Atheism is at the heart of Sartre’s philosophy but also of his reflections on writing and the choice of the imaginary. Nonetheless, atheism for him is not a matter of an acquired and self-assured spiritual option. It is a struggle against the temptation of faith, a struggle which is nothing else than the aspiration to Being, to a justified existence, to the surpassing of contingency. This is why Sartre can qualify atheism as ‘cruel’. To be victorious against the illusions of necessity, against the confusion of literature and religion, atheism is a never-ending process of liquidation of the very idea of ‘Salvation’.
We all have our conceptual bugbears, terms which, as anthropologists, cause us trouble. Over the past couple of years, an increasing number of anthropologists working in the anthropology of religion have had to face some newly prominent ones: atheism, godlessness, and (worst of all) non-religion.
Renaat Demoen’s Au pays de la grande angoisse (1950–1951)
It is well known that from 1920 to 1950, Belgian comics, embedded in a Catholic milieu, sometimes promoted anti-Communism. Au pays de la grande angoisse, drawn by Renaat Demoen and published from 1950 to 1951 in Zonneland and Petits Belges, fits into this category. Nonetheless, its ideological stance can be differentiated from that of series appearing in major Franco-Belgian magazines. Au pays de la grande angoisse is Flemish, intended only for the Belgian market, and therefore not subject to the control of the French Control Commission set up by the July 1949 law. Its critique of Eastern bloc countries is more explicit and more violent. Moreover, the story appeared in comics with a religious affiliation. It sets out to denounce the atheism of the Communists and to glorify the resistance of the believers. Ultimately, Au pays de la grande angoisse is as much a Christian comic as an adventure comic.
Godless People, Doubt, and Atheism
Ruy Llera Blanes and Galina Oustinova-Stjepanovic
In the introduction to this special issue, we set the agenda for researching the aspirations and practices of godless people who seek to thin out religion in their daily lives. We reflect on why processes of disengagement from religion have not been adequately researched in anthropology. Locating this issue's articles in the anthropological literature on doubt and atheism, we argue for the importance of a comparative investigation to analyze people's reluctance to pursue religion.
Materiality and the Morality of Atheist Materialism
Jacob Copeman and Johannes Quack
Atheists are not the only people who donate their bodies, yet the practice is strikingly prevalent in a variety of atheist circles. We concentrate here on the Indian case, exploring body donation as a key instance of the material culture of atheism. Recent efforts to reinvigorate study of the material culture of religion are to be welcomed, but they should be extended to non-religion in order to address the irony that sees scholars representing materialism as an abstract doctrine and, hence, as immaterial. Body donation holds value for Indian atheists as a bridge between 'positive' and 'negative' modes of atheist thought and action. It also provides a ready-made solution for atheist activists keen to circumvent the cadaver-centered death rituals they find so redundant.
Ruy Llera Blanes and Abel Paxe
In this article we chart the histories and political translations of atheist cultures in Angola. We explore the specific translations of atheist ideologies into practical actions that occurred in the post-independence period in the 1970s–1980s and perform an ethnographic exploration of their legacies in contemporary Angola. We also debate the problem of atheism as an anthropological concept, examining the interfaces between ideology, political agency, and social praxis. We suggest that atheism is inherently a politically biased concept, a product of the local histories and intellectual traditions that shape it.
Ronald E. Santoni
Before addressing Ronald Aronson’s Living Without God, I wish, first, to make a brief remark or two about the perspective from which I come, and secondly, to offer a few summary comments about “Sartre and Atheism,” a theme that underlies much of Aron- son’s analysis and represents a kind of subtitle for this panel-discus- sion and exchange.
John H. Gillespie
This article examines the main references to the Death of God in Sartre’s work (in ‘Un nouveau mystique’, Cahiers pour une morale, Le Diable et le bon Dieu, and Mallarmé : la lucidité et sa face d’ombre), and examines how his use of the term reveals his understanding of the development and progress of atheism in the modern world, contextualises his belief in the purity and correctness of his own version of atheism, and illustrates the persistence of his focus on God in his writing.
Adrian van den Hoven
While reading Ron Aronson’s illuminating guide to the secular life, it struck me that, given the context, an exploration of the topic of Sartre and atheism was very much in order.
Power and Non-religious Culture in Contemporary Britain
In Britain, most non-theists and atheists do not identify themselves as such in explicit terms, yet non-theistic cultural threads are interwoven through everyday discourses. This article calls for more extensive ethnographic engagement with these more diffuse—and therefore less visible and less commonly researched—forms of non-religious culture. Based on exploratory fieldwork conducted in South East England, it draws attention to one set of these indistinct non-religious forms: 'authentic' and 'inauthentic' ambivalent atheist and non-religious self-understandings and self-representations. It demonstrates how these identities may be subjectively meaningful and culturally significant and how they may be simultaneously empowering and disempowering. Scrutiny of ambivalent atheist identities points to complicated dynamics between non-religion and power and the value of attending to poorly or unmarked non-religious cultures through ethnographic work.