History of Irreligion

A great post over at Religion in American History, “Where Are the Histories of American Irreligion? Lincoln Mullen points out that if historians are going to tell the story of American Christianity, with all of its great evangelists, debaters and preachers, then we also need the story of the folks they were evangelizing, debating and preaching to.

Mullen lumps together a host of religious iconoclasts together under the term “irreligion,” including “Deism, skepticism, agnosticism, rationalism, Free Thought, Ethical Culture, atheism, secularism, and infidelity.” The great grab-bag of people that don’t fit into the usual denominational narratives.

Mullen likes James Turner’s Without God, Without Creed, as did I. He doesn’t much care for Susan Jacoby’s works on Freethinkers and Ingersoll. He quotes another historian of American Atheism, Daniel Silliman, in calling Jacoby’s books “a canon of skeptic-saints.”

Hey, we’re trying to fashion a usable history over here … nevermind, point made. If we’re going to be secular, then we need to be even-handed. We have to look at our own heroes with the same critical eye that we turn on religious heroes.

The good news is that Mullen has flushed out some scholars who are working on this topic, including Christoper Grasso and Per Smith who blogs at Irritually, as well as the aforementioned Silliman. Some others chime in at the comments. It looks like this is a growing field, which gives me some hope for the future.

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