Becoming Non-believers: Understanding Atheism in Childhood

Anna Harriet Block Strhan*, Rachael Shillitoe, Lois Lee

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


The rise of the “non-religious” across many former Christian liberal democracies has been rapid (Woodhead 2016, 2017; Inglehart 2021). In Britain, “no religion” has now replaced Christianity as the cultural default, especially amongst younger age groups (Woodhead 2017), while only around half the overall population now express some sort of belief in some kind of God (Voas & Bruce 2019). The rise of the “nones” has led to a burgeoning literature on “non-religion,” atheism and other forms of so-called “unbelief.” Yet while existing research has demonstrated that socialization within both the family and education are contributing to the rise of the “nones” and to declining religious belief, we lack investigations based on data from children which account for the formation of non-religion and non-belief in early life, or which offer detailed explanations of the interplay of processes shaping how “atheisation” (Sheard 2014) takes place across generations.

In this paper, we address this gap through reporting findings from a qualitative study examining how children become non-religious and non-believing, based on ethnographic fieldwork with primary schools in three contrasting areas of England and in-depth interviews with children, parents, and teachers. Examining the relation between socialization processes within the family, educational settings, and broader national and media contexts, we describe how an ethic of authenticity and autonomy comes to be privileged by children, parents, and school staff, and consider how this is distinctively shaping children’s non-religious sensibilities and non-belief in God(s) within a broader landscape of growing religious and nonreligious diversity.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - Nov 2022
EventSociety for the Scientific Study of Religion Annual Meeting - Baltimore, United States
Duration: 11 Nov 202213 Nov 2022


ConferenceSociety for the Scientific Study of Religion Annual Meeting
Abbreviated titleSSSR
Country/TerritoryUnited States
Internet address

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