The Justice Potter Stewart Definition of Religion

On the night of November 13th, 1959, Nico Jacobellis, manager of the Heights Art Theater at the corner of Euclid Heights Boulevard and Coventry Road in Cleveland, Ohio, held a screening of the Louis Malle film, Lea Amants. The Lovers.

The film itself was controversial for the time, with, what some thought (particularly the state of Ohio), were graphic depictions of a sexual nature. Or, pornography.

Jacobellis was arrested, and convicted, on two counts of possessing and exhibiting an obscene film in direct violation of section 2905.34 (repealed in 1974) of the Ohio Revised Code, which stated:

Selling, exhibiting, and possessing obscene literature or drugs for criminal purposes.

No person shall knowingly sell, lend, give away, exhibit, or offer to sell, lend, give away, or exhibit, or publish or offer to publish or have in his possession or under his control an obscene, lewd, or lascivious book, magazine, pamphlet, paper, writing, advertisement, circular, print, picture, photograph, motion picture film, or book, pamphlet, paper, magazine not wholly obscene but containing lewd or lascivious articles, advertisements, photographs, or drawing, representation, figure, image, cast, instrument, or article of an indecent or immoral nature, or a drug, medicine, article, or thing intended for the prevention of conception or for causing an abortion, or advertise any of them for sale, or write, print, or cause to be written or printed a card, book, pamphlet, advertisement, or notice giving information when, where, how, of whom, or by what means any of such articles or things can be purchased or obtained, or manufacture, draw, print, or make such articles or things, or sell, give away, or show to a minor, a book, pamphlet, magazine, newspaper, story paper, or other paper devoted to the publication, or principally made up, of criminal news, police reports, or accounts of criminal deeds, or pictures and stories of immoral deeds, lust, or crime, or exhibit upon a street or highway or in a place which may be within the view of a minor, any of such books, papers, magazines, or pictures.

Whoever violates this section shall be fined not less than two hundred nor more than two thousand dollars or imprisoned not less than one nor more than seven years, or both.

He was fined $500 on the first count and $2,000 on the second. If he could not pay the fines, he would be sentenced to a stint in the local workhouse until his debt was paid.

On appeal, both the Cuyahoga County Court of Appeals and the Ohio State Supreme Court upheld his initial verdict.

And then, in 1963, the United States Supreme Court voted to hear his case.

On June 22nd, 1964 in a 6-3 decision, it reversed Jacobellis’ verdict.

Justice William J. Brennan wrote the decision for the Court.

The lead question before that it considered dealt with whether the state courts in Ohio were correct in their assessment that Les Amants was indeed ‘obscene,’ and if so, whether it was not entitled to the Constitutional protections of free speech and expression, as granted by the First Amendment.

After all, the latter clearly states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

And, since the Court’s previous decisions in Cantwell v. Connecticut (1940), Everson v. Board of Education (1947), and McCollum v Board of Education (1948) declared that the First Amendment, or at least the two religion clauses of the First Amendment (disestablishment and free exercise), were federalized (applicable to the individual states) via the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, then so too would be the free speech one.

More specifically, and in direct reference to the dangerous complexity of America’s highest judiciary (which could overrule both state and lower federal court decisions) agreeing with one particular state’s definition of ‘obscenity,’ Justice Brennan, citing his earlier decision in the similar case of Smith v. California (1959), concluded:

[…] to sustain the suppression of a particular book or film in one locality would deter its dissemination in other localities where it might be held not obscene, since sellers and exhibitors would be reluctant to risk criminal conviction in testing the variation between the two places. It would be a hardy person who would sell a book or exhibit a film anywhere in the land after this Court had sustained the judgment of one ‘community’ holding it to be outside the constitutional protection. The result would thus be “to restrict the public’s access to forms of the printed word which the State could not constitutionally suppress directly.”

In other words, just because a law in Ohio decided Les Amants was pornographic, no other state would need to agree. Neither, of course, would the Federal Government.

Now, there are two aspects of the Court’s decision that stand out here as especially interesting.

First is the fact that though the  six Justices in agreement to reverse Jacobellis’ conviction agreed to do so, they could not agree, as a whole, as to why. Each had a different argument, and in fact, alongside Justice Brennan’s decision for the Court, three others were submitted as well. Not to mention the two dissents from Chief Justice Earl Warren and Justice John Marshall Harlan.

The second interesting aspect has to deal with Justice Potter Stewart’s concurrence, and especially his simplicity in how we might distinguish between that which is pornographic and that which is art.

He famously argued:

I have reached the conclusion, which I think is confirmed at least by negative implication in the Court’s decisions since Roth and Alberts, that, under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, criminal laws in this area are constitutionally limited to hard core pornography. I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description, and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.

But I know it when I see it.

Were we to replace the term ‘hardcore pornography’ here with ‘religion,’ then Justice Stewart’s following proclamation (“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description, and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so”) seems an all too familiar observation of the scholar of religion.

And that’s the point I’m trying to make here.

Religion is mysterious. It is numinous and odd and alien. And we’ll likely never get a grasp on it. We’ll never define it, at least not in any accurate essentialist way that anyone, anywhere would in any way agree with. Which means defining what constitutes ‘the religious’ will likewise also be out of reach.

Of course, that doesn’t mean we don’t try. And, boy, do we ever.

Generations of scholars have fought and fought over definitions, or worse, ways of reaching definitions, or theories of definitions. Categories of definitions. Critical definitions. Substantive. Functionalist. So on, and so forth.

And sure, while I’d agree that the debate is far better than simply sticking with one definition (let the theologians have that one, yes?), I’d also argue that there’s something a bit distracting there as well. Too often, I think, we get so wrapped up in debates about ‘unpacking’ terminology (the refrain, I’ve learned, of those scholars carrying LOTS of baggage), about the ‘politics’ involved. About making sure we stay objective and yet empathic. Dispassionate and yet ardent. Observer and yet participatory. That we stop actually doing the work. To the point, in fact, that were we to step outside and look inward, we might to our surprise suddenly view all of this as as some ridiculous pedantic circus, asking ourselves in the process: shouldn’t we take a break from all this nonsense, and just get back to work. I mean, how many times can we really discuss how our discussing things gives meaning to the things in which we are discussing? (Lots. Like, lots and lots.)

To that endeavor, I offer the Justice Potter Stewart definition of religion: I know it when I see it.

