Ninety-Eight Atheists: Atheism among the Non-Elite in Twentieth Century Britain

Widespread atheism in the general population is one of the defining characteristics of twentieth-century British society, yet until very recently, it has largely been unregarded by historians. This study attempts to contribute to the remedy of this omission by considering autobiographies and oral hi...

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Bibliographic Details
Published in:Secularism and Nonreligion
Main Author: Sheard, Matt (Author)
Format: Electronic Article
Language:English
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Published: [2014]
In:Secularism and Nonreligion
Year: 2014, Volume: 3, Pages: 1-16
Further subjects:B atheisation
B irreligious socialisation
B Atheists
Online Access: Free Access
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Summary:Widespread atheism in the general population is one of the defining characteristics of twentieth-century British society, yet until very recently, it has largely been unregarded by historians. This study attempts to contribute to the remedy of this omission by considering autobiographies and oral histories of non-elite atheists between 1890 and 1980. It shows that atheisation (the transition from religious belief to atheism) is principally a phenomenon of childhood and adolescence, with 80% of the sources becoming atheist by the age of twenty. The reasons the subjects gave for their irreligion were varied, of greatest significance were nearly two thirds who regarded religion as irrelevant to their lives, showing a lack of engagement with religion, its concepts and rituals. Many of these were from weakly religious or irreligious backgrounds who experienced ‘irreligious socialisation’, rendering religion irrelevant and contributed significantly to the progress of atheisation. Religious trauma, criticism of religion, personal trauma, radical politics, and rationalism accounted for similar proportions of reasons, and were mentioned by only 12-18% of sources. The potential influence of parental attitude to religion, other childhood experiences, religious education, reducing existential threat, historic events, and the social revolution of the 1960s are also considered as ‘unarticulated causes’ of the subjects’ irreligion.
ISSN:2053-6712
Contains:Enthalten in: Secularism and Nonreligion
Persistent identifiers:DOI: 10.5334/snr.ar