The sociology of the Sunday assembly : 'belonging without believing' in a post-Christian context

Bullock, Josh (2018) The sociology of the Sunday assembly : 'belonging without believing' in a post-Christian context. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


The Sunday Assembly, a secular congregation with the motto ‘Live Better, Help Often, Wonder More’, took centre stage in the nonreligious marketplace in 2013. Since then, over 70 franchised global congregations have opened their doors to the nonreligious affiliated market. If Britain is displaying how religions can fade, the Sunday Assembly becomes the perfect case study to examine what comes next. This thesis is an ethnographic study of the Sunday Assembly London and utilises 35 semi-structured interviews with members of the congregation. It addresses what the Sunday Assembly reveals about believing, belonging and community, and their relationship with religion, secularisation and wonder. The study highlights generational trends towards nonreligion in the UK and, in particular, how the Sunday Assembly uses existing religious structures, rituals and practices to flourish. It is through this post-Christian transition that religion is understood as a chain of memory (Hervieu-Léger, 2000); that people are still seeking to belong, but do not wish to believe in a religious doctrine, thus ‘belonging without believing’ is transpiring. I argue that the demographic profile of Sunday Assembliers is homogeneous, with similar life experiences and values, the majority of whom once held a religious belief and now do not, are not hostile towards religion, are from the same ethnic group (white British), are typically middle class and seek to congregate, and thus represent a very different nonreligion estranged from its ‘New Atheist’ predecessors. The growth and initial demand of and for the Sunday Assembly indicate that a Christian culture still exists and the congregational community structure is still sought in a post- Christian transition. By rejecting Christianity, but with a heritage of Christian memory still persisting, the Sunday Assembly offers a suitable alternative to a congregational religious community. The Sunday Assembly warrants attention in the 21st century as it offers explanations to the changing nature of the religious landscape and nonreligious discourse in the West.

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