Tag Archives: Atheism

Luehrmann, “Religion in Secular Archives”

In August, the Oxford University Press releases “Religion in Secular Archives: Soviet Atheism and Historical Knowledge,” by Sonja Luehrmann (Simon Fraser University).  The publisher’s description follows:

What can atheists tell us about religious life? Russian archives contain a wealth of information on religiosity during the Soviet era, but most of it is written from the hostile perspective of officials and scholars charged with promoting atheism. Based on archival research in locations as diverse as the multi-religious Volga region, Moscow, and Texas, Sonja Luehrmann argues that we can learn a great deal about Soviet religiosity when we focus not just on what documents say but also on what they did. Especially during the post-war decades (1950s-1970s), the puzzle of religious persistence under socialism challenged atheists to develop new approaches to studying and theorizing religion while also trying to control it. Taking into account the logic of filing systems as well as the content of documents, the book shows how documentary action made religious believers firmly a part of Soviet society while simultaneously casting them as ideologically alien. When juxtaposed with oral, printed, and samizdat sources, the records of institutions such as the Council of Religious Affairs and the Communist Party take on a dialogical quality. In distanced and carefully circumscribed form, they preserve traces of encounters with religious believers. By contrast, collections compiled by western supporters during the Cold War sometimes lack this ideological friction, recruiting Soviet believers into a deceptively simple binary of religion versus communism. Through careful readings and comparisons of different documentary genres and depositories, this book opens up a difficult set of sources to students of religion and secularism.

Plantinga, “Knowledge and Christian Belief”

Professor Alvin Plantinga’s (Notre Dame) important book, Warranted ChristianPlantinga.ashx Belief, was a meditation on the relationship of Christian faith and reason. It was a work in epistemology of religion–an attempt to answer the question about the irrationality or the lack of justification for Christian belief.

Plantinga has now written a shorter volume for non-experts, Knowledge and Christian Belief, just published in April by Eerdmans. The publisher’s description follows:

In his widely praised Warranted Christian Belief (Oxford, 2000) Alvin Plantinga discussed in great depth the question of the rationality, or sensibility, of Christian belief. In this book Plantinga presents the same ideas in a briefer, much more accessible fashion.

Recognized worldwide as a leading Christian philosopher, Plantinga probes what exactly is meant by the claim that religious — and specifically Christian — belief is irrational and cannot sensibly be held. He argues that the criticisms of such well-known atheists as Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens are completely wrong. Finally, Plantinga addresses several potential “defeaters” to Christian belief — pluralism, science, evil and suffering — and shows how they fail to successfully defeat rational Christian belief.

Ruse, “Atheism: What Everyone Needs to Know”

In December, Oxford University Press will release “Atheism: What Everyone Needs to Know”  by Michael Ruse (Florida State University). The publisher’s description follows:

Over the last decade, “New Atheists” such as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens have pushed the issue of atheism to the forefront of public discussion. Yet very few of the ensuing debates and discussions have managed to provide a full and objective treatment of the subject.

Atheism: What Everyone Needs to Know provides a balanced look at the topic, considering atheism historically, philosophically, theologically, sociologically and psychologically. Written in an easily accessible style, the book uses a question and answer format to examine the history of atheism, arguments for and against atheism, the relationship between religion and science, and the issue of the meaning of life-and whether or not one can be a happy and satisfied atheist. Above all, the author stresses that the atheism controversy is not just a matter of the facts, but a matter of burning moral concern, both about the stand one should take on the issues and the consequences of one’s commitment.

“Atheism and Deism Revalued: Heterodox Religious Identities in Britain, 1650-1800” (Hudson et al. eds.)

In December, Ashgate Publishing will release “Atheism and Deism Revalued: Heterodox Religious Identities in Britain, 1650-1800” edited by Wayne Hudson (Charles Sturt University), Diego Lucci (American University in Bulgaria), and Jeffrey R. Wigelsworth (Red Deer College). The publisher’s description follows:

Given the central role played by religion in early-modern Britain, it is perhaps surprising that historians have not always paid close attention to the shifting and nuanced subtleties of terms used in religious controversies. In this collection particular attention is focussed upon two of the most contentious of these terms: ‘atheism’ and ‘deism’, terms that have shaped significant parts of the scholarship on the Enlightenment.

This volume argues that in the seventeenth and eighteenth century atheism and deism involved fine distinctions that have not always been preserved by later scholars. The original deployment and usage of these terms were often more complicated than much of the historical scholarship suggests. Indeed, in much of the literature static definitions are often taken for granted, resulting in depictions of the past constructed upon anachronistic assumptions.

