My research focuses on atheism and secularism, primarily in the United States. Relying on qualitative, quantitative, and historical research methods, I show how the boundaries between secular, spiritual, and religious have shifted over time and how these shifts impact the ways we think about religion. Most recently, I have published on religious indifference, nonbeliever organizations, secularist lobbying, and the complex entanglements of secularism and humanism. My ongoing projects include a study of social justice activism among secularists and a monograph on organized nonbelievers in the United States. I have also conducted research among born-again Christians in America and Zambia, especially Jehovah’s Witnesses, and I continue to be interested in how evangelicals and nonbelievers imagine one another.
In my teaching and writing, I draw attention to the contingent and often fragile ways that we decide what is religious and what is not. I’m most interested in moments in which these decisions have real consequences—be they legal, financial, or emotional—because they show us why the study of religion is so important. Attending to when symbolic boundaries produce conflict or enable new projects helps us understand where our practices and beliefs come from. As a process of reflection, it also makes available new ways of imagining our ongoing relationship with our inheritance and those things we call secular, spiritual, or religious.
This review essay on Public Books gives my perspective on atheism and how to study it.
This forum that I co-organized at The Immanent Frame explores whether atheism and secularism constitute a tradition that we can study sort of like a religion.
You can listen to me being interviewed about the many meanings of “secularism” by clicking here, you can watch a video in which I discuss my research on organized nonbelievers by clicking here, and you can hear a presentation on Marx and the Epicurean tradition that I gave at the Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion by clicking here. Below you’ll find links to pre-publication copies of most of my recent scholarship.
- “Secularism and Secular People.” Forthcoming in Public Culture 30:2 (May 2018).
- “Atheists in the Pantheon.” Review essay of Leigh Schmidt’s Village Atheists. Public Books. Published on August 14, 2017.
- “The Limits of Religious Indifference.” In Religious Indifference: New Perspectives From Studies on Secularization and Nonreligion, edited by Johannes Quack and Cora Schuh. (New York: Springer), 2017.
- “Secularism, Humanism, and Secular Humanism: Terms and Institutions.” In The Oxford Handbook of Secularism, edited by Phil Zuckerman and John Shook (New York: Oxford University Press), 2017.
- “The Social Context of Organized Nonbelief: County-Level Predictors of Nonbeliever Organizations in the United States.” Co-authored with Alfredo García, Princeton University. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 55:1 (March 2016): 70-90.
- “The Political Advantages of a Polysemous Secular.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 53:4 (December 2014): 775-790.
- “No Part of the World: How Jehovah’s Witnesses Perform the Boundaries of Their Community.” ARC 37, (January 1, 2009): 197-211.
- RG ST 35: Introduction to Religion and Politics
- RG ST 104: Problems in the Study of Religion
- RG ST 144A: Atheism
- RG ST 152: Religion in America Today
- RG ST 200A: Proseminar in the History and Theory of Religion
- RG ST 2XX: Materialism
- RG ST 292RR: Social Scientific Methods in the Study of Religion