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.