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Discourse Analysis and the Definition of Atheism

Discourse Analysis and the Definition of Atheism

Ethan G. Quillen

Religious Studies, The University of Edinburgh, Mound Place, Edinburgh, Scotland, EH1 2LX, United Kingdom.



In recent years the study of Atheism has grown in popularity, leading to both positive and negative results. On one end, this has engendered a polyvocal and polyfocal discourse, garnering perspectives from a number of different methodological and theoretical approaches so as to develop a truly inter- and multi-disciplinary understanding about what we mean when we discuss Atheism. On the other, this myriad of voices has equally led to an ever-broadening discordancy, an equivocal discourse that makes it all the more difficult to identify any sort of common or universal definition. This latter issue is, as this paper will argue, the result of a theoretical abstraction, a scholarly attempt at theorizing a general interpretation. This is evinced not just by the way the term has been contrarily defined, but by a number of novel approaches, such as the creation and use of umbrella terms such as ‘non-religion,’ or the precarious notion of a division between ‘positive’ and/or ‘negative ‘Atheism. This article will attempt to assuage this issue by mapping out the discursive shifts presented within the discourse on defining the term, as well as promote a more discursive approach, linking the study of Atheism with the study of religion, and thereby the issues addressed in defining ‘religion’ with those affecting the definition of ‘Atheism.’

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Science, Religion and Culture


Vol. 5, Sp. Iss. 1 Pages 1-82


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