Non-religion as Religion-Related Discourse: An Empirical Invitation

Cotter, C. R. (2022). Non-religion as Religion-Related Discourse: An Empirical Invitation. In: Zwilling, A. L. and Årsheim, H. eds. Nonreligion in Late Modern Societies. Boundaries of Religious Freedom: Regulating Religion in Diverse Societies. Cham: Springer, pp. 229–250.



The twenty-first century has seen a marked rise in individuals across the (Western) world choosing not to identify with a ‘religion’ when prompted in various contexts, and a related rise in academic studies of what it might mean to be other than religious, which map and theorize the beliefs, identifications, values, practices, and social contexts of seemingly non-religious populations. Much of this work has a great deal to offer yet falls foul of the charge that it essentializes the differences between two constructed categories – religion and non-religion – and simultaneously reproduces and perpetuates problems associated with the category ‘religion’, and substantiates a category – ‘none’ – created for multiple choice surveys. This chapter begins by introducing the ‘critical religion’ perspective before turning this on contemporary non-religion research. In doing so, it champions a discursive approach as a way forward for the field, particularly because this enables scholars to tackle the problem of essentialized identities – viewing them, rather, as contextual acts of identification. An extended empirical example then demonstrates the utility of such an approach, and the chapter concludes with reflections on the nature of specific discursive entanglements, on how identifying and being identified as non−/religious means more in certain circumstances than in others, and on how scholars ought to be relentlessly self-conscious in their approach to these matters.

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