Race in a Godless World

Race in a Godless World

Atheism, Race, and Civilization, 1850–1914

Secular Studies

by Nathan G. Alexander

Published by: NYU Press

256 pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in

  • Hardcover
  • ISBN: 9781479835003
  • Published: September 2019



A historical analysis of the racial views of atheists in the United States and Britain

During the second half of the nineteenth century popular atheist movements were emerging in the United States and Britain and skepticism about Christianity was becoming widespread. This newly embraced secularization created a paradox. How could Western civilization represent the pinnacle of human progress, as most white atheists accepted, when the majority of these societies still believed in Christianity? The result of this tension was a profound ambivalence regarding issues of racial and civilizational superiority. At times, white atheists assented to scientific racism and hierarchical conceptions of civilization; at others, they denounced racial prejudice and spoke favorably of non-white, non-Western civilizations.

This book offers a long-overdue historical analysis of the racial views of atheists and freethinkers in the United States and Britain during this time period. It provides a much-needed account of the complex and sometimes contradictory ideas espoused by this transatlantic community, tracing the complex ways in which they grappled with ideas about white superiority, and the role they played in early advocacy against racism and in favor of human rights.

This exciting book delves into an understudied aspect of secular studies, and will be welcomed by anyone seeking a better understanding of modern racism and its origins.