The Divergent Discourses of Scientific and Humanistic Atheism

Lorna Mumford reflects on how events during her field research suggest that different atheistic discourses are utilised in response toPicture0028 differing aspects of concern regarding religiosity.

In his journal article The Evolution of Atheism: Scientific and Humanistic Approaches Stephen LeDrew provides an analytical account of developments in official atheist discourses since the publication of D’Holbach’s Systeme de la Nature in 1770. He highlights how since the nineteenth century, there has been a divergence between atheist discourses based on scientific arguments and those based on humanistic concerns. Continue reading

Posted in Reflections from the field | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Atheists are Believers

Stephen LeDrew asserts that athiesm is not simply the negation or absence of religion but that it involves a complex array of P1120706-1epistemological, ethical and political beliefs.

In the Winter 2013 issue of Sociology of Religion my article (LeDrew 2013a) on atheist identity formation is accompanied by a commentary by Jesse Smith (2013) and my reply (LeDrew 2013b). In my reply to Smith’s comments I wanted to stress one simple but very important point: atheists are also ‘believers’. I would like to clarify what I mean by this, and how approaching the topic from this point of view leads us in different directions. Continue reading

Posted in Publications | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Launch Series: The ‘Fuzzy’ Nones

In the last blog of the launch series Linda Woodhead discusses recent survey data which demonstrates the variations of opinions and beliefs among individuals who identify as having ‘noQT_lw_resized religion’; reminding us that just as ‘the religious’ do not conform to neat and tidy categories, neither do ‘the nonreligious’.

Abby Day and David Voas coined the term ‘fuzzy fidelity’ to refer to the large numbers of religious people who don’t conform to sociologists’ neat categories of what a ‘real’ religious person should look like.[i] Continue reading

Posted in Launch Series | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Launch Series: Are Religion and Nonreligion All in the Mind?

NSRN director Lois Lee explains why researchers of nonreligion must look beyond purely intellectual and cognitive expressions of lois-small1nonreligious rationalism.

‘Most people would rather die than think’, said the eminently quotable Bertrand Russell; and ‘most do so’. It is a phrase I have heard the London philosopher A. C. Grayling rehearse, more than once, over the course of my fieldwork investigating nonreligious culture and secularity in southeast England. Associated with the New Atheist movement whose chief protagonists are Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett, Grayling’s target is the ‘unthinking religious’. Continue reading

Posted in Launch Series | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Launch Series: What Do We Do When We ‘Do Life’? Studying Relations Between Religious and Non-religious Cultures

The relationship between ‘religion’ and ‘nonreligion’ is often commonly assumed to be one of division or separation. In today’s Headshot for website Strhanblog post Anna Strhan discusses how ideas about celebrating ‘life’ and ‘reason’ among both religious and nonreligious communities also highlights lines of connection and affinity.

In his 1909 essay ‘Bridge and Door’, Georg Simmel describes the human being ‘as the connecting creature who must always separate and cannot connect without separating … And the human being is likewise the bordering creature who has no border’ (1994: 174). We make sense of the world through our capacity to connect and to separate things, and Simmel argues that this guides all human activity, shaping our physical, symbolic, emotional and imagined spaces and leaving material marks in the world around us. Exploring the nature of human modes of connection and separation is fundamental to sociology, and is perhaps particularly pertinent in studying ‘nonreligion’ and its relations with ‘religion,’ as it is indexed in the very act of naming this a field of study. In my writing ‘non-religion’, what modes of uniting and disuniting shape my instinct to hyphenate the word (or not)? As the prefix ‘non’ carves out a space of separation from religion, it also draws attention to the doubled nature of lines of division: ‘the separation of objects, people or places is always shadowed by the idea – the “fantasy” or the danger – of their connection’ (Tonkiss 2005: 31). Continue reading

Posted in Launch Series | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Launch Series: Atheists and Secular Spirituality

In the latest post to the Nonreligion and Secularity’s special launch series’ Richard Cimino and Christopher Smith consider whether the idea of  ‘secular spirituality’ is really a plausible one.

Is there such a thing as a secular spirituality? A recent study found an interest in spirituality amidst a continuing secular drift in the UK. The survey (2013), sponsored by the Christian think tank Theos,  found that 77 percent of the British believe in some things that could not be explained by science and other means, and that only a quarter of those surveyed thought spiritual forces had no influence on the Earth. In other words, the study suggests that even many non-religious people don’t want to be categorized as strict materialists. Continue reading

Posted in Launch Series | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Launch Series: Why the Sudden Interest?

After a long history of neglect, what explains the sudden and sizeable growth of interest in nonreligion and secularity? NSRN director Stephen Bullivant offers his insights. 


Back in the good old days, scholars working on atheism, secularity, nonreligion or related topics didn’t have to worry about how to start their articles or books. We were spared the struggle of thinking up zingy opening lines, because – more or less – we all used the same one. ‘No tradition for the sociological study of irreligion as yet exists…’, began Colin Campbell’s 1971 book Toward a Sociology of Irreligion. And so, with only minor variations, did just about every other publication on the subject for the next forty years. Continue reading

Posted in Launch Series | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Launch Series: Nonreligion Among Australian Aboriginal Peoples

Most interest in nonreligion and secularity is focused on the West and its dominant cultures; it is argued, in fact, that such concepts have limited meaning in any other settings. In today’s launch series article, James Cox challenges this view, arguing that much can be learned by taking nonreligion as the starting point in research with other populations — Australian Aboriginals, in the case of his own work.   


The category ‘Nonreligion’ is frequently associated with debates over the secularisation process in the West or it has been linked to controversies surrounding the ‘new atheism’ and cognitive approaches within the sciences of religion.  Often overlooked in this field of study are indigenous populations.  Continue reading

Posted in Launch Series | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Launch Series: ‘Religion’ under the ‘Secular Canopy’

Andrew-BrownIn the first post of Nonreligion and Secularity’s special launch series the Guardian’s Andrew Brown reflects on the assumptions underlying public and media treatments of religion and the secular.

C.S. Lewis writes somewhere of his experience as a subaltern in the trenches that ‘everyone’ who had censored the letters of the other ranks knew about their attitude to sex. The point I want to take up is not about sex. It is about the things that ‘everyone’ knows. Only from the outside can these be seen as beliefs, just as it is only from the outside that ‘everyone’ is understood as a very exclusive category indeed – one which normally excludes the people whose letters are being censored, or, in English upper middle class usage, the servants, the locals and readers of the Daily Mail Continue reading

Posted in Launch Series | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A Different Kind of War Story: Afghan Atheism, Religious Freedom and the Mythology of Sanctuary

The UK Home Office’s recent decision to grant asylum to a young Afghan man on the grounds of his atheism has been the subject of significant media interest and debate. In this blog post NSRN StaceyGutkowskiphoto-Cropped-140x180director Stacey Gutkowski considers some of the wider cultural narratives contained within coverage of this case.

Last week the case of a 23 year old Afghan man who was granted asylum in the United Kingdom received significant attention in the British and some English-language international press. He first claimed asylum in the UK in 2007 at the age of 16 on the grounds of being an unaccompanied minor, having fled violence against his family. This claim was rejected but he was granted discretionary leave to remain until 2013 (Dugan 2014). Over the intervening years living in the UK – a country in which 65% of the population identify as having little or no religious orientation (Siegers 2010) – he gradually came to identify as an atheist. Continue reading

Posted in In the News | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment