Psychology, Meaning Making, and the Study of Worldviews: Beyond Religion and Non-Religion

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Abstract

To get beyond the solely negative identities signaled by atheism and agnosticism, we have to conceptualize an object of study that includes religions and nonreligions. We advocate a shift from “religions” to “worldviews” and define worldviews in terms of the human ability to ask and reflect on “big questions” (BQs; e.g., what exists? how should we live?). From a worldviews perspective, atheism, agnosticism, and theism are competing claims about one feature of reality and can be combined with various answers to the BQs to generate a wide range of worldviews. To lay a foundation for the multidisciplinary study of worldviews that includes psychology and other sciences, we ground them in humans’ evolved world-making capacities. Conceptualizing worldviews in this way allows us to identify, refine, and connect concepts that are appropriate to different levels of analysis. We argue that the language of enacted and articulated worldviews (for humans) and worldmaking and ways of life (for humans and other animals) is appropriate at the level of persons or organisms and that the language of sense making, schemas, and meaning frameworks is appropriate at the cognitive level (for humans and other animals). Viewing the meaning making processes that enable humans to generate worldviews from an evolutionary perspective allows us to raise new questions for psychology with particular relevance for the study of nonreligious worldviews.

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