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.
Godless People, Doubt, and Atheism
Ruy Llera Blanes and Galina Oustinova-Stjepanovic
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.
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.
Ronjon Paul Datta
Alexander Tristan Riley. Godless Intellectuals? The Intellectual Pursuit of the Sacred Reinvented, New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2010, 298 pp.
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.
That all happened many years ago. To my surprise, and regret, I am the one still here to tell the story. Ruth was younger than me by so many years, but the hand of God works in its own mysterious way. There are those who still say that her death was my punishment for marrying someone like her, from an enemy people and a godless society. So I feel it is up to me to set the record straight. To tell Ruth's story as she might have told it herself. I will do my best and I hope to do justice to an extraordinary woman., who in a brief moment changed my prejudice and fear into acceptance and love. Who gave me a new life. When Oved comes of age he can learn from her own words the story of his true mother.
Jack Hunter, Annelin Eriksen, Jon Mitchell, Mattijs van de Port, Magnus Course, Nicolás Panotto, Ruth Barcan, David M. R. Orr, Girish Daswani, Piergiorgio Di Giminiani, Pirjo Kristiina Virtanen, Sofía Ugarte, Ryan J. Cook, Bettina E. Schmidt and Mylene Mizrahi
. Being Godless: Ethnographies of Atheism and Non-Religion . Reviewed by Jon Mitchell As Matthew Engelke points out in his afterword to this timely volume, “atheism is having a ‘moment’” (p. 138). With it, the study of atheism, secularism, non