relations (belief acquisition, discrimination). Written by authors from a variety of national settings and academic disciplines, the collection presents a range of methodologies, combining theoretical approaches with quantitative and qualitative research findings. The authors address issues related to an important academic field which had been neglected for some time, but which has been made relevant by the increasing percentage of people professing a non-religious stance. This collection represents a major contribution to this area of academic research, not only because it puts the themes of non-religion and secularity firmly on the academic map, but also because it offers a variety of different viewpoints and aims to bring clarity into the use of concepts and terminology. The authors make important contributions to the emerging body of research in this area and point out areas where further research is needed. The first essay provides a thorough introduction to this field, taking stock of the work done so far, highlighting the overarching issues, and embedding the essays in the wider context of existing literature.

Edited journal

  • Day, A. and Lee, L. eds. (2014). Making sense of surveys and censuses: Issues in religious self-identification. Religion [Online] 44. Available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/rrel20/44/3.
  • Bullivant, S. and Lee, L. eds. (2012). Non-religion and Secularity. Journal of Contemporary Religion [Online] 27. Available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/cjcr20/27/1?nav=tocList.
  • Behrensen, M., Lee, L. and Tekelioglu, A.S. eds. (2011). Modernities Revisited. Junior Visiting Fellows’ Conferences [Online] XXIX. Available at: http://www.iwm.at/publications/visiting-fellows-conferences/vol-29/.


  • Bullivant, S., Farias, M., Lanman, J. and Lee, L. (2019). Understanding Unbelief: Atheists and Agnostics Around the World. St Mary’s University Twickenham. Available at: https://research.kent.ac.uk/understandingunbelief/wp-content/uploads/sites/45/2019/05/UUReportRome.pdf.
    This report presents emerging findings from the core research project of the Understanding Unbelief programme (2017-2020). Understanding Unbelief: Across Disciplines and Across Cultures (ADAC) seeks to map the nature and diversity of the varied phenomena traditionally – albeit problematically and contestedly – labelled as ‘unbelief’, across different national settings.


  • Day, A., Lee, L., Thomas, D. and Spickard, J. (2020). Doing Diversity in Academia: Practices and Pitfalls. Bristol: Bristol University Press.
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