Soft atheism and 'patch and make do' spirituality amongst nonreligious European millennials

Bullock, Josh and Herbert, David (2021) Soft atheism and 'patch and make do' spirituality amongst nonreligious European millennials. In: Beyond Binaries in the Sociology of Religion : British Sociological Association : Sociology of Religion Study Group Annual Conference; 13 - 15 Jul 2021, Held online. (Unpublished)


This paper draws on interviews with 67 nonreligious millennials across 25 European towns and cities (2017-2018), part of a research programme (Understanding Unbelief) which aims to map the global diversity of nonreligion. In this paper, we contribute by examining the presence of paranormal, superstitious, magical, and supernatural (PSMS) beliefs and a sense of immanent moral structure to the world among a substantial minority (34%) of our interviewees. Beliefs relating to luck, fate and a sense of cosmic interconnection are widely distributed and often use a shared New Age-influenced vocabulary. Others vary by national context, for example relating to folklore in Romania and superstition in Poland. The prevalence is higher in Eastern than in Western Europe, and we discuss possible reasons for this. Many interviewees express discomfort or tension around a sense of inconsistency in holding these beliefs alongside a rationalist-materialist cognitive framework. We investigate how they articulate this tension, and consider explanations for the persistence of these beliefs, particularly in terms of their ongoing social and psychological role in the lives of many young nonreligious Europeans.

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