The genealogy of atheism

Book chapter


Newheiser, David. (2022). The genealogy of atheism. In In Newheiser, David (Ed.). The varieties of atheism : Connecting religion and its critics pp. 1-18 University of Chicago Press. https://doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226822686-001
AuthorsNewheiser, David
EditorsNewheiser, David
Abstract

[Extract] This introduction frames the essays that follow by developing a brief genealogy of atheism— from premodern Europe to the present. Atheism today is widely associated with the New Atheists, a group of commentators who claim that religion is irrational, unscientific, and morally corrosive. In order to justify the view that religion and atheism are squarely opposed, the New Atheists define them as competing hypotheses concerning the existence of a divine being. Although scholarly writing is generally less polemical, Anglophone philosophers tend to share the assumption that atheism and theism are incompatible beliefs. This reinforces the widespread impression that religious and nonreligious people are irredeemably at odds.

In response, I argue that defining atheism in terms of belief misrepresents its multiplicity. Just as scholars of religious studies have argued that it is misleading to equate religion with belief, the history of atheism makes clear that it is not simply a cognitive commitment— on the contrary, atheism incorporates ethical disciplines, cultural practices, and affective states. Against this background, these essays explore the complex relations of sympathy and resistance that connect particular atheisms with particular religious traditions. By developing a textured understanding of atheism’s meaning and motivation, this collection opens new possibilities for conversation between those who are religious and those who are not.

Page range1-18
Year2022
Book titleThe varieties of atheism : Connecting religion and its critics
PublisherUniversity of Chicago Press
Place of publicationChicago, IL
ISBN9780226822679
9780226822693
9780226822686
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226822686-001
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All rights reserved
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Output statusPublished
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Print2022
Online09 Dec 2022
Publication process dates
Deposited30 Jan 2023
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