What does it mean to grow up godless?

Rachael Shillitoe, Anna Harriet Block Strhan

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 presentation, drawing on findings from a broader research project examining how, when, where, and with whom children learn to be non-religious, we examine what it means for children themselves to be ‘non-religious’ and ‘non-believing’. Based on ethnographic fieldwork with primary schools in three contrasting areas of England, we re-centre the voices of children and present how children articulate and reflect on the place – and absence – of religion, God(s) and other supernatural beings in their lifeworlds. Taking both a relational and lived approach to the study of non-religion in the lives of children, 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.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2022
EventAssociation for the Sociology of Religion 83rd Annual Meeting - Sheraton Grand Hotel, Los Angeles, United States
Duration: 6 Aug 20228 Aug 2022


ConferenceAssociation for the Sociology of Religion 83rd Annual Meeting
Abbreviated titleASR Annual Meeting
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityLos Angeles
Internet address

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