Offering reassessments of the historical figures most associated with ‘atheism’ and ‘deism’ in early modern Britain, this collection opens the subject up for debate and shows how the new historiography of deism changes our understanding of heterodox religious identities in Britain from 1650 to 1800. It problematises the older view that individuals were atheist or deists in a straightforward sense and instead explores the plurality and flexibility of religious identities during this period. Drawing on the most recent scholarship, the volume enriches the debate about heterodoxy, offering new perspectives on a range of prominent figures and providing an overview of major changes in the field.

Cimino & Smith, “Atheist Awakening”

This October, Oxford University Press will release “Atheist Awakening: Secular Activism and Community in America” by Richard Cimino (University of Richmond) and Christopher Smith.  The publisher’s description follows:

Atheist AwakeningSurveys over the last twenty years have seen an ever-growing number of Americans disclaim religious affiliations and instead check the “none” box. In the first sociological exploration of organized secularism in America, Richard Cimino and Christopher Smith show how one segment of these “nones” have created a new, cohesive atheist identity through activism and the creation of communities.

According to Cimino and Smith, the new upsurge of atheists is a reaction to the revival of religious fervor in American politics since 1980. Feeling overlooked and underrepresented in the public sphere, atheists have employed a wide variety of strategies-some evangelical, some based on identity politics-to defend and assert themselves against their ideological opponents. These strategies include building and maintaining communities, despite the absence of the kinds of shared rituals, texts, and laws that help to sustain organized religions.

Drawing on in-depth interviews with self-identified atheist, secularist, and humanist leaders and activists, as well as extensive observations and analysis of secular gatherings and media, Cimino and Smith illustrate how atheists organize and align themselves toward common goals, and how media-particularly web-based media-have proven invaluable in connecting atheists to one another and in creating a powerful virtual community. Cimino and Smith suggest that secularists rely not only on the Internet for community-building, but on their own new forms of ritual.

This groundbreaking study will be essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the growing atheist movement in America.

Eagleton, “Culture and the Death of God”

Next month, Yale University Press will publish Culture and the Death of 9780300203998God, by Terry Eagleton (University of Lancaster). This book should spark thoughtful and intriguing dialogue. The publisher’s description follows.

How to live in a supposedly faithless world threatened by religious fundamentalism? Terry Eagleton, formidable thinker and renowned cultural critic, investigates in this thought-provoking book the contradictions, difficulties, and significance of the modern search for a replacement for God. Engaging with a phenomenally wide range of ideas, issues, and thinkers from the Enlightenment to today, Eagleton discusses the state of religion before and after 9/11, the ironies surrounding Western capitalism’s part in spawning not only secularism but also fundamentalism, and the unsatisfactory surrogates for the Almighty invented in the post-Enlightenment era.

The author reflects on the unique capacities of religion, the possibilities of culture and art as modern paths to salvation, the so-called war on terror’s impact on atheism, and a host of other topics of concern to those who envision a future in which just and compassionate communities thrive. Lucid, stylish, and entertaining in his usual manner, Eagleton presents a brilliant survey of modern thought that also serves as a timely, urgently needed intervention into our perilous political present.

Why Would Anyone Think He Doesn’t Take This Seriously?

Photo from the Huffington Post

A “Pastafarian” has taken the oath of office for the town council in Pomfret, New York, wearing a colander on his head. From the Huffington Post:

The newly-elected council member’s bizarre choice of millinery was due to his membership of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, an atheist group founded in 2005 and named after Richard Dawkins’ now-famous ‘Dead Gods’ criticism of religion.

Schaeffer told the local Observer newspaper: “It’s just a statement about religious freedom… It’s a religion without any dogma.”

The Town of Pomfret is in Chautauqua County in upstate New York. According to Wikipedia, the population is 14,965. Not counting clowns.

“The Oxford Handbook of Atheism” (Bullivant & Ruse, eds.)

Next month, Oxford will release The Oxford Handbook of Atheism, edited by Stephen Bullivant (St. Mary’s University College) and Michael Ruse (Florida State University). The publisher’s description follows:

Recent books by, among others, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens have thrust atheism firmly into the popular, media, and academic spotlight. This so-called New Atheism is arguably the most striking development in western socio-religious culture of the past decade or more. As such, it has spurred fertile (and often heated) discussions both within, and between, a diverse range of disciplines. Yet atheism, and the New Atheism, are by no means co-extensive. Interesting though it indeed is, the New Atheism is a single, historically and culturally specific manifestation of positive atheism (the that there is/are no God/s), which is itself but one form of a far deeper, broader, and more significant global phenomenon.

