Timetable information in the Course Catalogue may be subject to change.

University Homepage
DRPS Homepage
DRPS Search
DRPS Contact
DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Divinity : Divinity

Postgraduate Course: Atheism and the Rejection of Religion (REST11025)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Divinity CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryFrom Ancient Greek 'atheoi' to contemporary 'New Atheists' and religious 'nones', being 'non-religious' has a complex cultural, social, and intellectual history. This course will socially and historically contextualize a variety of positions in interaction with established academic theories of religion, providing a theoretically and methodologically rich critical introduction to a variety of controversial 'religion-related' ideologies, arguments, groups, movements and identifications.
Course description Academic Description:
The aim of the course is to introduce students to a range of 'religion-related' formations - atheistic, humanistic, 'non-religious' - in modern societies, in a historical and sociological context. The focus is to examine formations which (positively) propagate 'post-religious' identities and also which (negatively) resist 'religion'. It will also examine the various theoretical and methodological issues involved in the study of atheism and the rejection of 'religion', and consider these formations in relation to the broader academic study of religion/s.

Syllabus and Outline Content:
We begin with an overview of the course and a discussion of the state of play in the contemporary study of 'atheism', 'humanism', 'non-religion' and related formations, and discuss the grounds of their inclusion within the comparative study of religion/s. We will then trace the etymology of 'Atheism' through the pejorative ancient Greek 'atheos' to the political assignment of the Latin 'atheismus' to the beliefs and practices of the early Christians. We continue this historical progression through the periods of the Renaissance, Reformation and Enlightenment, looking at the content, context and some key exponents of major scientific and social critiques of 'religion' in the West, up to the 'New Atheism' of the early twenty-first century. Our attention then turns to non-Western contexts, paying particular attention to the Marxist-Leninist scientific atheism of the former-USSR and to post-colonial rationalist skepticism in India. Finally, we fully embrace a more sociological and ethnographic approach and look at contemporary 'humanist' and 'non-religious' formations, the problematic entanglements of this whole field with issues of gender, race and ethnicity, and the genesis, conceptualizations and uses of the notion of 'religious indifference'.

Student Learning Experience Information:
The course has a one hour lecture plus a one hour seminar per week. Lectures are based around presentations from the lecturer and include some audio-visual content. Background readings are set for each week's topics. Seminars are student-led discussions of set readings based on a full bibliography built into the syllabus, and involving student presentations.

Students will demonstrate their completion of the intended learning outcomes through a combination of lecture and seminar activities, by the preparation of a presentation, a guided essay and a main essay. Summative assessment will be through the presentation and essays. Formative assessment will include oral feedback on contributions to class discussion and written and/or oral feedback on the essays and the main essay plan. The combination of seminar presentation, guided essay and extended essay is designed to achieve a whole course coverage across different genres of assessment.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Demonstrate understanding of the historical development of atheism, humanism and non-religion, and identify and describe their main features in contemporary society.
  2. Demonstrate an ability to identify key terms and their meanings, and critically discuss the terms in relation to a variety of geographical, religious and intellectual contexts.
  3. Demonstrate understanding of various theoretical and methodological issues involved in the study of atheism, humanism, non-religion and related categories.
  4. Assess the social, cultural and political impact of atheism, humanism and non-religion.
  5. Develop transferable skills in presentation, discussion and analysis both individually and in a group context.
Reading List
Indicative Bibliography:

Ali, Ayaan Hirsi. 2008. Infidel. London: Pocket Books.

Beaman, Lori G. and Steven Tomlins, eds. 2015. Atheist Identities: Spaces and Social Contexts. Dordrecht: Springer.

Bremmer, Jan M. 2009. "Atheism in Antiquity," in Michael Martin, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Atheism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Brown, Callum G. 2017. Becoming Atheist: Humanism and the Secular West. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Buckley, Michael J. 1990. At the Origins of Modern Atheism. New Have: Yale University Press.

Bullivant, Stephen, and Lois Lee. 2012. 'Interdisciplinary Studies of Non-Religion and Secularity: The State of the Union'. Journal of Contemporary Religion 27 (1): 19-27.

