Defining Terms of Belief
A Critique of Belief | Neurotheology - is God in our Heads?
The Evolutionary Advantages of Faith | The Biological Basis of Belief | Why do we have Beliefs? | Why are Beliefs held so Dearly? | The Stages of Belief
The Contradictions of Atheistic Assumption in the Social Sciences | Science as Religion
Joining and Leaving a Minority Religion
Why Someone Might Choose Neo-Paganism Over Mainstream Religion
On Medieval Heresy | The Perceived Dichotomy Between Sexuality and Spirituality
Religion as a Tool for Social Control
Some Researchers clearly believe this is a concept much in need of discussion.
The verb 'to believe' is used within at least three different, more or less well-defined, grammatical structures (in what follows, the words 'subject' and 'object' are used in their strictly grammatical sense):
[Subject] believes (that) [object clause].
For example, 'I believe that the sun will rise.' The word 'that' is parenthesised because it can be dropped - as in 'I believe we're lost,' or 'I believe you're mad' or 'I believe we should recycle more.'
[Subject] believes [agent responsible for some claim].
This can be rendered into structure 1) as '[Subject] believes (that) [agent] has related a true claim,' where by 'true claim', we mean a claim which could be used as an object clause in a structure 1) belief claim.
'[Subject] believes in [object]'
Examples could include (a) 'I believe in God,' (b) 'I believe in forgiveness,' (c) 'I believe in ghosts,' (d) 'I believe in Santa Claus,' (e) 'I believe in myself,' (f) 'I believe in capitalism,' and (g) 'I believe in nothing.'
This third structure can also be translated into structure 1), but the object clause is left somewhat open-ended. '[Subject] believes in [object]' is roughly equivalent to '[Subject] believes that [some claim about object].'
Here is an attempt to render the above examples as structure 1) belief claims:
'I believe in ghosts.' = 'I believe that ghosts exist.'
'I believe in Santa Claus' = 'I believe that Santa Claus exists' or 'I believe that the myth of Santa Claus embodies principles which should be supported through the continuation of said myth.'
'I believe in myself' = 'I believe that I am good enough, or strong enough, or whatever to carry out whatever is the task at hand (Win the gold medal? Do the 'right thing'? Achieve happiness?).'
'I believe in capitalism' = 'I believe that the concept of capitalism embodies an accurate description of the world and a desirable set of maxims for successful behaviour in said world.'
Each of these renderings could no doubt take many different forms, and different people could make the same structure 3) belief claim and mean vastly different things. Two examples are omitted from the last list - the examples about belief in God and nothing. These are omitted because they're more complicated and deserve more discussion.
'Belief in God' could mean belief that we should do something, belief that God exists, belief that the myth of God should be promulgated, belief that some set of events will come to pass, or belief that the concept of God embodies a set of descriptions and prescriptions which has, as a set, a high degree of fitness for bringing about some desired state.
'Belief in nothing' could mean belief that there exists no statement to which we can attribute truth (including this one?), or belief that there can be no certainty in life, or something else confusing or depressing.