‘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 atheism 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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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

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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

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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

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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

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