Nathan Alexander

Thesis Title: Atheists and Racial Thought in Britain and the United States, c. 1850-1914
Supervisor: Professor Colin Kidd
Email: nga@st-andrews.ac.uk

I am a Ph.D. student in the School of History at the University of St Andrews, where I study under Professor Colin Kidd. I did my B.A. (Honours History) at the University of Waterloo and my M.A. (History) at Wilfrid Laurier University, both of which are in Canada, where I am also from.

My research project examines the racial thought of British and American atheists, agnostics, and freethinkers from c. 1850 to 1914. While the influence of Christian thought weighed heavily upon conversations surrounding the origins and nature of human races, as well as upon related social questions like the legacies of slavery and the legitimacy of imperialism, historians have yet to consider how non-religious people engaged with racial thought. Nonetheless, there is a trend in the historiography, which I have dubbed the “Race-Secularization Thesis,” that suggests a link between the secularization in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and an increase in racialism – that is, racial essentialism and determinism – as well as resulting racial prejudice and discrimination in the nineteenth century. By examining periodicals, books, debates, and speeches of leading atheists, I suggest that while some atheists did indeed embrace racialism, a scientific and rationalist approach led others to reject it. My findings, while not completely invalidating the “Race-Secularization Thesis,” demonstrate that the relationship between atheism and racial thought is more complex than might be assumed.

The history of atheism is an emerging field of research and a topic with much contemporary relevance. According to recent polling data, the number of atheists worldwide is at an all-time high, making the study of the history of atheism critical to understanding contemporary issues like discrimination and persecution against atheists, the relationship between religion and state in a rapidly secularizing society, and the interaction between atheists and other religions, in particular Christianity and Islam.

I am a co-founding director of the International Society for Historians of Atheism, Secularism, and Humanism, a managing editor of the journal, Secularism and Nonreligion, and an assistant editor of the Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network blog.

Peer-Reviewed Publications

“E.D. Morel (1873-1924), the Congo Reform Association, and the History of Human Rights,” Britain and the World (accepted, forthcoming, 2016).

Online Publications

“Event Report: Rethinking Boundaries in the Study of Religion and Politics”
Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network Blog
http://blog.nsrn.net/2015/11/13/event-report-rethinking-boundaries-in-the-study-of-religion-and-politics/
November 2015

“The Terms of Unbelief: An Atheist By Any Other Name”
The GC Advocate, CUNY Graduate Centre newspaper
http://gcadvocate.com/2015/02/25/the-terms-of-unbelief-atheist-by-any-other-name/
February 2015

“Atheist Churches Aren’t New”
Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network Blog
http://blog.nsrn.net/2014/05/23/atheist-churches-arent-new/
May 2014

Public Lectures

“British Secularists and Racial Thought in the Nineteenth Century”
Presented at a meeting of the Scottish Secular Society, Glasgow, Scotland
4 September 2014

Conference and Seminar Presentations

“‘This may be the doctrine of race prejudice, but it is not that of reason, science, or Freethought’: Atheists Against ‘Race Prejudice’ at the Start of the Twentieth Century”
Presented at the Modern History Postgraduate Forum
University of St Andrews, Scotland
23 November 2015

“Savagery and Civilization in Anglophone Atheist Thought, 1850-1900”
Presented at the Historical Perspectives Seminar Series
University of Glasgow, Scotland
21 October 2015

“Is the Definition of ‘Atheism’ Self-Evident? A Historical Approach”
Presented at “Re-thinking Boundaries in the Study of Religion and Politics: Postgraduate Conference”
University of Aberdeen, Scotland
11 September 2015

“Charles Bradlaugh (1833-1891), Definitions of Atheism, and the Linguistic Revolution that (Mostly) Failed to Happen”
Presented at “Interdisciplinarity and Pluralism: The Practice of Intellectual History and Conceptual History”
University of St Andrews, Scotland
4 September 2015

“History as an Irreligious Weapon: How Atheists in the Late 19th Century Used the History of Slavery and the Slave Trade Against Christianity”
Presented at the Historical Perspectives Conference
University of St Andrews, Scotland
3 June 2015

“The Congo Reform Association, the Civilizing Mission, and the History of Human Rights”
Presented at the Modern History Postgraduate Forum
University of St Andrews, Scotland
6 April 2015

“Whites Atheists’ Portrayals of Black Americans, 1865-1914”
Presented at the “PG X-Change Seminar”
University of St Andrews, Scotland
13 March 2015

“Rethinking Histories of Atheism”
Presented at “Methodology in Question, International PhD Conference in the History of Science and Ideas”
Stockholm University, Sweden
23 November 2014

“Infidel Anti-Racism: The Case of ‘the Great Agnostic’ Robert Ingersoll (1833-1899)”
Presented at “Protest: Resistance and Dissent in America,” British Association for American Studies Postgraduate Conference
University of Sussex, England
15 November 2014

“Atheism and Race in the Nineteenth-Century Atlantic World”
Presented at the History and Cultures Workshop
University of Birmingham, England
16 October 2014

“Race and Empire in the Atheistic Thought of Charles Bradlaugh (1833-1891)”
Presented at “Britain and the World 2014 Conference”
University of Newcastle, England
21 June 2014

“Race in the (Free)Thought of Robert Owen and John Stuart Mill”
Presented at the Modern British History Network Conference
University of St Andrews, Scotland
10 June 2014

“Race and Atheism in the World of Charles Bradlaugh: Britain, India, and America”
Presented at the Modern History Postgraduate Forum
University of St Andrews, Scotland
31 March 2014

“Atheism and Race in the 19th Century: The Case of Charles Bradlaugh”
Presented at the Historical Perspectives Seminar Series
University of Glasgow, Scotland
19 March 2014

“‘Race’ and the Anglo-Asante Wars
Presented at “Engaging and Articulating ‘Race’: Historical Encounters with Race and Racialization,” Graduate Student Conference
University of Victoria, Canada
19 June 2010