A Common Godlessness: A Snapshot of a Canadian University Atheist Club, Why Its Members Joined, and What That Community Means to Them

  • Steven TomlinsEmail author
Part of the Boundaries of Religious Freedom: Regulating Religion in Diverse Societies book series (BOREFRRERE, volume 2)


In Canada there is an increasing demographic of atheists who belong to atheist organizations. This chapter, based on interviews with members of the Atheist Community of the University of Ottawa, asks why these members joined an atheist community, and what that community means to them. It points to a simple desire to converse with like-minded people being the number one reason for joining the student group. Other reasons included a desire to converse in a safe place where the probability of causing offense was minimalized. Missing from the majority of responses was a desire for activism and the propagation of atheism in Canada, two reasons often cited for why atheists join communities in the United States. To account for this difference a short analysis of atheisms relationship to Canadian multiculturalism is undertaken. As with all fieldwork, the results reflect the answers of a limited sample of individuals. The findings from this singular snapshot of one university atheist community nevertheless points to at least one form of “Canadianized atheism” whereby the desire not to be offensive merges with the desire to engage in discussions with like-minded individuals on topics pertaining to religion that are often controversial. The chapter concludes that in order to understand atheism in Canada one must also take into consideration how political responses to diversity, such as multiculturalism, play a role in the shaping of how atheist communities are understood and how they understand themselves.


Religious People Western Democracy Reasonable Accommodation Club Meeting Atheist Group 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Adams, Michael. 2008. Unlikely utopia: The surprising triumph of Canadian multiculturalism. Toronto: Penguin Group.Google Scholar
  2. Ajzenstat, Janet, Paul Romney, Ian Gentles, and William D. Gairdner. 2003. Canada’s founding debates. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.Google Scholar
  3. Atheist Community of the University of Ottawa. 2012. Constitution. Ottawa: ACUO, September.Google Scholar
  4. Bayart, Jean-François. 2005. The illusion of cultural identity. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  5. Cimino, Richard, and Christopher Smith. 2007. Secular humanism and atheism beyond progressive secularism. Sociology of Religion 68(4): 407–424.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Edgell, Penny, Joseph Gerteis, and Douglas Hartmann. 2006. Atheists as ‘other’: Moral boundaries and cultural membership in American society. American Sociological Review 71(2): 211–234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Fleras, Augie, and Jean Leonard Elliot. 2002. Engaging diversity: Multiculturalism in Canada. Toronto: Nelson Thompson Learning.Google Scholar
  8. Griffiths, Rudyard. 2009. Who we are: A citizen’s manifesto. Toronto: Douglass & McIntyre.Google Scholar
  9. Gwyn, Richard. 2011. Nation maker: Sir John A. MacDonald: His life, our times: Volume 2: 1867–1891. Toronto: Random House.Google Scholar
  10. International Humanist and Ethical Union. 2012. Freedom of thought 2012: A global report on discrimination against humanists, atheists and the nonreligious.
  11. Kymlicka, Will. 2010. The current state of multiculturalism in Canada and research themes on Canadian multiculturalism 2008–2010. Catalogue No. Ci96-112/2010E-PDF, Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada.Google Scholar
  12. Statistics Canada. 2001. Increase in those reporting ‘no religion’. 2001 Census. Government of Canada. Accessed 22 Feb 2013.
  13. Statistics Canada. 2004. Young adults are the most likely to have no religious affiliation. Chart. 2004 General Social Survey. Accessed 22 Feb 2013.
  14. Statistics Canada. 2013. The Daily – 2011 National Household Survey: Immigration, place of birth, citizenship, ethnic origin, visible minorities, language and religion. Statistics Canada, May 8. Accessed 4 June 2013.
  15. Vertovec, Steven, and Susanne Wessendorf. 2010. The multiculturalism backlash: European discourses, policies and practices. London: Routledge.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Classics and Religious StudiesUniversity of OttawaOttawaCanada

Personalised recommendations