[...] Until now, atheism has never held much interest for sociologists of religion such as myself. The numbers of people identifying themselves as atheists in surveys have been a small fraction of the population, and atheist organisations have had relatively little impact on the wider cultural landscape. But this could be changing. The high public profile (and sales) of recent books by Dawkins, Richard Dennett, AC Grayling, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens suggests growing numbers of people may be being drawn to identifying themselves in opposition to religion.
Dawkins's declared interest in making atheism more publicly acceptable - exemplified by the sale of 'A for atheism' T-shirts on his website - demonstrates that this phenomenon is not simply about philosophical debates concerning the existence of God. The sheer ferocity of many of the atheist critiques of religion also suggests that we are not in the territory of reasoned debate, but witnessing the birth pangs of a new, anti-religious cultural identity.
We are now seeing a concerted effort being made to validate an atheist cultural identity through media and consumer products, just as evangelicals have already used these resources to consolidate their form of Christian identity in the modern world. Read more