Joseph Langston

Existential Security, Cultural Values, and Evolved Cognitive Biases: Their Relation to Religious Change Across Cultures


Joseph double majored in psychology and sociology, having received degrees from Arkansas State University in 2007; he also holds a Masters degree in sociology from the University of Colorado Colorado Springs (2012).  His Masters thesis examined the extent to which external locus of control discriminated between theists (believers) and atheists (nonbelievers) across groups for gender, race, and age.  In Fall 2014, he served his first academic post as Lecturer of Religion in Society at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.  Across 2016 and 2017, he worked as a research associate in the Department for Behavioral Science and Leadership at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.  In 2019 he joined Victoria University of Wellington’s Mind in Context Lab to pursue a PhD in Psychology.  Joseph's general research interests concern questions on how religious beliefs and practices are transmitted (or not) across generations, and what makes this process more or less effective; how or why people become more "religious" or less "religious" over the human lifespan in different cultures; and how the cultural and cognitive factors involved in such changes can be statistically modeled.  He also helps to organize the Atheist Research Collaborative, which seeks to advance research within the sociology and psychology of atheism and nonreligion.  His dissertation will investigate how the intersection of existential security, cross-cultural values, and evolved cognitive biases relate to religious belief, and changes in (non)religiosity, across different cultures.  When he's not working, Joseph likes to explore local craft beers with friends, watch comedies on Netflix, and play one of the three video game systems he brought with him to New Zealand.


BA, Sociology (hon), 2007
BS, Psychology (hon), 2007
MA, Sociology, 2012

Research Interests

  • structural and individual-difference factors involved in religious change
  • the existential security thesis of religion
  • the cognitive science of religion
  • theories of religion


Langston, J., Albanesi, H.P., & Facciani, M. (2019). Toward faith:  A qualitative study of how atheists convert to Christianity. Journal of Religion & Society, 1-23.

Langston, J., Speed, D., & Coleman, T.J. III. (2018). Predicting age of atheism: Credibility enhancing displays and religious importance, choice, and conflict in family of upbringing. Religion, Brain, and Behavior, DOI: 10.1080/2153599X.2018.1502678|

Speed, D., Coleman, T., & Langston, J.  (2018). What do you mean “What does it all mean?” Nonreligion, atheism, and meaning in life. SAGE Open, 8(1), 1-13.

Langston, J., Hammer, J., Cragun, R., & Sikes, M.E. (2017). Inside the mind and movement of America's nonbelievers: Organizational functions, (non)participation, and attitudes toward religion.  In Organized Secularism in America, edited by Ryan Cragun, Lori Fazzino, and Christel Manning. De Gruyter: New York.

Langston, J., Hammer, J., & Cragun, R. T. (2015). Atheism looking in: On the goals and strategies of organized nonbelief. Science, Religion and Culture, 2(3), 70-85.

Langston, J. (2014). Explaining atheism: Testing Hunter’s Durkheimian theory. Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion, 10, 10.

PhD topic

Existential Security, Cultural Values, and Evolved Cognitive Biases:  Their Relation to Religious Change Across Cultures.


Lab Association

Mind in Context Lab - Directed by Dr Rita McNamara

The Mind in Context Lab studies the ways that social contexts of culture, society, and ecology shape the ways that people see each other and the world around them.