During the second half of the nineteenth century popular atheist movements were emerging in the United States and Britain and skepticism about Christianity was becoming widespread. This newly embraced secularization created a paradox. How could Western civilization represent the pinnacle of human progress, as most white atheists accepted, when the majority of these societies still believed in Christianity? The result of this tension was a profound ambivalence regarding issues of racial and civilizational superiority. At times, white atheists assented to scientific racism and hierarchical conceptions of civilization; at others, they denounced racial prejudice and spoke favorably of non-white, non-Western civilizations.
This book offers a long-overdue historical analysis of the racial views of atheists and freethinkers in the United States and Britain during this time period. It provides a much-needed account of the complex and sometimes contradictory ideas espoused by this transatlantic community, tracing the complex ways in which they grappled with ideas about white superiority, and the role they played in early advocacy against racism and in favor of human rights.
This exciting book delves into an understudied aspect of secular studies, and will be welcomed by anyone seeking a better understanding of modern racism and its origins.
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Table of Contents
List of figures i
Introduction: the tangled histories of Christianity, secularization, and race 1
1 Were Adam and Eve our first parents? Atheism and polygenesis 28
2 Brute men: race and society in evolution 53
3 A London Zulu: savagery and civilization 84
4 The wise men of the East: India, China, and Japan 115
5 The best friends the negro ever had: African Americans and white atheists 142
6 The curse of race prejudice: rethinking race at the turn of the century 175
Conclusion: what next for racism in a godless world? 205