The Paradoxes of Secularism in Contemporary Japan

Jason Ānanda Josephson discusses evidence from Japan regarding the complexity of  employing Euro-American Jason Josephsonunderstanding of concepts such as religion, nonreligion and secularism  in other cultural contexts.

Probably the most surprising Japanese bestseller of 1996 was a short monograph written in a largely accessible style by Ama Toshimaro, a professor of International Studies at Meiji Gakuin University, titled Why Are the Japanese Non-Religious? (Nihonjin wa naze mushūkyō nanoka). This monograph had a widespread appeal in Japan partially because it touched on a seeming paradox: that many Japanese who claim to be ‘without religion’ (mushūkyō, 無宗教) actually engage in activities–Buddhist funerals, Christian weddings, Shinto festivals, prayer ceremonies at Shinto shrines–that seem to Ama and other observers to be profoundly religious (Ama, 1996: 8-10). This work presented a seeming contradiction between self-identified secularity and popular religious activity. Moreover, as European scholars were quick to note, the very Japanese citizens who claimed to lack religion attended multiple religious institutions without seeming to experience any incongruity. Restated, Japan seems to be a repository of paradoxical diversity in which each given ‘areligious’ citizen practices a plurality of religions.

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Utopian New Atheism? Review of A. C. Graylings’s ‘The God Argument’

Jolyon Agar discusses the moral framework presented in ‘The God Argument: The Case Against Religion and For Humanism’ by A.C. Grayling (2013).Agar

A.C. Grayling’s recent contribution to the burgeoning literature on so-called ‘New Atheism’ is, on first appearance at least, a more promising affair than that offered by (among others) Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. Unlike these other writers, Grayling is able to critique the philosophical foundations of religious belief as a professional philosopher. Much more intriguing was Grayling’s implicit promise to desist from unrelenting criticism of religion and instead provide details of what the alternative world guided by New Atheist principles might look like: how a moral framework shaped by atheistic humanism might tackle hugely divisive social issues such as assisted suicide, recreational drug use, divorce and sexual morality. Continue reading

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Event Report: The Association for the Sociology of Religion Annual Meeting

Amanda Schutz sat in on a session covering issues of nonreligion at the Association for the Sociology of ReligionIMG_0143 annual meeting, which took place in San Francisco, California, 13th-15th of August. Here, she shares her interpretations of these presentations and her thoughts on how they represent a step in the right direction for this growing field.

The Association for the Sociology of Religion annual meeting demonstrated that the subfield is slowly acknowledging the significance of nonreligion and recognizing where the gaps in our current understanding lay. While discussions of secularism and secularization littered the sessions, only one was dedicated to issues of nonreligion. Although the session title was changed from ‘Religious Nones’ to ‘Religious Identities, Narratives, and Strategies’, three of the four presentations still dealt with topics related to nonreligion, with all three tackling questions that have remained unexplored. Continue reading

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A Dialectic Atheology – Understanding the Past, Present and Future of Atheism

Charles Devellennes sets out his ideas for developing a dialectic theory of atheology, as an alternative to Professional shotattempting to unify different forms of atheism.

Is there a continuity between various strands of atheism, despite all of their differences? This important question – for atheists and those who study atheism – is difficult to answer because it is not easy to see what the bluntness of the new atheists has in common with the subtlety of other philosophers of nonreligion, such as Richard Rorty or William Connolly. Instead of attempting to find a unifying theory of atheism, I have proposed, in a recent article published in Telos, that we need a dialectic theory of atheology. Continue reading

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Review: 50 Voices of Disbelief

Eric Chalfant reviews Blackford and Schüklenk’s 50 Voices of Disbelief (2009), and notes that, although intended for a lay 20140514_144016audience, 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.
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Disaster and Nonreligion: Secular Theodicy from Japan


Christopher Craig Brittain discusses how the work of artist Koki Tanaka (produced in response to the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in 2011)Brittain Photo 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

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‘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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