Ideology, belief and commitment in motivations, justifications and catalysts for action in the face of uncertainty

Professor Kim Knott
University of Lancaster

Kim Knott is Professor of Religious and Secular Studies in the Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion at Lancaster University, and a member of 'Security Lancaster'. More information about the Fellowship can be found on the Ideology, decision-making and uncertainty website.

She works in the study of religions, using sociological and geographical approaches in particular to research relationships between the religious and the secular, and the location of religion in ostensibly secular institutions, bodies and discourses. She has researched religion in relation to diasporas and migration, ethnicity, terrorism, gender, identity, and public life, and have held research grants for much of this work. She developed a spatial approach for studying religion in secular contexts, for examining its engagement with other social and cultural institutions and issues, and for ‘breaking open the secular’ and understanding secularist and other non-religious ideologies and beliefs. She has used this approach to examine the location of religious and secular values in an English medical centre and high school, in urban multicultural landscapes, and the media. She recently followed up earlier research with a project on British media portrayals of religion and the ‘secular sacred’ which compared media coverage and representations from the early 1980s with those from 2008-10.

From 2005-11, she directed the £6.2 million interdisciplinary research programme on 'Diasporas, Migration and Identities' for the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The findings, publications and other outputs of the programme can be found online. An edited book, Diasporas: Concepts, Identities, Intersections was published in 2010. Stories, information and learning resources based on the research are presented in a non-academic book, Moving People, Changing Places

In association with the Diasporas Programme, in 2006 she was funded by the UK Home Office to review research literature in the arts and humanities on terrorism, its roots, practices and consequences. The researcher (Matthew Francis) who worked on that project, and then went on to complete his doctorate with Kim Knott on religion and the move to violence and to become editor of, will join her as RA on the Global Uncertainties Leadership Fellowship on 'Ideological commitment, boundary making and sacralisation'.

Project Summary

The over-arching theme of this Fellowship is 'The role of ideology, belief and commitment in motivations, justifications and catalysts for action in the face of uncertainty'. It aims to provide coherence for the Global Uncertainties Programme (GU), enable research to be consolidated across several core areas, make interdisciplinary links between researchers, and draw in a range of external stakeholders. Whilst being central to the GU core area of 'Ideologies and Beliefs', this theme is also relevant to the core areas of 'Terrorism', 'Transnational Organised Crime' and 'Cybersecurity', and to other areas of uncertainty and instability in relation to globalisation, financial markets and climate change.

Although sometimes overlooked or marginalised in scientific research, ideologies and beliefs often feature prominently in personal and group accounts of decision-making either as causal drivers or as explanations for the actions that follow.  Examples include the role of Islamist beliefs in radicalisation and terrorism, and the culture war being fought in the US courts on evolution versus creationism. Even in cases where actions seem to be motivated by expediency, power or financial and/or territorial gain, ideologies and beliefs may underpin material interests, may be offered as justifications or may contribute to a broad canvas of different influences. Ethnic commitments and loyalties, for example, may partly explain participation in organised crime. Nationalist political beliefs may be part of a suite of causes behind gun-running, computer hacking or money laundering.

This 30-month Fellowship brings together researchers and non-academic stakeholders in a programme of activities and events to showcase and identify new applications for research contributing to this theme. It also encompasses a more focused research project, on 'Ideological commitment, boundary making and sacralisation in radical views and threats of violence'.


The Fellowship addresses the following broad research questions:

How are ideologies, beliefs and commitments employed in decision-making and subsequent public actions, both violent and non-violent, in the face of risk and uncertainty?  In particular, what role do they play in people's motivations and the justifications they give for the choices they make? What are the relationships between various types and levels of ideology, belief and commitment and the move to such actions?

In addition, in reviewing existing research and bringing together academic and non-academic stakeholders, it focuses on two practical challenges: