The Challenge of Being Secular: Nonbelievers as a Precarious Religious Minority
In three recent lawsuits, America’s major nonbeliever organizations have challenged the courts to see them in three very different ways: as religious, as similar to religion, and as wholly secular. Relying on extensive fieldwork among a national network of secular activists, this talk contextualizes these lawsuits within the aims of the larger secular movement and examines their impact on the state’s understanding of religion and the secular. By challenging the courts to balance tolerance for religion with tolerance for Americans who are avowedly non-religious, nonbeliever organizations are reshaping what it means to be secular in America today.
Joseph Blankholm is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Religion at Columbia University, and his dissertation is an ethnographic study of organized nonbelievers and secular activism in the United States. He is also co-founder and editor of Possible Futures, contributing editor at the Immanent Frame, and co-founder and co-chair of the Secularism and Secularity program unit at the American Academy of Religion.
This lecture is part of the IRCPL’s Religion and Politics in American Public Life lecture series, coordinated by Professors Karen Barkey, Jean Cohen, and John Torpey. Seeking to further understand the relationship between religion and politics in the United States, the series continues to explore a number of timely topics that intersect with religion, such as civil religion, public discourses of morality, and reproductive and sexual rights.
Sponsored by the Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life; the Department of Political Science at Columbia University; the Department of Religion at Columbia University; and the PhD Program in Sociology at the Graduate Center, CUNY.
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