Atheism and Anthropology: Researching Atheism and Self-searching Belief and Experience

21 September, 2011
EASA Network Conference
Atheism and Anthropology: Researching Atheism and Self-searching Belief and Experience

University College London, Daryll Forde seminar room, 2nd floor, Taviton Street 14
Sponsored by the European Association of Social Anthropologists and EASA Anthropology of Religion Network

Ruy Llera Blanes (Institute of Social Sciences, University of Lisbon)
Galina Oustinova-Stjepanovic (University College London)

Headline clashes between new atheists such as Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins and various religious leaders have shown that strong convictions inform atheist and religious discourses, searching to convey their own propositional truths. Some people argue that atheism has turned militant; others suggest religious education is a menace. Yet, what is atheism? How are subjectivities, ideas, embodied practices and material environments inflected with atheism? These matters are often neglected in anthropology for the simple reason that the discipline itself is an offspring of methodological atheism caught in an awkward relationship with theology and religious performances.

This workshop adopts a two-pronged approach to the research of atheism. We have invited scholars who research atheism as historical, political, and cultural articulations of non-belief, atheistic critique, political and practical disinterestedness in matters of religions. Through our workshop, we will explore the definitions and manifestations of atheism through the comparison and analysis of a number of ethnographic case studies. Furthermore, we will address the questions of specifically religious reflexivity in anthropology by considering the ethical and methodological implications of conducting research as atheist anthropologists and representing religious traditions and ontologies in the secular language of anthropology.. A few questions worth considering:

  • Is an anthropology of atheism possible, or necessary?
  • Are atheism and religiosity competing, opposed regimes of truth? Can atheism be researched as a form of belief? What are the additional dimensions of atheism that are not covered by the concept of belief?
  • What does secularism tell us about atheism?
  • Is atheism as awkward as theology for anthropology? Is anthropology an inevitably non-theistic discipline? Can you teach anthropological theories of religion to students of anthropology who take witchcraft seriously?

Keynote Lecture given by Matthew Engelke (London School of Economics)

Update: December 2011 – The NSRN have published an Event Report on this event. Here are the details:

Atheism and Anthropology: Researching Atheism and Self-Searching Belief and Experience Workshop
University College, London, 21 September 2011
Report by Lorna Mumford, University College London
Published by the NSRN, 14 December 2011