I accept that I will never know the definition of religion. Or Atheism. Or nonreligion. Or unbelief. Or any other synonymous (and yet relatable, dammit!) terminology. And I’m quite happy with that. Because I’m also confident that I’ve been trained well and have a sincere work ethic. That when I do the work I make sure that I produce quality. Detailed, heavily researched, and, yes, objective work. Work that doesn’t, in all that it does say, tell people what they should think, or how they should think, about religion. All it does is offer them information. Details. Discourse.

Because, and perhaps its the ‘theologian’ in me (or whatever) but when I see something that looks like Atheism, or religion, or something akin to either, you know what, I know it when I see it. And so do our readers. Which is why I prefer to present it that way. As discourse. As information. That way, it’s entirely up to them to decide whether or not what I have presented aligns with, or disagrees with, their opinions.

Of course, the irony is not lost on me that this, in fact, will produce the same sort of discussion that I just earlier up there decried. And that’s fine. I’m also perfectly fine with being ironic. And besides, the debates are often far too fun not to have. Right?

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In Praise of Polyvocality: An Early Preview

It was Wednesday afternoon, the sun was setting, my stomach was full of bratwurst, and I had just finished my second pint of German lager.

It was my third day at the XXIst Quinquennial Congress of the International Association of the History of Religions, two days after I had presented my two papers, and the end of a lovely free day where myself and a group of friends had explored the city of Erfurt.

It was also the eve of my return home to Edinburgh.

As I watched excitedly at Religious Studies Project celebrity and expert on phenomenology, Dr. Jonathan Tuckett, capture wasps under a plastic cup, Christopher Cotter cheerily entered into our adolescent little tableau.  As he sat down next to me, glancing unfavourably at Jonathan’s growing collection, he told me that he had just concluded a podcast interview with Professor Johannes Quack.  Without hesitation, I immediately responded: I need to write that response.


I first met Johannes a few years back at the 2012 Non-Religion and Secularity Research Network’s conference at Goldsmith’s University, where I critiqued the term ‘non-religion’ via a discussion of dinosaurs.

I’ve also been a rather big fan of his work, his ethnographic study of rationalism in India, aptly titled Disenchanting India, being one of the first books I read when I disenchanting indiabegan research for my PhD.  Of all the individuals whom I have encountered who work within the boundaries of ‘non-religion,’ his usage has seemed, to me at least, to be one of the most practical, even though I still quite critically disagree with his notion of the term as a ‘relational concept.’

As well, I also had the great pleasure of having him as the session chair for my presentations at the IAHR, despite his adamant repetition and use of the term non-religion in a panel on ‘Current Perspectives of Atheism.’

Nonetheless, his presence, and counter position to my criticism, proved quite beneficial.  This is especially the case as I’ve begun spreading my argument about the idea that our different theoretical and methodological approaches are, in fact, a boon to the study of Atheism, rather than a hinderance.

This is the central thesis that I put forth in my response to his interview with Chris, which should be published this week.  I’ll post it here once it comes out.

In the meantime, I’m going to take the next 100 words or so to both summarise my argument, as well as present what I mean, free of any sort of filter I may have added for the benefit of the Religious Studies Project’s listeners.


oxford handbookIn his Introduction to the Oxford Handbook of Atheism, Stephen Bullivant argues that the scholastic plurality of the term Atheism (such as can be found within the pages of the handbook itself), would, by sheer means of theoretical disparity, lead to a ‘Babel Handbook of Atheism.’  While his point is indeed valid, particularly in the context of his role as editor, it also reflects what I argue is perhaps a rather beneficial issue:

when viewed as a cultural unit, in the same way we would objectively assess the subjects of an anthropological examination, the polyvocality of this discursive field becomes a collective of individual identities conforming into a group one.  Thus, rather than the result being the “frustrating morass of contradictions and cross-purposes” (13) that Bullivant predicts, our different theoretical approaches to Atheism/non-religion/un-belief/ir-religion becomes a useful cultural unit with which we might, from a third-level perspective, make sense of the field itself. That is, if we step back and look at ourselves just as objectively as we look at our subjects, our differences transform from an atonal mess of scholastic disagreements, into a more discursively valuable cultural system.  

This is, in essence, the argument I put forth in my response.

As well, when we add this to my previous argument that the study of Atheism is, in fact, essentially the history of the study of religion, writ small, this moves our discourse away from the centuries of theoretical debate that have mired that particular endeavour, into a more practical arena.

Thus, when we view ourselves objectively, and therefore examine our own discourse, that is, our own language use, as we would the discourses of those we intend to study, our disagreements become a useful conglomerate with which we might determine a unique identity: the study of Atheism, via the different voices that give it meaning.

As I concluded my response, and as I will conclude this short little preview, a Babel handbook need not be seen as a problem, if we simply consider that though we might not be using the same words, we are all still speaking the same conceptual language.

Perhaps the Most Logical Vote is a Write-In

For over four years now, I’ve been living in Edinburgh Scotland, which, as google tells me, is a distance of 5,161 miles, or a cozy 15 hour flight with British Airways, from the town in which I grew up.

One thing that distance has provided is a sense of perspective, particularly of the cultural sort.  This has especially been the case thanks to the UK Home Office’s constant reminders.

That being said, I thinks it’s safe to say that I knew I was an American before I came to Britain, just as I knew that though Americans and Britons share a common foundation, they are, in fact, two uniquely different cultural groups.

More on this below.


This month (in the US, at least), Kaya Oakes published her The Nones are Alright: A New Generation of Believers, Seekers, and Those in Between.

To be fair to her text, I’ve yet to read it, and thus cannot pass any judgment on it.  Which is not my intention here.

Instead, I’m using her recent publication due to the terminology she has chosen to both use, as well as to which she has devoted her time and skill.  Specifically, I’ve cited her text here because of her use of the term: ‘nones.’

In my opinion, this term signifies something of a contentious concept.

First appearing in 1968 in Glenn M. Vernon’s aptly titled: “The Religious ‘Nones:’ A Neglected Category” (Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Vol. 7, No. 2, 1968), the term was coined in order to determine a type of ‘independent’ un-affiliation, a category he argued had been highly neglected within the social scientific study of religion.

Comparing the term to one’s political affiliation, he described his association of the category with a type of ‘independence’ as such:

By way of contrast, the social scientist classifies as “independent” those who do not report affiliation with a particular political party. The use of the “independent” label suggests that the lack of political party affiliation does not mean that one is apolitical or has no political convictions. He is still viewed as a political person. Perhaps this is because the act of voting serves as the primary validation of political participation. There is no comparable religious phenomenon, no clearly recognized religious behavior other than membership, attendance, or other identification with a formal religious group. Thus, “none” is used in religious research, designating no religious affiliation, but also adding the gratuitous implication of a nonreligious person.

