American Secularism

Cultural Contours of Nonreligious Belief Systems

304 pages

18 figures

September, 2015

ISBN: 9781479873722



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Joseph O. Baker is Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at East Tennessee State University and a senior research associate for the Association of Religion Data Archives. 

All books by Joseph O. Baker

Buster G. Smith is Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at Catawba College. He is the co-author of Grounding Our Faith in a Pluralistic World.

All books by Buster G. Smith

Honorable Mention, American Sociological Association Section on Religion Distinguished Book Award

A rapidly growing number of Americans are embracing life outside the bounds of organized religion. Although America has long been viewed as a fervently religious Christian nation, survey data shows that more and more Americans are identifying as “not religious.” There are more non-religious Americans than ever before, yet social scientists have not adequately studied or typologized secularities, and the lived reality of secular individuals in America has not been astutely analyzed. American Secularism documents how changes to American society have fueled these shifts in the non-religious landscape and examines the diverse and dynamic world of secular Americans.
This volume offers a theoretical framework for understanding secularisms. It explores secular Americans’ thought and practice to understand secularisms as worldviews in their own right, not just as negations of religion. Drawing on empirical data, the authors examine how people live secular lives and make meaning outside of organized religion. Joseph O. Baker and Buster G. Smith link secularities to broader issues of social power and organization, providing an empirical and cultural perspective on the secular landscape. In so doing, they demonstrate that shifts in American secularism are reflective of changes in the political meanings of “religion” in American culture.
American Secularism addresses the contemporary lived reality of secular individuals, outlining forms of secular identity and showing their connection to patterns of family formation, sexuality, and politics, providing scholars of religion with a more comprehensive understanding of worldviews that do not include traditional religion.

   Data Analyses Appendix 


  • "For those interested in the recent rise of secularity in the U.S, this book is indispensable. Smith and Baker's assessment of American irreligion is unbiased, soundly-supported with solid evidence, and thoughtfully-rendered. An informative, engaging, excellent analysis."

    —Phil Zuckerman, author of Living the Secular Life

  • "Shatters conventional thinking about the supposed unity of secular culture. Baker and Smith artfully expose a vast diversity lurking within modern secularity. They look beyond the public scuffles between New Atheists and religious apologists to reveal an ideological landscape teeming with religions and secularisms."

    —Paul Froese, author of On Purpose: A Sociology of Life’s Meaning

  • “Refreshingly, the authors do not condescend to seculars and dismiss ‘the conflation between the ‘religious’ and the ‘good’ that occurs within ethical frameworks laid out in religious and popular discourse.’  They note that not all seculars are necessarily atheists, many merely avowing no affiliation with a church or religion…” 

    Anthropology Database

  • “Baker and Smith do the important work of introducing the historical context of present-day secularism in the US.  They identify four secular groups in the US—atheists, agnostics, non-affiliated believers, and the culturally religious—examining their lifestyles, their statistically distinctive typologies, and the commonalities that unite them.  Summing Up: Highly recommended.”


  • American Secularism introduces a comprehensive, groundbreaking approach to understanding the rise of secularism in the United States.”

    Sociology of Religion

  •  “This is an important book and perhaps one of the richest in insight I have read on communities and crime. There is just an amazing amount of material here on communities, criminal motivation, crime and place, hot spots of crime, history of criminology, and more.”

    American Journal of Sociology

  • “I have to give my approval of this book. Amid the growing social science literature on the nonreligious, it serves as an excellent introduction to American secularism while adding more careful, multimethod analysis than is found in other works with more dramatic titles about atheists and apostates.”

    American Journal of Sociology

  • American Secularism offers an innovative framework for the study of both nonreligion and religion that will be an indispensable resource for both scholars of nonreligion as well as scholars of culture and religion who want to be better understand this new historical moment and its implications.

    Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion

  • “Secular Studies is one of the most important developments in the history of the sociology of religion, and American Secularism is the best attempt so far to synthesize theory, survey data, and related scholarly literature into a comprehensive description of what American secularism looks like now.”

    Sociological Forum

  • “Amid the growing social science literature on the nonreligious, [American Secularism] serves as an excellent introduction to American secularism while adding more careful, multimethod analysis than is found in other works with more dramatic titles about atheists and apostates. It should appeal to a broad audience. Students of religion… will find merit in this strong piece of scholarship.”

    American Journal of Sociology