So asks Don of Ed. It’s sufficiently off-topic to warrant its own thread. Here’s my own first stab at the question, but it’s doubtless very unsophisticated, and sure to be substantially revised after a robust discussion.
Belief has a wide variety of meanings connected by family resemblance.
1. A deeply held conviction, such that finding the contrary to be true would be a disturbing experience — like finding out that your father isn’t your real father. Or it might be something quite trivial — I remember discovering that a fellow student at uni, who had told me she was 26, was really 22, and it quite shook me. Children’s belief in Santa is in this category.
2. A hunch we hold on a factual question that we know is not settled one way or the other. I might claim to ‘believe’ that there is life on Mars or that the Hindenburg was sabotaged, but I wouldn’t be unsettled if the balance of evidence tipped the other way.
3. A hunch on a question that is unsettled and we know is unlikely to be settled in our lifetime, such as whether there is extraterrestrial life, or whether God or gods exist.
4. An official position we declare on some issue — factual or metaphysical — that we don’t have a firm conviction or opinion about, but on which an opinion is expected. Don’s opinion poll responses are in this category, but some people enjoy expressing such ‘beliefs’, like fashion statements.
5. A cultural identity statement: If someone raised as a Catholic says ‘We believe that in the Eucharist bread is transformed into the body of Christ’, they may be combining two factual statements — (i) here is a piece of Catholic doctrine and (ii) I am, due to circumstances of history, identified as a Catholic. The speaker’s personal convctions may remain uninterrogated and are irrelevant to the point being made.
Religious belief could be any of these. For children and extremely naive adults it most closely resembles (1). People who have deconversion experiences when they are very young usually find them very truamatic. In modern societies reflective people who remain religious progesss from (1) to (3), which is essentially optimistic agnosticism. Less reflective people progress to (4), and non-reflective people stay at (5).
There are intermediate cases between the above, but have I missed any important forms of believing, at least insofar as they relate to the question of religiosity?