After his usage, the term was adopted by other sociologists, used in fairly the same way.

For example:

While the term’s usage, and thus it’s perpetuation within the discourse on religious affiliation, particularly in the U.S., has proven useful in categorising a large group of individuals who identify within the context of a survey form as ‘un-affiliated,’ there is an underlying issue concerning accuracy that I feel greatly diminishes the value of using this, and similar, relational terms.

This is perhaps best represented by two graphs, the first taken from an article on the results of the Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study:

pew

Under the ‘un-affiliated’ section here, we are provided with three options: ‘Atheist,’ ‘Agnostic,’ and ‘Nothing in Particular.’  These three terms encompass the ‘none’ category that, according to their findings, constitutes the ‘second largest’ faith-related group after ‘Christians.’  Which, of course, is a category divided into six options.

The second graph gives us a bit more detail about the ‘nones’ themselves, sourced from an article that provides us a ‘closer look:’

pew2

While this article provides an interesting insight into the gender and age differences between those who ticked the ‘un-affiliated’ boxes, the commentary here also provides an intriguing look into the precariousness of the term ‘none’ itself.

As the author of the article (Michael Lipka) states:

Not only are the “nones” growing, but how they describe themselves is changing. Self-declared atheists or agnostics still make up a minority of all religious “nones.”

[…]

In addition to atheists and agnostics, another 9% of Americans say their religion is “nothing in particular” and that religion is not important in their lives. At the same time, however, a significant minority of “nones” say that religion plays a role in their lives. Indeed, about 7% of U.S. adults say their religion is “nothing in particular” but also say that religion is “very” or “somewhat” important in their lives, despite their lack of a formal affiliation.

This is the genesis of my issue.

Where we might be talking about the ‘nones’ as an un-affiliated category, we are also talking about individuals who tick the box ‘Atheist,’ ‘agnostic,’ or  who identify as individuals for which religion is important or unimportant, leaving a rather large discrepancy about how they actually define themselves, and about the terms they use to do that.  Granted, this overt ambiguity does indeed provide for leeway between identities that differentiate from one another, either in small or large ways, it also means that we are left with a very large umbrella under which a great deal of individuals religiously reside.

This is the major problem I see not only in using such ‘relational’ terms, but in this sort of sociological research.

While I do agree that this type of approach provides useful percentage ‘buzz phrases,’ such as “the ‘nones’ are the second higher religious affiliation in the U.S.,” they don’t actually provide us with any value.  After all, aside from the fact that the actual number of individuals surveyed in order to create that percentage in no way represents the actual number of U.S. citizens, the terminology, which we’ve chosen, doesn’t actually describe the way people actually define themselves.

Instead, it’s merely a useful buzz phrase.

Of course, one might conversely argue that the alternative leaves us with as many types of identifying terms as there are people who use them.

I accept this.

However, I’d still argue this presents a much more beneficial, if not more fair, means of assessment.

As such, and for the sake of fun argument, here’s a comparison that, I concede, will likely only lead to disappointment.

The use of these types of relational terms is like imagining the early Christians simply decided to call themselves the ‘non-Jews.’  After all, is this not a relational term?  Did they not define themselves in relation to their association with the Jews of the time?  Sure, they had the term ‘gentile,’ but that essentially meant anyone ‘not Jewish.’  No, they instead defined themselves as ‘Christians,’ as they were followers of ‘Christ.’  Rather than using a relational term, they chose a signifier that described who they were, not who they weren’t.

The term ‘nones,’ and with that any terminology that has adopted the prefix ‘no’ or ‘non,’ thanks in great part by sociologists attempting to embody how individuals define themselves in relation to the religions of others ‘broadly conceived,’ seems like an attempt at defining what we can only presume is a large and growing group of like-minded individuals by simply describing them by what they aren’t.  Which, in my opinion, seems incredibly unfair.

After all, I’m not ‘non-British,’ I’m an ‘American.’

To call myself the former is just silly, and, really, doesn’t seem all that useful.


So here’s my suggestion:

Rather than provide an individual a number of boxes to tick which, let’s be honest, is really just us telling that person how they should identify themselves for the sake of useful percentage data (we give them the terms, after all), lets do away with the choices altogether.  Or, to borrow from Vernon’s metaphorical association with the ‘politically unaffiliated,’ let’s get rid of the options, and simply supply a ‘write-in’ section.   Perhaps something that says:

“In the space provided, please describe how you identify religiously, using the terms you prefer.”  

That way, we spend less time finding ways to determine new or emerging categories, and more time actually recording the ways in which people identify themselves in their own words.

More objective, less subjective.

More recording, less dictating.

More listening, less defining.


***I openly admit that I might be wrong about the ‘none’ category, and the relational terms related to it.  Thus, here are some interesting articles about the ‘none’ phenomenon, provided here for those who might wish to know more beyond just my opinion.***

There’s A Revolution Going On In Religion. Faith Groups Better Listen Up.”

Church without God.”

Building Better Secularists.”

How The ‘Nones’ Can Find A Sense Of Community Outside Of Religion.”

Millennials and the ‘Nones’: Why 40 Years of Religion in US Elections May Change in 2016.”

Vanilla English

Leaving the XXI Quinquennial IAHR in Erfurt, I stopped off at the University for one last coffee before boarding the tram’s Liene 6 (Riethe, Erfurt) to the train station (Hauptbahnhof).  On the tram, a gentleman I’d not met at the conference shouted over the noise, “English?!”

It took me a few seconds to decipher whether he meant, “do you speak English,” or, “are you English.”

It was the latter.

He had seen that my name tag, which also functioned as a free public transport pass, had the word ‘Edinburgh’ printed under my name.

I responded, “No, American,” to which he asked: “North or South?”

I told him: “North, Southern California.”

His response, in a rather heavy accent which I, embarrassingly, was having trouble understanding, was: “Is it cold in Edinburgh?  Snow?”

Our conversation then descended into the banal, yet polite, sort of back and forth conversation that people have when limited by language differences.  We talked about the weather in our countries, and the winters in Scotland and Lithuania, before he stood to exit at his stop and bid me a friendly, “Nice to meet you, enjoy English.”


When I arrived in Berlin, I dropped off my bag at a locker, and decided to ‘walk the streets,’ which really meant, walk from Central Station (Hauptbahnhof), through the Brandenburg Gate, and then the length of Unter den Linden to Museum Island and the Berliner Dom (Cathedral).

