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Ruth McFarlane


What are you currently researching?

I am investigating psychological correlates of atheism. I am interested in why people lose their faith, why some people never engage with religious belief systems and the evolution of ideas associated with religious belief. I am utilising meme theory to provide a framework for explaining the evolution of belief and non-belief, and the transmission of ideas from mind to mind, culture to culture.

My supervisors are Dr George Van Doorn and Dr Mark Symmons.

Where has your research taken you?

My research has provided opportunities for me to meet with atheist groups and religious fraternities, and discuss issues associated with spirituality, faith, non-belief and the social isolation that can follow "coming-out" as an atheist.

What facet of Monash University contributes most to your research?

The supportive and congenial environment is fantastic. I have found the  attention and interest afforded me by my supervisors to be very encouraging. The support staff at the Gippsland campus have been unfailingly helpful. The extensive library research databases are a great help too. The best thing about Monash is the people; they make the academic experience a positive one.

What have you enjoyed the most about undertaking research in your subject area?

I love the field of social psychology. I am fascinated by the factors that affect human interactions: why we act differently in differing social settings, why we make errors of judgment, why we fear or love others. This subject area is very "real" and applied. Social psychology is a facet of the psychological field that can literally change lives by providing knowledge and understanding of human behaviour.

What has been the greatest challenge?

Probably the most testing challenge has been the preliminary research; finding appropriate inventories and organising the ideas has been time consuming and mentally demanding. My interest area has not been extensively researched, which makes it a great topic to investigate, but the flipside is that there isn't much to guide me. That's half the fun though!!