Growing Up Godless: Childhood and Non-Religion in Contemporary Britain

Anna Harriet Block Strhan*, Rachael Shillitoe

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


The rise of those identifying as “non-religious” in 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, while only around half the overall population now express some sort of belief in some kind of God (Voas and Bruce 2019). The rise of the “nones” has fueled a burgeoning literature on “non-religion,” atheism and other forms of so-called “unbelief.” Yet we know little about how children are being socialized as non-religious or about the lived experiences of non-religious children.

In this paper, we report findings from a qualitative research project examining how, when, where, and with whom children learn to be non-religious, based on ethnographic fieldwork with primary schools in three contrasting areas of England and in-depth interviews with children, parents, and teachers. Through comparing how children and their parents talk about and engage with religion and how this is interwoven with particular ethics and cultural values, our paper reveals the shifting ethics of non-religion across generations. We argue that ethical sensibilities in relation to religion are shifting across generations, with more anti-religious stances held by many of the non-religious parents in our study giving way amongst their children to an ethic of respect for religious – and other kinds of – difference, within a wider social context in the UK of growing religious diversity, and consider what this means for how we understand processes of “atheisation” across generations and for how we conceptualize “non-religion” and “non-belief.”
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages28
Publication statusPublished - 2022
EventAmerican Sociological Association 117th Annual Meeting - Los Angeles, United States
Duration: 5 Aug 20229 Aug 2022
Conference number: 117


ConferenceAmerican Sociological Association 117th Annual Meeting
Abbreviated titleASA
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityLos Angeles
Internet address

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