Reimagining the secular : the Sunday assembly – belonging without believing

Bullock, Josh (2016) Reimagining the secular : the Sunday assembly – belonging without believing. In: “The Diversity of Nonreligion” Closing Conference & NSRN Annual Conference 2016; 07 – 09 Jul 2016, Zurich, Switzerland. (Unpublished)


Grace Davie (1994) famously wrote over two decades ago that ‘the overall pattern of religious life is changing. For it appears that more and more people within British Society want to believe but do not want to involve themselves in religious practice.’ Hence, the catchphrase ‘believing without belonging’ was coined. Twenty-two years later has the (non)religious landscape changed once again? My doctoral research follows the Sunday Assembly, a secular congregation that celebrates life, with the motto: live better, help often and wonder more. Their vision is: to help everyone live life as fully as possible. The Sunday Assembly entered the non-religious market place in January 2013 with their flagship London congregation. Now, 68- franchised chapters of the Godless congregation exist in 8 different countries, attempting to provide community, belonging and wonder to the religiously unaffiliated market. Once described as ‘the best bits of church but with no religion and with awesome pop songs!’, the best bits literally borrow established successful terminology, practices, liturgies and models of building community found within Christian churches. Often labelled oxymoronically the ‘atheist church’ - it parallels and mimics the functionality of church life without the need for a deity. Therefore, studying the Sunday Assembly may offer a new variation to Davie’s ‘believing without belonging’ that is ‘belonging without believing.’ As more and more people now identify as being non-religious in the United Kingdom and America, this paper will aim to answer what factors are enticing people towards the Sunday Assembly and their non- religious practice. This paper will present findings from my analysis of the Sunday Assembly. Drawing upon 36 in-depth semi-structured interviews and a year-long ethnography spent with the London Sunday Assembly congregation.

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