When I passed through the Brandenburg Gate, after deftly avoiding all the people taking pictures straddling where the wall once separated East and West Berlin, I entered out onto the wide expanse of Pariser Platz.  There, in the centre, intoning loudly and with sincere passion, was a bagpiper.

He was playing “Danny Boy.”

I took a picture, lamented the fact that pipers follow me everywhere now, had a pretzel, a few pilsners, and returned to the train station a broken man.


At the airport (Schönefeld, not Tegel), I squeezed into a small section of an Irish Bar, the only place to sit and eat and drink before one’s flight (Schönefeld is a terrible airport to fly out of).  I ordered a German beer, because a Guinness or a Kilkenny felt out of place.  I also borrowed a stool from two elderly travellers, who seemed rather put out to let me have it.  It turns out, they were saving it for their coats, for when their wives returned from the duty free shop.  They let me have it, of course, though grumbled in German.  After that we politely ignored each other for a few minutes.

When the gate for my flight was announced, I noticed they too began to gather their belongings.  I politely gave them back their stool (in case they needed it) and thanked them.

One of the gentleman suddenly asked, “Oh, you speak English?”  I answered him that I did, to which he responded: “Only English?  No French, or German?”  I told him a little French (Je parle un petit peu le français), and he smiled back.

“Oh,” he said, “just plain vanilla English.  Ok.  See you on the flight.”


A few minutes later, as I stood in line to board the flight, and as my new friends slowly made their way behind me with their bags of liquor and chocolate, I found myself feeling somewhat conflicted.  I was certain that his association of my language as ‘vanilla English’ was meant as an insult, likely referring to it as being bland or boring.  However, it also seemed like an intriguing thing to analyse.

First, I thought, why do we associate vanilla with something bland?  Vanilla isn’t boring.  It’s actually rather exotic.

It was originally cultivated from the Mexican vanilla orchid, which the Aztecs called, tlilxochitl, which was then introduced to Europe via the conquistador Hernán Cortés (alongside its dichotomous partner, chocolate) in the early sixteenth century.

Since then, it’s literally traveled the world, and comes from a number of equally ‘exotic’ locations: MadagascarRéunion island, and other tropical islands within the Indian Ocean (Vanilla planifolia), the South Pacific (Vanilla tahitensis), and the West Indies, Central, and South America (Vanilla pompon).

As well, the means to produce it outside Mexico have needed to adopt ‘by-hand’ pollination, as it was originally dependent upon, and could only produce, when pollinated by a particular species of bee (Melipona).  In fact, according to the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu, it’s the second most expensive ‘spice’ after saffron.

Vanilla isn’t bland.

As my ticket was scanned I continued to think that perhaps this was a perfect metaphor: to call my language ‘vanilla English’ seemed, in fact, a rather apt description.  Regardless of whether or not he meant it, my new friend at the Irish Bar in Berlin was properly describing the diversity of English, exemplified by the fact that, in an Irish Bar, in Berlin, he was using it to describe my language as ‘vanilla.’

Likewise, maybe this distinction was meant as a way of referring to the English language as something accessible to all.  After all, not only is it universally used, there are in fact a number of different types of English: from British to American, Canadian, and Australian, a whole diverse world of Anglophone speakers adjusting and amending the flavour of the language with unique vernaculars and cultural and contextual influences.

Second, this association of my language as ‘vanilla’ is yet another reminder that, as a flavour, differences of perspective should not be seen as adverse to each other, but rather as individual and unique.  When combined, then, they create something new, a discourse of flavours coming together in a melange, an immersion of both likewise and disparate ideologies that develop and evolve and become something just as, if not more, meaningful because of their blending together.


On the plane, these thoughts were mixing nicely with the free wine and peanuts.  I started to think back to my presentation, which I wrote about last week, and about the differences between those of us who study Atheism (usually more history focused) and those of us who study Non-religion (usually more social-scientific).  These are like flavours, and like the idea that vanilla and chocolate are opposite, they are in fact extremely close relatives, introduced to the ‘western’ world at the same time, and from the same ‘exotic’ origin.

Thus, our language, though different, should not be seen as wholly separate or divided, but of equal essence and quality.  As I argued last week, our differences of opinion or approach don’t represent a weakness, but rather a wider discourse, leading us to a better understanding about a subject and concept, and how those whom we study go about describing themselves in a myriad of different ways.

As such, and just as how a discursive approach to the study of ‘religion’ works to release us from the precarious and difficult task of theoretically ‘defining’ the term, I find myself once again in praise of polyvocality.

After all, who hasn’t enjoyed an ice cream cone swirled with both vanilla and chocolate?


As we made our descent into Edinburgh, and I strained my eyes to make out the two towers of New College (still tragically draped in festival banners), I noticed a fly buzzing around the edges of the window.  When we landed and they opened the rear door, I caught one last glimpse of this little stowaway as it escaped into the night air.  Later, as I approached the immigration desk, I thought to myself, do you think the fly’s first thoughts, as it exited the aircraft, were:

Was soll der unsinn?  Ich spreche kein Englisch.  Wo bekomme ich ein ticket für die straßenbahn?

Shameless Self-Promotion

My initial intention with this week’s post was to discuss the little differences we might imagine between cultural and national identities, particularly concerning the notion of ‘community’ in regard to the odd liminality felt by the ‘foreign’ PhD student.  That will be next week.

Today, a special edition of the journal Science, Religion, and Culture on Atheism, Secularity, and Science was published, for which I srccontributed.  Not one to let the iron cool before striking, I thought it might be useful to use this week’s post as a blatant and entirely shameless plug not only for my own article, but for the others that accompany it as well.


I first came to learn of this special issue through Tommy Coleman, a colleague at the Religious Studies Project, who has made quite a name for himself in the field of the Psychology of Religion, and its influence on the study of Atheism, secularity, etc.  He is quite the proliferate scholar, so here are some useful sources for reading about his work:

As the co-editor of this special issue along with John R. Shook and Ralph W. Hood Jr., Tommy has played an integral role in communicating and assisting throughout the process.  For that, I am quite grateful.


