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.
"Race in a Godless World is an excellent study. This is intellectual history at its best, demonstrating how the discriminated against minority of unbelievers, at the foot of the religious pecking order, challenged racial hierarchies and championed racial minorities. The book shows that a commitment to science and reason underpinned racial views amongst both atheist and religionist intellectuals of the nineteenth century. But scepticism and contrariness drew atheists to apply the same reason in shifting towards a more inclusive and progressive social agenda. With a strong structure and vivid clarity, this is the best contribution so far to scholarly study of how racist thinking came to be linked with, but also rejected by, atheists in the USA and Britain." ~Callum G. Brown, University of Glasgow
"Situating the history of freethought in a fully transatlantic framework, Alexander carefully unpacks the ambivalences and contradictions of white atheist views on race and civilisation. Certain about the superiority of science over Christianity, freethinkers were far less clear about the racial and cross-cultural implications of their irreligion. Many embraced scientific racism and white supremacy, while others resisted xenophobia and race prejudice. Alexander captures these secularist complexities with admirable nuance and insight." ~Leigh E. Schmidt, Washington University in St. Louis
"An exhaustively researched and gracefully written book that makes a signal contribution to our understanding of the intersection of atheism and racial thought. The first book to fully flesh out the ties between racial thought and atheism, it is a masterful achievement that will be required reading for students and scholars of race, freethought, and British and American history more broadly." ~Christopher Cameron, University of North Carolina at Charlotte