Copson, Andrew and A. C. Grayling, eds. 2015. The Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Humanism. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Cotter, Christopher R. 2011. 'Consciousness Raising: The Critique, Agenda, and Inherent Precariousness of Contemporary Anglophone Atheism'. International Journal for the Study of New Religions 2 (1): 77-103.

Cotter, Christopher R., Philip Quadrio and Jonathan Tuckett, eds. 2017. New Atheism: Critical Perspectives and Contemporary Debates. Dordrecht: Springer.

Fergusson, David. 2009. Faith and Its Critics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Finger, Anja. 2017. 'Four Horsemen (and a Horsewoman): What Gender is New Atheism?' In New Atheism: Critical Perspectives and Contemporary Debates, edited by Christopher R. Cotter, Philip Quadrio and Jonathan Tuckett, 155-170. Dordrecht: Springer.

Husband, William B. 2000. Godless Communists: Atheism and Society in Soviet Russia, 1917-1932. Champagne-Urbana: Northern Illinois University Press.

Hutchinson, Sikivu. 2011. Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars. Infidel Books.

Hyman, Gavin. 2010. A Short History of Atheism. London: I.B. Tauris.

LeDrew, Stephen. 2012. 'The Evolution of Atheism Scientific and Humanistic Approaches'. History of the Human Sciences 25 (3): 70-87.

Lee, Lois. 2015. Recognizing the Nonreligious: Reimagining the Secular. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Manning, Christel J. 2015. Losing Our Religion: How Unaffiliated Parents Are Raising Their Children. New York: NYU Press.

Quack, Johannes. 2012. Disenchanting India: Organized Rationalism and Criticism of Religion in India. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Quack, Johannes and Cora Schuh, eds. 2017. Religious Indifference: New Perspectives from Studies on Secularization and Nonreligion. Dordrecht: Springer.

Thrower, James. 1983. Marxist-Leninist 'Scientific Atheism' and the Study of Religion and Atheism in the USSR. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Voas, David, and Abby Day. 2010. 'Recognising Secular Christians: Toward an Unexcluded Middle in the Study of Religion'. ARDA Guiding Paper.

Whylly, Sarah. 2013. 'Japan'. In The Oxford Handbook of Atheism, edited by Stephen Bullivant and Michael Ruse, 665-79. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Zuckerman, Phil, Luke W. Galen, and Frank L. Pasquale. 2016. The Nonreligious: Understanding Secular People & Societies. New York: Oxford University Press.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills - Collect and synthesize evidence from a wide range of primary and secondary sources applicable to the study of atheism, humanism, non-religion and related topics
- Evaluate and critique the work of scholars who have studied atheism, humanism and non-religion in the modern historical period
- Formulate questions emerging from the course contents and structure an argument to express resolutions to the questions critically and analytically
- Read and interpret a range of different sources pertaining to the study of atheism, humanism and non-religion within their historical, social and theoretical contexts, and be able to differentiate primary from secondary sources
- Formulate, investigate and discuss questions informed by Religious Studies methodologies on atheism, humanism and non-religion
- Analyze and explain how cultural assumptions impact on the interpretation of atheism, humanism and non-religion
- Express clearly ideas and arguments, both orally and in writing, and in electronic media
- Develop oral presentation and participation skills during seminars and group-work, and in written form through essays
- Collaborate efficiently and productively with others in the process of learning and presenting conclusions - this includes those with a range of backgrounds and knowledge bases about religion, atheism, humanism, non-religion and related topics, such as fellow-students, tutors and supervisors
- Organize their own learning, manage workload and work to a timetable
- Effectively plan, and possess the confidence to undertake and to present scholarly work that demonstrates an understanding of the aims, methods and theoretical considerations of this course relevant to Religious Studies
- Work independently on the creation of essays using the standards current in the academic field of Religious Studies
Course organiserMr Liam Sutherland
Course secretaryMiss Rachel Dutton
Tel: (0131 6)50 7227
Help & Information
Search DPTs and Courses
Degree Programmes
Browse DPTs
Humanities and Social Science
Science and Engineering
Medicine and Veterinary Medicine
Other Information
Combined Course Timetable
Important Information