The Oxford Handbook of Atheism is a pioneering edited volume, exploring atheism – understood in the broad sense of “an absence of belief in the existence of a God or gods” – in all the richness and diversity of its historical and contemporary expressions. Bringing together an international team of established and emerging scholars, it probes the varied manifestations and implications of unbelief from an array of disciplinary perspectives (philosophy, history, sociology, anthropology, demography, psychology, natural sciences, gender and sexuality studies, literary criticism, film studies, musicology) and in a range of global contexts (Western Europe, North America, post-communist Europe, the Islamic world, Japan, India). Both surveying and synthesizing previous work, and presenting the major fruits of innovative recent research, the handbook is set to be a landmark text for the study of atheism.

“The Original Atheists” (S.T. Joshi, ed.)

Next month, Random House publishes The Original Atheists, an anthology of 18th-century writings edited by S.T. Joshi. (Did atheism really originate in the 18th Century?). The publisher’s description follows:

This is the first anthology ever published to feature the writings of leading eighteenth-century thinkers on the subjects of atheism, religion, freethought, and secularism.

Editor S. T. Joshi has compiled notable essays by writers from Germany, France, England, and early America. The contributors include Denis Diderot (a principal author of the multivolume French Encyclopédie), Baron d’Holbach (System of Nature, 1770), Voltaire (Philosophical Dictionary), David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Ethan Allen, Thomas Paine, and other lesser-known thinkers.

With a comprehensive introduction providing the intellectual and cultural context of the essays, this outstanding compilation will be of interest to students of philosophy, religious studies, and eighteenth-century intellectual history.

Pope Francis’s Remarks on “Social Dialogue in a Context of Religious Freedom”

Pope Francis has issued an Apostolic Exhortation–Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”)–which ranges over many subjects, emphasizing in particular and in many places the obligations of Catholics toward the poor and toward realizing just social, political, and economic arrangements.

In a substantial portion of the Exhortation (beginning at paragraph 182), the Pope discusses the social teaching of the Church and he focuses on two issues: the alleviation of poverty and the Church’s special concern for the poor; and “The Common Good and Peace in Society.” As to the latter, and because they involve issues of religion and public life that we consider here at the Center, here are the Pope’s remarks (footnotes omitted) about the importance of “social dialogue in a context of religious freedom,” which conclude his reflections on the social dimension of the Gospel:

255. The Synod Fathers spoke of the importance of respect for religious freedom, viewed as a fundamental human right. This includes “the freedom to choose the religion which one judges to be true and to manifest one’s beliefs in public” A healthy pluralism, one which genuinely respects differences and values them as such, does not entail privatizing religions in an attempt to reduce them to the quiet obscurity of the individual’s conscience or to relegate them to the enclosed precincts of churches, synagogues or mosques. This would represent, in effect, a new form of discrimination and authoritarianism. The respect due to the agnostic or non-believing minority should not be arbitrarily imposed in a way that silences the convictions of the believing majority or ignores the wealth of religious traditions. In the long run, this would feed resentment rather than tolerance and peace.

256. When considering the effect of religion on public life, one must distinguish the different ways in which it is practiced. Intellectuals and serious journalists frequently descend to crude and superficial generalizations in speaking of the shortcomings of religion, and often prove incapable of realizing that not all believers – or religious leaders – are the same. Some politicians take advantage of this confusion to justify acts of discrimination. At other times, contempt is shown for writings which reflect religious convictions, overlooking the fact that religious classics can prove meaningful in every age; they have an enduring power to open new horizons, to stimulate thought, to expand the mind and the heart. This contempt is due to the myopia of a certain rationalism. Is it reasonable and enlightened to dismiss certain writings simply because they arose in a context of religious belief? These writings include principles which are profoundly humanistic and, albeit tinged with religious symbols and teachings, they have a certain value for reason.

257. As believers, we also feel close to those who do not consider themselves part of any religious tradition, yet sincerely seek the truth, goodness and beauty which we believe have their highest expression and source in God. We consider them as precious allies in the commitment to defending human dignity, in building peaceful coexistence between peoples and in protecting creation. A special place of encounter is offered by new Areopagi such as the Court of the Gentiles, where “believers and non-believers are able to engage in dialogue about fundamental issues of ethics, art and science, and about the search for transcendence”. This too is a path to peace in our troubled world.