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Atheists in American Politics: Social Movement Organizing from the Nineteenth to the Twenty-First Centuries, Richard J. Meagher

Reviewed by Jesse M. Smith

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In the words of its author, this book is meant to “take atheism seriously as a social and political movement” (p. 13). Given the significant growth of the nonreligious in twenty-first century America, along with the lack of research focused squarely on the political relevance of atheist organizations, Richard Meagher’s study is timely, and it makes a useful contribution to the growing body of scholarship on—what many researchers are now calling—nonreligion and secularity. Based on content analysis of archival data from publications reaching back to the late 1800s, the book offers a brief description of organized atheism in the United States while proffering an analysis of its political character and evolution over some 150 years.

Meagher’s goal is to explain the political mobilization of atheists by accounting for select historical moments and the sociopolitical conditions that led to changes in the movement over time. The author uses a crime model framework, which consolidates elements of traditional movement theories such as resource mobilization and political process to advance his argument about the successes and failures of organized atheism. One strength of the book is its integration of political theory with recent sociological work focused on issues of atheist identity and discourse.

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