An Integrative Complexity Analysis of Religious and Irreligious Thinking

Shannon C. Houck, Lucian G. Conway, Kimberly Parrow, Alex Luce, Joeann M. Salvati

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Stereotypical views cast religious believers as closed-minded, unthinking individuals, and irreligious persons as comparatively more intellectual and complex. But are these perceptions accurate? To investigate, three studies assessed differences between religious and irreligious thinking on Integrative Complexity (IC). In Study 1, six atheist–Christian opponents were selected for IC. Findings revealed that Christians were significantly more complex than their atheist counterparts overall, but variability existed across comparisons. Study 2 examined persons writing about what matters most to them, finding that people more likely to generate religious language had significantly higher complexity. Study 3 evaluated a famous atheist-to-religious convert (C.S. Lewis) who wrote comparable materials during an irreligious and religious phase of his life. Results demonstrated that Lewis’ complexity was higher during his religious phase. Taken together, Studies 1 to 3 suggest that religious thinkers are sometimes more complex than nonreligious thinkers and vice versa—variability that sometimes goes unnoticed in public circles.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalSAGE Open
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1 2018


  • atheism
  • integrative complexity
  • public perception
  • religiosity
  • stereotypes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities
  • General Social Sciences


Dive into the research topics of 'An Integrative Complexity Analysis of Religious and Irreligious Thinking'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this