Date of Award

Fall 2013

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Master of Arts

First Advisor

Jessica Lepler


Freethinkers in the early nineteenth century embarked upon unprecedented organizational efforts in a period characterized by evangelical religious awakenings. In the face of almost pervasive discrimination, unbelievers conspicuously appropriated the recruitment and publicity methods of Christian organizations. Radical developments in print technology resulted in the publication of atheistic books and periodicals, none of which survived longer than the Boston Investigator. Its editor, Abner Kneeland, further disseminated antitheistic thought through oratorical performances and by engaging with contemporary social issues. More than this, unbelievers unashamedly copied specific religious practices: they sang rational hymns celebrating "truth" and science, and individual freethinking intellectuals gave secular "sermons" to their "congregations." By constructing an interconnected network of freethinking individuals and groups, nineteenth-century unbelievers kept antireligious arguments in the public arena. As such, they lay the groundwork for the future success of atheist organizations, and in particular the global movement of today's "New Atheism.".