The issue itself (as I perceive it) is an attempt at tackling the ever-growing identity crisis within the field of Atheist Studies, particularly in reference to the fact that there are some (perhaps many) who would likely disagree with my notion that this field should be, in any way, referred to as such.  In fact, this is rather well said in the issue’s Introduction:

Where it was once typical to begin a research article, introduction to a book volume, or special journal issue such as this one, by the researcher lamenting their particular field of study for neglecting such topics, this kind of pleading is no longer tenable (Bullivant and Lee, 2012). Nonetheless, as researchers we cannot afford to rest on our laurels for very long. While studies on atheism and secularity now exist across disciplines ranging from psychology, cognitive science, sociology, religious studies, philosophy, anthropology, and many others, this provides only a theoretical and methodological starting point from which to explore the given topic. Importantly, within each of these disciplines lay multiple competing frameworks, field-specific conceptualizations, and inter-disciplinary scuffles as to precisely what secularity is, and how to study it. Typically, pre-existing frameworks developed for use in religious believing populations are modified to fit nonbelievers, as nonbelief is often presumed to be the dark shadow of whatever belief or religiosity is (Coleman and Arrowood, 2015Silver, Coleman, Hood, and Holcombe, 2014). How far this approach will go toward answering whatever questions the scholar is interested in is an open one.

While there are points and theoretical positions within the articles published here with which I find myself in disagreement (such as Jonathan Jong’s “On (not) defining (non)religion”), the issue itself makes a number of quite useful strides toward an establishment of some sense of academic identity.  Which is no small endeavour.

For years now I have been referring to this area of interest as a ‘flying dutchman,’ cast about in a sea of opposed approaches and interests, without a distinct port-of-call.  Where before I might have lamented this fact, such as we might do when presented with the myriad ways in which the very terms we use are defined, my position has shifted a bit.

No longer do I think our ‘flying dutchman’ status is detrimental to our cause.  After all, while many voices proclaiming different things might seem to some as an atonal din, for others, that might sound like a chorus.

Or, said otherwise, and as I argued in my article, rather than dismiss this discourse because it reflects many voices saying different things, why not embrace it and simply allow people to say what it is they think and believe.

It is my opinion that this special issue does just that.

For this reason, not only was I quite happy to have been considered for this publication, I am also hopeful that it might be perceived as an example of how our theoretical and methodological hodgepodge might also prove ultimately beneficial to the academy’s larger understanding of Atheism and its many cognate terms.

For the benefit of the reader, then, I’ve provided the following links:

An Introduction to Atheism, Secularity, and Science,” by Thomas J. Coleman III, Ralph W. Hood Jr., and John R. Shook.

On (not) defining (non)religion,” by Jonathan Jong

Discourse Analysis and the Definition of Atheism,” by Ethan G. Quillen

The NonReligious-NonSpiritual Scale (NRNSS): Measuring Everyone from Atheists to Zionists,” by Ryan T. Cragun, Joseph H. Hammer, and Michael Nielsen

Atheism, Wellbeing, and the Wager: Why Not Believing in God (With Others) is Good for You,” by Luke Galen

Atheism Looking In: On the Goals and Strategies of Organized Nonbelief,” by Joseph Langston, Joseph Hammer, and Ryan T. Cragun

Explaining the Secularity of Academics: Historical Questions and Psychological Findings,” by Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi

The God of Nonbelievers: Characteristics of a Hypothetical God,” by David F. Bradley, Julie J. Exline, and Alex Uzdavines

When Rabbis Lose Faith: Twelve Rabbis Tell their Stories about their Loss of Belief in God,” by Rabbi Paul Shrell-Fox

Research note: “A Profile of the Members of the British Humanist Association,” by Gareth Longden

Research note: “Simple Markov Model for Estimating the Growth of Nonreligion in the United States,” by John Stinespring and Ryan T. Cragun

Book Review: Trent Dougherty, The Problem of Animal Pain: A Theodicy for All Creatures Great and Small, by Liz Goodnick

Book Review: The New Atheist Novel: Fiction, Philosophy, and Polemic after 9/11, by Marcus Mann

Book Review: Living the Secular Life: New Answers to Old Questions, by Amanda Schutz

Origin Story

Texas is huge.  Of all the stereotypes, that is perhaps the most accurate.  Actually, that’s not quite true.  They’re all pretty accurate, depending on who you talk to, where you talk to them, what you talk about, and the current political climate, both in the US and worldwide.

I was asked recently, as I am often asked, how I ended up in Scotland.  To answer that question I needed to first tell the story about Texas, or at least about my time in Texas.  Without that story, the other one seems less fulfilled, less complete.

We ended up in Texas because my parents retired there, like many other people fleeing California’s waning economy, and we were curious why they would make such a horrible mistake.  We flew to Austin one weekend and found ourselves loving the city.  It was different, and ‘weird,’ and seemed like a fun change of venue from the California we had grown up in.  I ended up at Baylor by writing an email to the then chair of the American Studies program requesting information about their Master’s program.  He returned an email a few days later stating that he liked my interests and that, if I wished, I could begin in September.

The master’s program at Baylor, at least for the American Studies department, is equivalent to a ‘taught masters’ in the UK.  Along with a short dissertation submitted for an oral defence in the Spring of your second year, you also take a number of required courses (up to a specific number of units, in specific areas).  I attended lectures on American history and, most importantly, on Church-State relations.  These latter courses were quite intriguing.  I had not really familiarised myself at this point with the mysteries of Civil Religion, how the Supreme Court’s decisions shaped a particular discursive means of defining American religion, the role the President played in shaping that discourse, and how this all contributed to a larger sense of religion in the American context.

I finished that first degree in one year, and was asked if I might consider joining the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church State studies for a PhD.  I quite excitedly agreed.

One of the main reasons I was asked to join their department was due to my interests in Atheism, a 1/3 aspect to the topic of my dissertation (the other two parts being Fundamentalism and New Religious Movements).  Likewise, because I was a foreigner (not Texan), and because I was, for whatever reason, not shy about diving right into controversial subject matters, I was asked to be the ‘Devil’s Advocate‘ during seminars, the voice of opposition meant to challenge the opinions of the others involved.  I was, of course, not always the only person in the room who disagreed with everyone else, but on the occasions that it did occur, it was quite fun.  Additionally, I found that the other post-graduate students in the department were wonderful debaters, and our conversations and camaraderie is something I will cherish for all time.  Eventually, however, the fun came to an end, and while my eventual demise at Baylor is it’s own story that will likely appear in here one day, it’s not something worth focusing on at this moment.  For summary purposes, I’ll just say that I was not permitted to complete the doctorate.  When I asked whether I might write up another dissertation and receive a second Master’s degree, permission was granted and so I did.


The tacos were terrible.  I was told I wouldn’t be permitted to finish the PhD at a terrible Tex-Mex restaurant in a terrible part of Waco, Texas.  Which is a terrible city.  It was rumoured for some time that the department would be undergoing some changes, and this confirmed much that I had assumed would happen.  It was refreshing in a way, finally knowing the truth.  Equally, it gave me the opportunity to make decisions, to plan accordingly with full knowledge about my future.  In all honesty, I had no idea what to do next.  The terrible tacos add a sensory addition to this memory, a feeling of nausea and uncertainty that would not have made it as meaningful were it not for how bad they were.

