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Current Perspectives on Atheism

24-309 | Monday, 3:30 p.m. | 123
Session Chair: Johannes Quack

Ethan Quillen

Doing Away With Theoretical Abstractions: A Discursive Analysis of the Definition of Atheism and Critical Analysis of the Positive vs. Negative Paradigm

In recent years the study of Atheism has grown in popularity, leading to both positive and negative results. On one end, this has engendered a polyvocal and polyfocal discourse, garnering perspectives from a number of different methodological and theoretical approaches so as to develop a truly multi-disciplinary understanding about how Atheism is defined and how Atheists define themselves. On the other, this myriad of voices has led to an ever-broadening discordancy, an equivocal discourse that makes it all the more difficult to state with any sort of certainty what Atheism is or how Atheists define themselves. The latter issue is the result of a theoretical abstraction, a scholar-based attempt at theorizing a universal interpretation about Atheism that might pragmatically generalize the concept. Offering an analysis of this discourse, this paper will endorse a move away from such generalizations, offering instead a means with which to approach this subject more objectively.

Ingela Visuri

Autism, theism and atheism

The study of autism and religion has been neglected until recently, perhaps due to the (false) notion that all individuals on the autism spectrum would be atheists. Interest has however begun growing rapidly, and autism is foremost studied from cognitive perspectives on religion. This paper is a critique of publications aiming at establishing autism as a case of atheism, arguing that these are based on a simplified view on both autism and religion. Research rather needs to acknowledge that theistic belief and unbelief are likely the result of complex psychological and sociocultural processes. Thus, methods and approaches need rethinking in order to explore autism and religion in depth.

Stephen LeDrew

Atheism as a Secular Religion

This paper explores the question of whether the New Atheism and the groups and organizations associated with it could be understood as a kind of secular religion. The New Atheism is not only an aggressive critique of theism, but itself a belief system that promotes scientism and evolutionism as a conceptual structure that provides meaning and coherence to experience through a teleological narrative of human origins and social progress. Atheist organizations, meanwhile, provide community and transcendence through collective practice and rituals that establish the sacred authority of science. These substantive and functional aspects of religion in the New Atheism will be analyzed with reference to Auguste Comte’s Religion of Humanity, which the New Atheism mirrors in many respects. While typically understood as an intellectual or cultural movement, this paper argues that our understanding of contemporary atheism is enhanced by sociological and historical perspectives on the study of religion.

Ethan Quillen

Fictionalized Identity: Narrative Representations of Atheism as Ethnographic Source

For a number of reasons—a shortage of developed ethnography, a discordant discourse on defining the term, and a lack of group organization—Atheism as an identity is a precarious concept, and is thus difficult to ‘define’ with any sort of certainty. Likewise, and as if to remedy this issue, the predominant means of studying Atheism seems to be mired in sociological examinations. The intent of this paper is to offer a more qualitative, yet also experimental, approach. By adopting the language that underscores the methodology of Discourse Analysis, and coupling it with narrative and textual scrutiny, this paper will look at how Atheist identity construction is made available via three artistic—aesthetic—media: a novel, a film, and a painting. Presented as an introduction, this process will further support the idea that perhaps it is through the experimental where we might make better sense of certain precarious religious concepts.