How did atheist, secularist, and humanist ideas circulate within and across nations in the long nineteenth century? This conference seeks to consider this question at both micro and macro scales, exploring the local, national, and international networks that enabled freethought to flourish. The nineteenth century was a period during which developments across physical and social sciences, politics and activism, technology and travel gave rise to new ways of conceiving the universe and humanity’s place within it. While it is abundantly clear that this did not lay an uncomplicated path towards secularisation, there were many individuals who through their lives, writings, and actions sought to establish a secular age.
The question of terminology is often fraught and, as Nathan Alexander (2019) observes, the terms used to frame the field of historical unbelief can often serve to reinscribe particularly Western concerns. Although the category of freethinker (or Freidenker, libre-penseurs, fritänkare etc.) is not exempt from such difficulties, we use it is a multivalent term that speaks more broadly to the freedom of thought, speech, and action that liberation from religious frameworks can instil. Furthermore, it was used in the nineteenth century to encompass a range of positions, from militant, antagonistic atheists to those …read more