A much-maligned minority throughout American history, atheists have been cast as a threat to the nation's moral fabric, barred from holding public office, and branded as irreligious misfits in a nation chosen by God. Yet, village atheists—as these godless freethinkers came to be known by the close of the nineteenth century—were also hailed for their gutsy dissent from stultifying pieties and for posing a necessary secularist challenge to majoritarian entanglements of church and state. In Village Atheists: How America's Unbelievers Made Their Way in a Godly Nation
(Princeton University Press, 2016), Professor Leigh Eric Schmidt explores the complex cultural terrain that unbelievers have long had to navigate in their fight to secure equal rights and liberties in American public life. Examining the multilayered world of social exclusion, legal jeopardy, yet also civic acceptance in which American atheists and secularists lived, Schmidt shows how it was only in the middle decades of the twentieth century that nonbelievers attained a measure of legal vindication, yet even then they have often found themselves marginalized on the edges of a God-trusting, Bible-believing nation.
Professor Leigh Eric Schmidt
is the Edward C. Mallinckrodt Distinguished University Professor in the Humanities at Washington University in St. Louis and joined the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics in 2011. He earned his undergraduate degree in history and religious studies from the University of California, Riverside, in 1983 and his Ph.D. in religion from Princeton in 1987. He has appeared on a number of NPR programs and other radio shows to discuss his many books and he also comments on current issues in American religion and culture, for such notable media outlets as The Atlantic
, The New York Times
, The Wall Street Journal
, the Washington Post
, London Times
, Boston Globe
, and a number of other recognizable titles.
Carrie Lynn Evans is a PhD student at Université Laval in Quebec City.