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.
Zdeněk R. Nešpor
The Czech Republic is widely known as 'the least religious' country in the world. However, Czechs might be considered unchurched rather than nonreligious, with various forms of modern New Age spirituality steadily gaining in popularity. The question is, therefore, what is the position of religion - both 'traditional' and 'new' - within a 'non-believing' society? The article commences with a presentation of data taken from two recent sociological surveys on religion, but the author mainly exploits ethnographical research carried out in the medium-sized Czech town of Česká Lípa to address the issue. This research examined both 'old' and 'new' church religion, 'alternative' spiritual outlets, and the religious attitudes of the general population. The author concludes that the traditional religionists of various denominations, followers of the New Age movement(s), and the 'rest' of the population can be seen as three distinctive groups within society and that mutual understanding and acceptance are practically non-existent.
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.
The Case of Belarus
There is a stereotype that such former Soviet republics as Russia, Ukraine and Belarus are totally Orthodox. However, this statement is not entirely correct, as part of the population in these countries belong to many different churches, while a large part have rather eclectic religious and para-religious beliefs. In the case of Belarus, a major part of the population belongs to two Christian confessions, Orthodox and Catholic, while many other confessions and new religious movements also exist. Religious pluralism is a practical reality in Belarus which has the reputation of the most religiously tolerant post-Soviet country. Contemporary laws provide the legal basis for the tolerant relations in the country, and there is a historical tradition of religious tolerance in Belarus. Research data from the EVS studies and national surveys are used.
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.
The Immanent Frame
Max-Planck-Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity Afterlife Research Centre
The Non-religion and Secularity Research Network
Teaching Religion in the Social Sciences
Network of Anthropology of Religion
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.
Entangled Encounters of Europe and Islam in the Age of Enlightenment
The relationship of the European Enlightenment to Islam has usually been analyzed by collating “attitudes” toward a religion conceived as constitutively non-European. Enlightenment thinkers made use of Islam and other major revealed religions to relativize and to mock the claims of the Christian church. However, the notion of Islam as irredeemably “other” to Europe is a modern projection. Many eighteenth-century people passed back and forth between Europe and lands dominated by Islam, changing their identity, language, or religion, seeking refuge or a reversal of fortunes. One such figure was Jean-Jacques Rousseau's father, Isaac. Rousseau was marked in multiple ways by the mobility between Europe and the Muslim world, and by the new ideas these crossings engendered. This study of Rousseau's treatment of Islam and the Islamic world in his life and work proposes another model for thinking about Europe and Islam in the Age of Enlightenment.
Belief and Social Identity in the Modern World
Christopher R. Cotter, Grace Davie, James A. Beckford, Saliha Chattoo, Mia Lövheim, Manuel A. Vásquez and Abby Day
I first had the pleasure of meeting the force of nature that is Abby Day back in 2010 at the Non-religion and Secularity Research Network’s “Qualitative Methods Workshop” at the University of Cambridge (Cotter 2011). Back then I was working toward my Master’s degree in Religious Studies and had little idea that in the coming years we would end up co-editing a book with Giselle Vincett (Day et al. 2013) or that I would find myself reviewing Believing in Belonging (see Cotter 2013) and collaborating on projects such as the one appearing in this journal. Given that the essays that follow this editorial introduction—from Grace Davie, James A. Beckford, Saliha Chattoo, Mia Lövheim, Manuel A. Vásquez, and Abby Day herself—engage extensively and thought-provokingly with Abby’s work, I am going to restrict my comments to two brief points. The first concerns the connections that I can see between Believing in Belonging and the growing body of research into ‘non-religion’. The second includes some reflections on the place of Abby’s work in the critical academic study of ‘religion’ more broadly.
Benjamin Grant Purzycki
Tyvan conceptions of spirit masters, their attributed domains of knowledge, and their places of devotion show signs of an adaptive function. Drawing from current research in the cognitive and evolutionary ecological studies of religion, I analyze interview data collected in the Tyva Republic during the summer of 2009 and construct an interpretation for why the ritual stone cairn (ovaa) tradition evolved and persists in Central Asia. As spirit masters in Tyva are acutely concerned with sustained costs and most ovaa that people pass are on territories of non-kin, I argue that because of the ecology of the region, the ovaa practice evolved to provide places to signal solidarity to others. Given the logic of spirit masters' concerns and ritual practice at cairns and the ecological context in which they operate, these components of traditional Tyvan religion are adaptive insofar as they foster cooperation and social bonds.