I drove back to Austin (we would not have lived in Waco) and started thinking about options.  I contacted a previous supervisor who made the ridiculous suggestion that I look at Universities in the UK.  I had never thought of that.  Moving to Texas was a big move.  Moving to ‘Europe’ was even bigger.  Where would we live?  How would we live?  How could we afford it?  How different would our lives be?  Would we return the same people who left?  Would we return at all?

I applied and accepted an offer to the University of Edinburgh.

My topic would be Atheism.  This was, in all honesty, a bit of a mistake.  Then again, so was religious studies.  I wanted to study Art History.  Religious Studies happened because I took a class I really enjoyed and read Huston Smith’s The World’s Religions.  It was like a novel, about real people, in real places, in real time, being religious.  Then I got involved with some Ninian Smart phenomenologists and the deal was sealed.

The Atheism thing only happened because it was what I was studying at Baylor, and I felt just moving on from there would be easy.  I wasn’t entirely correct.  However, it did lead me into the world of Atheist and, dare I say, ‘non-religious’ studies.  Which then led me to fiction, and a sort of return to my original plan: using aesthetic media (art, fiction, film) as a discursive source of Atheist identity construction.  I’ll get into more detail about ‘Ethnographic Criticism’ in a few weeks.

This also led me to become a part of the discursive world in Britain on the study of Atheism/non-religion.  This included conference presentations, roundtables, and blog writing.  For example, for a while now I’ve been struggling to write a post for the Non Religion and Secularity Research Network’s blog, not because I didn’t know what to write, but because I was unsure about how to write it.  Mostly, because of my criticism about the term, I didn’t want to take the opportunity they were offering me to exact some sort of ill-determined attack on them.  Not only did that seem pointless, but petty.  It all has something to do with the bizarre ownership I think we all feel about our subjects.

Instead, I took the opportunity to write about my own approach, about the way I have used to the term ‘Atheism,’ and how I might use my ‘Ethnographic Criticism.’


I don’t like definitions.  In my experiences studying religion and Atheism I’ve come to dislike definitions.  This is not some sort of post-modernist idea that nothing is defined or, even worse, that everything is fiction.  Rather, my dislike of definitions stems from the inevitable and troubling notion that we need to define the terms and concepts we use in a general or abstract way.  This is what I mean by ‘definitions.’

In my post for the NSRN I tried to explain this a bit more.  In fact, the post itself is a miniaturised version of my Thesis, which is itself a culmination of my research at Baylor and the subsequent interests I have been studying here in Edinburgh.  Within it I can trace the roots back to the origins of my interests all those years ago, and my writing it, as well as their posting it, seems like a sort of sub-Chapter break in my own story about Atheism.

For this, and other reasons, I implore those interested to not only read my post, but the others there as well.  They are, I believe, not only an excellent source of the particular discourse we have created with our individual approaches, but are equally stories linked back to origins just as fictional as my own.

My post: http://blog.nsrn.net/2015/02/13/discourse-analysis-and-the-study-of-atheism-definitions-discourse-and-ethnographic-criticism/  

The blog in general: http://blog.nsrn.net

The Bone Wars

Ever since I first learned of the term, I have not been the most avid fan of ‘non-religion.’ It’s always felt a bit too general, a little too ambiguous, and fairly equivocal in its meaning. Perhaps my greatest critique, though, is its use of ‘religion.’ As a relational term, the ‘non-religious’ individual is defined by their relationship to ‘religion’ which, for quite some time now, has been a term we just can’t seem to define with any certainty. So, for me, using ‘non-religion’ is like saying we’ve somehow figured out what ‘religion’ is, even if that just reflects our acceptance that it is a category ‘defined’ in yet an equally broad or general manner. One of my favorite requests of colleagues who us it, then, is to provide a definition of religion against which they are using ‘non-religion’ relationally. This has provided fun discussions, and at times erudite descriptions and defenses. I’m still not quite convinced.

While this post is about my dislike of ‘non-religion,’ it is also a criticism of the discourse within which the term ascended: the theoretical approach of defining and examining tricky terminology by creating, using, and promoting new terms, which I discussed briefly in last week’s post on Rumsfeldian Atheism. So, while ‘non-religion’ might seem to get the brunt of my discussion here, it is also aimed at terms like ‘ir-religion,’ ‘un-belief,’ or ‘positive and negative’ Atheism. To borrow their own language, then, I am using ‘non-religion’ here in a relational manner, allowing it to stand in as the direct representative for what I determine as ‘terminological abstractions.’

Which brings us to this post, and a look back. My first face-to-face encounter with ‘non-religion’ was at the Non-Religion and Secularity Research Network’s conference in 2012, held at Goldsmith’s University in London. I was very new to the field, and was thus a bit ill-prepared, so my attempt to criticize the term itself was perhaps a bit too mired in tangential humor. However, I still think the argument stands, which is why it is presented herein. First, though, and before delving into my criticism, I believe ‘non-religion’ deserves a fair introduction, which I present here with minimal commentary.

Non-Religion

The term itself, upon which the research organization The NSRN has built its foundation, stems from Lois Lee’s Doctoral Thesis, “Being Secular: Towards Separate Sociologies of Secularity, Nonreligion, and Epistemological Culture,” as well as a number of subsequent publications.[1] However, for the definition of ‘non-religion’ I will be using two sources connected to the NSRN, one from a description of their research agenda, and the other from their glossary of terms.

From the ‘about’ section of their page:

The two concepts of nonreligion and secularity are intended to summarise all positions which are necessarily defined in reference to religion but which are considered to be other than religious (see Lee, 2012). Thus, the NSRN’s research agenda is inclusive of a range of perspectives and experiences, including the atheistic, agnostic, religiously indifferent or areligious, as well as most forms of secularism, humanism and, indeed, aspects of religion itself. It also addresses theoretical and empirical relationships between nonreligion, religion and secularity.[2]

From the glossary:

Something which is defined primarily by the way it differs from religion. E.g.s might then include atheism, ‘indifference’ to religion and agnosticism would all be examples. Humanism would not be an example (although empirical cases of humanism may well be considered profoundly nonreligious in practice). Alternative spirituality would not be included where this spirituality is defined fundamentally by its autonomous principles and practices.[3]

With these two examples we get a better idea about why the term itself was constructed and how it might be made useful. They also provide what I feel is the ‘double-edge’ issue of using this sort of terminology. On one end, it provides a pragmatic, even practical, signifier that can summarize and house any and all sorts of relatable concepts under a general canopy. In this way, when we discuss individuals who share ideologies such as ‘Atheism’ or ‘agnosticism’ or ‘humanism,’ but do not wish to be labeled as such, using a term like ‘non-religion’ alleviates the issue of externally defining an individual rather than simply allowing them to internally define themselves. This, perhaps, works best when conducting sociological or survey-based quantitative research. On the other hand though, using a general term, even in all its practicality, might create larger issues concerning clarity. As well, and like I cited in my introductory critique, this also leads to a somewhat normative notion about what we mean by ‘religion.’ This, perhaps, is more problematic when conducting qualitative research.

