Eric Chalfant reviews Blackford and Schüklenk’s 50 Voices of Disbelief (2009), and notes that, although intended for a lay audience, the plurality of personal narratives and experiences recounted by contributors to the book serves as a reminder to academic researchers that atheists constitute a varied demographic with ‘complicated stories and multifaceted self-understandings’.
The cover of 50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists depicts a candle that has just been blown out, the smoke wafting from a dead wick. At first glance, this might seem to reflect a certain kind of negativity prevalent in treatments of deconversion, the transition from religion to atheism. We frequently hear terms like ‘loss of faith’ used to imply that the movement away from religion is one of subtraction – the peeling away of religious affiliation to something more fundamental, neutral, and untouched by processes of acculturation. This understanding of deconversion tends to lose sight of the active and creative processes involved in identity-formation. Atheism, contrary to the claims of many religionists and atheists alike, is not a purely natural state given prior to the contamination of religious ideology; it is a subject position achieved in lived experience and discourse – it is actively constructed, formed, and negotiated.
Christopher Craig Brittain discusses how the work of artist Koki Tanaka (produced in response to the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in 2011) demonstrates ways individuals respond and adapt to situations of adversity by creating new discourses of meaning and strategies for coping, which could be described as a ‘secular theodicy’.
Human responses to disasters bring to light issues that debates over the nature of ‘nonreligion’ often do not address. There is a long tradition among nonreligious writers to assume that natural disasters undermine and refute religious belief. Voltaire’s famous poem following the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 is perhaps the paradigmatic expression of this tradition, while the reaction of the Guardian’s Martin Kettle to the Asian Pacific Tsunami of 2005 serves as a more recent example. What many authors observe, however, is that the impact of a disaster on nonreligious individuals and cultures can also result in the opposite response – leading them to re-examine religious traditions or questions that had previously held little interest. Continue reading
Katherine Sissons discusses what the data visualisation tool, DataShine, can tell us about the distribution of religion and nonreligion in England and Wales.
Data from the 2011 Census has been available to the public since late 2012, but internet users can now visualise the geographical distribution of these data across England and Wales, thanks to DataShine, a data visualisation tool developed by Oliver O’Brien at UCL’s Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis. This tool can be used to see how ethnicity, age, levels of education, deprivation, self-rated health and many more variables are distributed across England and Wales. However, writing for The Guardian, Nick Mead drew attention to DataShine under the headline ‘Where do all the atheists live?’ claiming that the tool shows the ‘godless cities’ of England and Wales.
The schedule for the upcoming Annual Meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (SSSR) is a testament the ongoing interest in research related to secularism, nonreligion and atheism. Thomas J. Coleman presents an insight into what we can look forward to from the panel sponsored by the journal Secularism and Nonreligion. The Meeting will be held in Indianapolis at the end of October and you can register here.
The 2014 Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (SSSR) Annual Meeting has never seen a year like this before. There was a record number of high quality individual paper submissions accepted (over 430) and organized sessions (over 70). This includes over 35 papers focusing on secularism, nonreligion, nonbelief, and atheism from scholars as far away as Australia, Germany, and Turkey. To give some perspective, last year’s SSSR conference in Boston only had a single session dedicated to nonreligion—situated during the last time-slot of the last day (still had a packed room!). This year, conference attendees will likely find one or more sessions each day focusing on atheism and secularism. Continue reading
Kyle Thompson discusses the findings of a recent U.S. study which examined how perceived religiosity might influence appraisals of moral behaviour, considers the possible social consequences for nonreligious people, and suggests avenues for future research on this topic.
I was once dining out with my wife when a giant of a man burst into the restaurant, desperate and determined, and approached me with a humble request. ‘Hello, sir, would you be able to give me some money to buy gas? My car has broken down, and I have no way of getting home.’ Pausing, my wife and I looked at one another, telepathically communicating our mutual consent to spare the funds, when the man added, ‘Don’t worry, I’m a good Christian man.’ Was he being sincere in his attempt to validate his story with religious membership? Or was he a free-rider, playing on Christianity’s unmatched moral reputation so he could swindle naïve restaurant-goers for cigarette money? After I made my donation, fully accepting the risk of being duped, I couldn’t help thinking what would have happened to me if I were in his shoes, assuring strangers in a restaurant of my good atheist nature—I can’t imagine it would have helped my case. Continue reading
Siân Eleri Jones discusses the role of stigma, particularly self-stigma, in expressions of nonreligious self-identity.
It has long been recognised that historically atheists were stigmatised and ostracised from the socially accepted and seemingly encompassing religionist norm. Although blasphemy laws in the UK were abolished in 2008, ingrained attitudes that are associated with them live on in the minds and actions of some. Continue reading
The formation of the Sunday Assembly in London, and its offshoots in other parts of the world, have attracted the attention of the media; however, such types of nonreligious gathering are not entirely new. Nathan Alexander provides an overview of the historical forms of ‘atheist churches’, and highlights some of the issues faced by both old and new secular alternatives to religion.
The Sunday Assembly, an ‘atheist church,’ was formed in London in 2013, with offshoots in a number of cities in the UK, the US, and Australia soon following. These churches seek to replicate the ‘positive’ aspects of regular churches – the community, the ritual, the singing – only without the dogma. The media have taken notice of these churches, making irresistible comparisons of atheists with other religionists, most recently concerning a reported ‘schism’ between the London and New York chapters of the Sunday Assembly. What’s often missing from these kinds of media discussions, however, is that these atheist churches, and many of the dilemmas they face, are far from new. As people began to give up religion in significant numbers in nineteenth-century Europe and North America, many thinkers grappled with secular alternatives to religions, including what could be described as atheist churches. Continue reading
Reflecting on her research among women atheists Janet Eccles highlights how encounters with religion in everyday life can shape experiences of lived nonreligiosity.
To date little research has been focused on women atheists. Mahlamäki (2012) has argued that in many different contexts around the world, women have always been more religious than men and that men are more nonreligious and atheistic than women. This concerns every dimension of religion, be it belief, practice or belonging. Women are members of both traditional religious communities and new religious movements more often than men, although men have proved to be more resolute, apparently, than women as to religious beliefs. There are female atheists but their voices seem to have been heard rather less than men’s. Continue reading
Lorna Mumford reflects on how events during her field research suggest that different atheistic discourses are utilised in response to 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
Stephen LeDrew asserts that athiesm is not simply the negation or absence of religion but that it involves a complex array of epistemological, 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