Exploring contemporary issues in the
academic study of religion through podcasts.

The Religious Studies Project is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organization (SCIO) devoted to producing engaging and accessible resources for the contemporary study of religion.

Since 2012, our weekly podcast and written response essays have featured hundreds of scholars sharing their research and expertise in religious studies.

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The Religious Studies Project
The Religious Studies Project

Podcasts and Resources on the Contemporary Social-Scientific Study of Religion

The Church of Saint Thomas Paine: Religion without God

In this interview, Dan Gorman talks with Leigh Eric Schmidt about his 2021 book The Church of Saint Thomas Paine: A Religious History of American Secularism. Despite its title, Schmidt’s book is not a religious biography of Thomas Paine, but rather a survey of the ways that atheists and agnostics have used Paine as a symbol or figure of devotion.

Schmidt organizes his book into sections on secular relics (focusing on Paine’s exhumed, missing body), secular rituals (focusing on nineteenth-century Americans who sought new frameworks for life events), and secular institutions (focusing on attempts to organize various churches of humanity). An epilogue looks at secularism in the twentieth century. Several atheist and free thought congregations earned tax-exempt status as religious organizations, but religious conservatives from the Cold War onward stoked popular fears that secularists wanted to take over America. Throughout the book, Schmidt highlights a fundamental argument in the atheist/nontheist community: Does an absence of belief in God mean an absence of religion and all the things that go with it? As Schmidt’s history of Thomas Paine fans reveals, the answer is no; a religion can operate on functional lines without a belief in God.

Other topics of conversation include the effects of COVID-19 on Schmidt’s research and writing process, the design and semiotics of the book’s hardcover edition, conservative critiques of Schmidt’s support for liberal religion and secularism in public life, and the book’s connection to Schmidt’s earlier Restless Souls (2nd ed. 2012).

The Church of Saint Thomas Paine: Religion without God

Tune in for today's #RSPmonday featuring Leigh Eric Schmidt and Dan Gorman discussing religion without God and the use of Thomas Paine as a symbol of atheism.

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Our Latest Response

To My Comrade in Deconstructive Critique

Mitsutoshi Horii, in his response to our season 11 episode with Jason Ā. Josephson Storm, furthers Storm's discussion of the importance of problematizing our systems of classification and highlights the critical scholarship in religious studies doing some of this work.


Sharing scholarly dialogue about our podcasts

Earlier Responses

Nothing Is Perfect, but Is Anything New?

K. Merinda Simmons nuances and furthers Jason Josephson Storm’s episode from Season 11 by reflecting critically on the ways in which postmodernism is explicitly—or even implicitly—dismissed in religious studies scholarship.

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Textbook in Today’s University

Responding to our interview with Paul Hedges, Steven Ramey builds on the discussion by arguing for the necessity of unpacking the authority associated with textbooks and shifting pedagogical approaches from presenting information to training students to think critically about the information presented.

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