So, while I definitely see the merits in using such general terminology, I still believe the bad outweighs the good. Moreover, I have frequently felt that constructing a new term, rather than focusing on a singular term that would then contribute to the discourse being formed by our collective examinations, seemed more like an impractical abstraction. Classifying all of us under a canopy might make practical sense in a sociological manner, but for the sake of clarity—perhaps even ethnographic clarity—this sort of generalization does more harm than good.

This argument took up the root of my presentation at the NSRN conference, which, with all its tangential and anecdotal non-sensory aside, I hope will make better sense of my argument.

Dinosaur Disparity

In 1877 Othniel Charles Marsh, a professor and paleontologist at Yale University, documented and published the discovery of a number of large vertebrae that he associated under the genera ‘sauropod.’ He named this specimen, Apatosaurus, or ‘deceptive lizard.’ Soon after, he documented another find, the largest, partially in-tact fossilized remains of any sauropod ever discovered. He named this one Brontosaurus, or ‘thunder lizard.’ While this might seem like an innocuous series of events, the discovery of these two dinosaurs speaks directly to the issue of terminological disparity, mostly because the latter dinosaur, Brontosaurus, never technically existed. Rather, what Marsh labeled as an entirely new species—Brontosaurus—was really just an adult specimen of the smaller Apatosaurus vertebrae. Thus, the Brontosaurus never really existed. It has always been an Apatosaurus.

While on the surface this presents an issue of taxonomic accuracy, which I will discuss below, the underlying problem concerning accuracy doesn’t become a major issue until a century later in October 1989. In that year, and as a promotional ‘tie-in’ with the video cassette release of Universal Picture’s The Land Before Time, the United States Postal Service released four ‘dinosaur stamps’ with the images of a Pteranadon, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Brontosaurus, and Stegosaurus.

stampland before time

For the Postal Service, these stamps were meant to provide more scientific depictions of the dinosaurs featured in the film. For the scientific community, however, they merely represented a misguided insult. Not only did they dismiss the fact that the Pteranadon was, in fact, not a dinosaur, but their perpetuated use of ‘Brontosaurus’ demonstrated an allegiance to familiarity rather than accuracy. After all, these were teaching aids, and they were teaching the wrong information.

Of course, the US Postal Service is not alone in its guilt. This is an issue that has carried on worldwide, demonstrating a discursive allegiance to the generally familiar mistake.  For example:

s1s2s3s5s6s7s8s9s10s11s12s13s14

This becomes an especially troubling issue when one considers the role commercial marketing plays in the discursive construction of conceptual identities. Consider, for example, the beloved ‘Littlefoot” in The Land Before Time, and the 13 sequels that have perpetuated his likeness as a ‘Brontosaurus.’

littlefootScreen Shot 2014-12-16 at 17.21.36

Then again, the blame of perpetuating this mistake is not solely the fault of stamps and blockbuster animated films.

In fact, the popular misidentification of Brontosaurus has been happening since 1914’s Gertie the Dinosaur helped spawn a number of Lost World themed comics all depicting a sauropod titled ‘Brontosaurus.’

gert1gert2gert3gert4gert5gert6gert7

Equally guilty is the marketing campaign of Sinclair Oil, which has used the image and name of the Brontosaurus since their two-ton animatronic sauropod was unveiled at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933, and then re-cycled again in the New York World’s Fair’s Dinoland in 1964.

sinclair

Walt Disney, of course, also has a hand in furthering this mistake, specifically for his use of the term ‘Brontosaurus’ in 1940’s Fantasia, a film that not only perpetuated the incorrect name, but also featured a battle between a Tyrannosaurus Rex and a Stegosaurus, an impossible interaction as the latter had been extinct for at least 80 million years before former ruled the Cretaceous period.

disney

Even today, this controversy carries on in books and toys and hideous t-shirts, proving that when marketed properly, an incorrect term can over-power and even supplant an accurate one.

bro1bro2bro3bro4

While I might conclude here, using the metaphor of the perpetuation of an incorrect, yet popularized term as a warning about the use of constructed definitions for the sake of generality, it is the genesis of this disparity, not just the disparity itself, that I believe offers an even clearer argument.

The Bone Wars

Between 1872 and 1892 two men, Edward Drinker Cope

copeand Othniel Charles Marsh,

marsh

vied for paleontological superiority, going to outrageous—almost comical—lengths to out-accomplish one another with discoveries and publications. They lied about their findings, stole specimens, sabotaged each other’s digs, and forged their data. They constructed whole skeletons using a ‘splitting’ technique, the combination of fossilized remains from completely unrelated sources, mixing bones of different age, sex, and species to create a more complete—and generalized—specimen. For example, Marsh used the skull of a Camarasaurus to complete the incomplete skeleton of his Brontosaurus, altering the way he and other paleontologists assessed the eating habits and environments of his greatest find.

splitting Brontosaurus body with Camarasaurus head splitting2

splitting4 Brontosaurus body with Apatosaurus head splitting3

Moreover, this equally led to a vague description, and drawing, further occluding the facts about the correlation between Apatosaurus and Brontosaurus

bro skello

Brontosaurus excelsus, gen. et sp. nov.

  “One of the largest reptiles yet discovered has been recently brought to light, and a portion of the remains are now in the Yale collection. This monster apparently belongs in the Sauropoda, but differs from any of the known genera in the sacrum, which is composed of five thoroughly co-ossified verte-bras. In some other respects it resembles Morosaurus. The ilium is of that type, and could hardly be distinguished from that of M. robustus, excepting by its larger size. One striking peculiarity of the sacrum in the present genus is- its comparative lightness, owing to the extensive cavities in the vertebrae, the walls of which are very thin.

