Research on atheist conferences

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The atheist PZ Myers giving a talk at George Mason University. In June 2010, PZ Myers commented that atheist meetings tend to be significantly more attended by males.[1]

(photo obtained from Flickr, see: license agreement)

In addition to the disseminating of ideas, conferences often reflect the type of people that are involved in a given population/community and the status of various individuals and sub-groups within a population.[2]

Many atheists in theistic societies feel isolated and so internet atheism and conferences may be potentially more important to some individuals such as people who lack atheist friends and family members (See: Atheism and loneliness).

Below is some research on atheist conferences and the atheist population. See also: Atheism statistics

Research on atheist conferences

A 2014 article entitled Increasing Diversity in Emerging Non-religious Communities by Christopher Hassall and Ian Bushfield declared:

The atheist movement originated with a small number of middle/upper-class white men, who still form the leadership of the majority of atheist organisations. As in academia, these men act as gatekeepers for the flow of ideas and the social movement of individuals through the movement (van den Brink and Benschop 2014). The atheist movement has also traditionally been driven by a small number of superstars travelling around lecture circuits, largely based in the UK and the USA, by whose particular ideas and processes become normative (Gibson and Klocker 2004). A good example of this phenomenon of superstars is the “Four Horsemen”: Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens, whose books have collectively sold millions of copies in multiple languages. All four are white, well-educated, male, and residents in the UK or USA. Finally, as in academia, conferences and congresses play a major role in the atheist community. These conferences can be on a similar scale to the larger academic conferences, attracting up to 1650 attendees (for The Amazing Meeting 9 in 2011). However, discussions of the representation of women and minorities (particularly with respect to race and disability) have involved little attempt at quantitative analysis of the community. In particular, there are questions of what constitutes “fair representation” of each group, what should be done in order to promote those groups that are considered to be underrepresented, and whether current and past attempts at encouraging underrepresented groups have been successful. This final issue of an evidence-based approach to increasing diversity is of particular interest (Pitts 2011). Miller (2013, p 221) defines three problems caused by the lack of qualitative and quantitative data on women speakers at atheist conferences: “It is problematic for the atheist movement in terms of attracting more female members; it is problematic for the women in the movement who are being rendered invisible; and it is problematic for researchers and writers who are not documenting and analyzing the full range of atheist communities and experiences.”

Over recent years, the atheist community has sought to resolve issues of diversity within the movement.[2]

Since 2008, atheist conference organizers have made efforts to invite more racial minority speakers and more women speakers.[2]

Inappropriate sexual activity at atheist events

The prominent atheists Richard Carrier and PZ Myers have written about inappropriate sexual activity which occurs at atheist events (see: Atheist conferences and inappropriate sexual activity).[3][4]

For additional information, please see:

Atheism and women

Studies and web traffic data to atheist websites reflect that women in the Western World tend to be more religious than men. See: Atheism and women

See also: Atheism and women

Atheism is more prevalent among men than women (see: Atheism and women).

In 2015, BloombergView reported concerning the United States: "According to a much-discussed 2012 report from the Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life, ...women are 52 percent of the U.S. population but only 36 percent of atheists and agnostics.[5]

Reason Rally related incident involving David Silverman and Richard Dawkins

See also: Feminist quotes about Richard Dawkins

After the Elevatorgate scandal, which initially involved Richard Dawkins and Rebecca Watson, there was a lot of additional acrimony among atheists. Jacques Rousseau wrote in the Daily Maverick: "Elevatorgate..has resulted in three weeks of infighting in the secular community. Some might observe that we indulge in these squabbles fairly frequently."[6] See also: Atheist factions

Post-Elevatorgate more attention was given to atheist conferences and peoples behavior at atheist conferences among atheists. For example, Post Elevatorgate, atheist conferences frequently have anti-sexual harassment policies.[7]

However, the incident mentioned below reflects that prominent white men, still exert considerable influence within the atheist movement despite the fact that atheists tend to lean politically left and that the left purports to strongly support gender and racial diversity (see: Atheism, social justice and hypocrisy).

