Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Department of Politics and Government: Political Science

First Advisor

Lane Crothers


After September 11th, 2001, public criticism of religion took front and center stage in the United States like never before, epitomized by the works of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens – the so-called “New Atheists”. In this thesis, I reunderstand the New Atheism as an oppositional social movement that promises important contributions to the recent trend in academic scholarship geared toward the study of religion and secularism. Reunderstanding is essential because the mainstream scholarly treatment of the New Atheism has not fully, much less charitably, drawn out the purpose and upshot of New Atheist viewpoints in areas such as international relations and American political culture. Accordingly I correct prominent misconceptions (the ‘struggles’) of the New Atheism that stem from this uncharitable and, at times, summarily dismissive engagement. These misconceptions include the charges that New Atheists are: mere polemicists and fundamentalists of a secular kind; ‘Islamophobic’ neoconservatives who pedal a strident white male identity politics; and bad philosophers ill-equipped to the task of growing public knowledge through sophisticated discourse. I then make explicit the contributions (the ‘wishes’) of the New Atheists through three distinct, but related approaches, namely critical theory, affinity politics, and public philosophy. These contributions include redeploying the power of ideas in analyses of religious violence; reestablishing liberal principles in the face of religious fundamentalism and secular multicultural relativism; and reasserting secular citizenship in the face of civil and uncivil religion. In sum, New Atheists challenge the legitimacy, integrity, and pedigree of faith-based belief in a modern world where faith may very well be ‘too big to fail.’


Imported from ProQuest Rice_ilstu_0092N_11126.pdf


Page Count


Included in

Religion Commons