  The lumbar vertebras have their centra constricted, and also contain large cavities. The caudals are nearly or quite solid. The chevrons have their articular heads separate. The sacrum of this animal is, approximately, 50 inches (l-27m) in length. The last sacral vertebra is 292°TM in length, and 330mm in transverse diameter across the articular face. A detailed description of these remains will be given in a subsequent communication. They are from the Atlantosaurus beds of Wyoming. The animal was probably seventy or eighty feet in length.” [4]

As might be expected from this sort of confrontation, their feud bred factions, so that the next generation of palaeontologists, whose job it was to make sense of this chaos, took up sides within either camp.

One of these individuals was Henry Fairfield Osborn, osborn a contemporary of Cope’s, who took it as his personal duty to destroy Marsh’s reputation and undermine all of his findings, particularly his sauropod specimens. To do this, he divided Marsh’s collections into synonymous taxonomies, using terminology that seemed similar, but still different, so as to deconstruct the larger concept into something that appeared otherwise ambiguous or dubious. What this also meant was a shift in terminology, not only removing Marsh’s influence in how these specimens were labeled, but altering them in such a way as to support his own stipulations.

Later, and in order to condense Osborn’s taxonomies into something more cohesive, Elmer Samuel Riggs, riggs conducted his own survey, concluding even more decidedly—and objectively, as well—that many of the discoveries made by both men were equally synonymous. Most pertinent to this discussion here, he proclaimed with finality that Marsh’s notorious Brontosaurus was not in fact a unique species, but was rather a mislabeled adult skeleton of the previously discovered Apatosaurus.

After examining the type specimens of these genera, and making a careful study of the unusually well-preserved specimen described in this paper, the writer is convinced that [Marsh’s] Apatosaur specimen is merely a young animal of the form represented in the adult of the Brontosaur specimen. …In fact, upon the one occasion that Professor Marsh compared these two genera he mentioned the similarity between…their respective types. In view of these facts, the two genera may be regarded as synonymous. As the term “Apatosaurus” has priority, “Brontosaurus” will be regarded as a synonym [5]

With just a few sentences, Riggs made the closing statement on the issue of the Brontosaurus, demoting it from an identified thing, to a synonymous mistake.

Yet, and even though attempts at correcting this inaccuracy are constant reminders of the Apatosaurus’ true identity,

apato correct

Brontosaurus still lives on. This is perhaps mostly the result of public discourse, of the way a term is consumed and propagated, and thus crystalized by its very usage. It is also, I might add, a warning against using synonymous—generalized—terminology in place of more correct terms.

Conclusion

One might think that this critical little anecdote about the dangers of terminological creativity is my attempt at promoting the term ‘Atheism’ above the term ‘non-religion.’ This would be, as I hope to elucidate, an incorrect perception. Rather, my criticism is not made here to promote my own work, but rather to suggest a bit more caution.

That is, I would argue that the ‘bone wars’ represents an ideal correlation to the discourse that develops out of an emerging field, such as the study of Atheism, non-religion, humanism, secularity, etc. Likewise, I think it in many ways echoes the difficulty in attempting to find a singular group identity out of the variants that we produce in our research. Like the larger field of Religious Studies, we are each providing a discursive sample of a larger entity, so that a general definition, such as ‘non-religion,’ though pragmatically used to provide a canopy under which we might all co-exist, is just as disparaging as generalizing the term ‘religion.’ Of course, one might then argue that even when we are actually researching something quite unique in the larger field of Religious Studies, we are still doing so under the canopy of a pragmatically ambiguous ‘religion.’ Which I agree. However, I do not see this as the end result of using the term ‘non-religion.’ Mostly, this is because our acceptance of the term ‘religion’—though not everyone has accepted this—comes with the caveat that we have progressed along a distinct tract beginning with sui generis notions about the substantive vs. functionalist quality of ‘religion,’ and arrived at a point with no real conclusive and final ‘definition.’ Which is the point, I think. For this reason, I avoid using the term ‘non-religion’ because I do not beleive adding a further ambiguous term to our discourse provides any sort of assistance in the process. Does this mean the study of Atheism, non-religion, humanism, secularity, etc., falls under the canopy ‘religion?’ I’d say yes. Which is likely where I separate myself from the NSRN.

So, in the end, this discussion is not so much about my issue with using the term ‘non-religion’ as a replacement for terms such as ‘Atheism,’ but is rather an argument that a synonymous umbrella is not really all that necessary. After all, we have at least a vague idea about what a ‘dinosaur’ is, even when that concept is amended and altered and changed within the discourse on what might constitute an Apatosaurus or Brontosaurus. Like ‘religion,’ ‘dinosaur’ is a fluid, plastic term, a discursive entity that does not need to be defined, but that is rather imbued by the discourse on entities like Apatosaurus or Brontosaurus. Which for me works for Atheism and ‘religion.’ That might not work for everyone, which I accept. Yet, I’d much rather contend with the disparity between ‘Atheism’ and ‘religion’ than place myself under a terminological umbrella that seems like an established concept merely given a new name. That’s a bit too much like calling an Apatosaurus something it isn’t.

[1] See also Lois Lee, “From Neutrality to Dialogue: Constructing the Religious Other in British Non-Religious Discourses” in Maren Behrensen, Lois Lee, and Ahmet S. Tekelioglu, eds., Modernities Revisited (Vienna: IWM Junior Visiting Fellows’ Conferences 2011); Lois Lee, “Research Note: Talking about a Revolution: Terminology for the New Field of Non-Religion Studies” (Journal of Contemporary Religion, Vol. 27, No. 1), 129-139; and Stephen Bullivant & Lois Lee, “Interdisciplinary Studies of Non-Religion and Secularity: The State of the Union” (Journal of Contemporary Religion, Vol. 27, No. 1), 19-27.

[2] http://nsrn.net/about/

[3] http://nonreligionandsecularity.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/nsrn-glossary-28-aprl-2011-lois-lee1.pdf

[4] Charles Othniel Marsh, “Notice of New Jurassic Reptiles” (American Journal of Science, 3rd series, v. 18, 1879), 501-505.

[5] Elmer Riggs, “Structure and Relationships of Opisthoceolian Dinosaurs, Part I, Apatosaurus Marsh” (Publs. Field Col. Mus. Geol., Ser. 2, 1903), 165-196.

See also:

Pixar’s upcoming film ‘The Good Dinosaur,’ which is described as such: “Arlo, a 70-foot-tall teenage Apatosaurus, befriends a young human boy named Spot.” http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1979388/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Stephen Jay Gould’s own discussion in Bully for Brontosaurushttp://www.amazon.co.uk/Bully-Brontosaurus-Reflections-Natural-History/dp/039330857X/ref=dp_ob_image_bk