An article by Sarah posted at Skepchick about a conversation between Richard Dawkins and David Silverman (ex-president of the American Atheists organization), which took place during the planning phrase of the Reason Rally:

Richard was standing behind the podium, and he asked Dave something along the lines of, “What exactly is the Reason Rally?” Dave started explaining it, and as he did, someone who was waiting in the line outside opened the door to peek inside and we could all hear a lot of noise. I rushed up the aisle and made frantic “shut the door” gestures at the people peeking inside, and they did. As I walked the ten feet back, I couldn’t hear everything Dave was saying, but I heard the name “Rebecca Watson.” Richard suddenly had a very angry look on his face and I heard him almost shout, “No, absolutely not! If she’s going to be there, I won’t be there. I don’t want her speaking.” and then Dave immediately replied, “You’re absolutely right, we’ll take her off the roster. It’s done.” Richard huffed for a moment, Dave continued to placate him, and then he made the video.

I was crushed.[8]

Atheist PZ Myers' and atheist Susan Jacoby's commentary concerning atheist meetings

Atheism is more prevalent among men than women (see: Atheism and women).

In June 2010, the atheist PZ Myers commented that atheist meetings tend to be significantly more attended by males.[1] In October 2012, the atheist Susan Jacoby wrote in The Humanist concerning atheist meetings: "When I speak before non-college audiences — that is, audiences in which no one is required to be there to get credit for a college course — 75 percent of the people in the seats are men."[9]

Western atheism and race

Jamila Bey said about being a black atheist, "It's one isolating experience."[10]

(photo obtained from Flickr, see license agreement)

See also: Western atheism and race

In 2015, BloombergView reported concerning the United States:

According to a much-discussed 2012 report from the Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life, only 3 percent of U.S. atheists and agnostics are black, 6 percent are Hispanic, and 4 percent are Asian. Some 82 percent are white. (The relevant figures for the population at large at the time of the survey were 66 percent white, 11 percent black, 15 percent Hispanic, 5 percent Asian.)

...Craig Keener, in his huge review of claims of miracles in a wide variety of cultures, concludes that routine rejection of the possibility of the supernatural represents an impulse that is deeply Eurocentric.[11]

African-American atheists and loneliness

See also: Atheism and loneliness

National Public Radio interviewed the African-American atheist Jamila Bey and the host of the interview said:

...for a couple of centuries, African-American culture has been imbued with Christianity. The church figured prominently in both the abolitionist and civil rights movements. And today in many communities, the Christian church continues to be the nucleus of black life.

So, what about the black nonbelievers? It's one isolating experience, according to Jamila Bey.[10]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Myers, P.Z. (June 29, 2010). "The woman problem". Pharyngula [blog].
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Increasing Diversity in Emerging Non-religious Communities, Authors: Christopher Hassall and Ian Bushfield
  3. Our Mythical Campaign against Sex, Richard Carrier,
  4. The eros of the podium - see comment section below the blog post, PZ Myers, comment section
  5. Carter, Stephen L. (March 27, 2015). "The atheism gap". BloombergView.
  6. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can rip my soul
  7. Thunderf00t’s inflammatory video of misleading personal attacks on atheist feminists is not helpful by Michael Nugent on January 3, 2013
  8. My Time With Richard Dawkins (Or, Why You Should Never Meet Your Idols) by Sarah at Skepchick, September 5, 2013
  9. Jacoby, Susan (August 16, 2012). "A woman’s place? The dearth of women in the secular movement". The Humanist website.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Black Atheists Say Non-Belief Means Cultural Outsider, NPR, May 28, 201012:00 PM ET
  11. The Atheism Gap By Stephen L. Carter, BloombergView, Mar 27, 2015 4:26 PM EDT