‘Godless Cities’ and ‘Religious Enclaves’? The Distribution of Religion and Nonreligion in England and Wales.

Katherine Sissons discusses what the data visualisationKSissons photo 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.

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The 2014 SSSR Annual Meeting: A Testament to the Growing Popularity and Importance of Secularism and Nonreligion Research.


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 Coleman profile 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

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Investigating the Social Cost of Atheism in the US

Kyle Thompson discusses the findings of a recent U.S. study which examined how perceived religiosity might influence appraisalsOCBX8q 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

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Atheism and Stigma

Siân Eleri Jones discusses the role of stigma, particularly self-stigma, in expressions of nonreligious self-identity. image

 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

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‘Atheist Churches’ Aren’t New

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 an400480_321189627925542_1317679353_n(1) 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

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Taking Atheism to School


Reflecting on her research among women atheists Janet Eccles highlights how encounters with religion in everyday life can shape Janet Ecclesexperiences 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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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