Growing Up Godless: Non-religious Childhoods in Contemporary England

Anna Harriet Block Strhan*, Rachael Marie Shillitoe

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


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 experiences of non-religious children. In this paper, we draw on the findings from a broader 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. The voices of children are centred as we present how they articulate and reflect on the place – and absence – of religion, God(s) and other supernatural beings in their lifeworlds, and we explore how they perceive and perform their relationships to a range of religious phenomena they encounter in their everyday lives. Challenging wider narratives that equate secularity with disenchantment, we demonstrate how children’s non-belief in God is held alongside a range of other beliefs, including beliefs about life after death and in particular supernatural and magical figures. Through examining what it means to them to be non-religious, we foreground the different forms of cultural authority and values that matter to these children in shaping their identities and beliefs. We argue that their non-religiosity is bound up with their emphasis on respecting difference and an ethics of authenticity and freedom in relation to (non-)religious identities.


ConferenceEuropean Sociological Association Sociology of Religion Research Network Conference
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