Abstract and Keywords
A particular affinity between Western Europe and atheism is commonly perceived. This essay outlines the ways in which especially histories of atheism and secularization have described and assumed this affinity, and argues that a tradition of empirical research is needed in order to understand and establish it. This essay also introduces some pioneering quantitative and qualitative contributions towards such a tradition. This research illuminates three aspects of Western European atheism: (i) its notable but also varying pervasiveness in individual countries; (ii) its significant cultural and social sides; and (iii) the extent to which these aspects of Western European atheism are unique to Western Europe and intrinsically Western European in that sense. This essay argues that, ultimately, Western European atheisms can only be understood by comparison with other atheisms from around the world. It calls therefore for the development of a global, comparative programme of research.
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