The Quest for Social Justice in Secular America is a Real Thing

That is a real thing. I just returned from an amazing meeting of the minds at the Secular Social Justice Conference at Rice University in Houston, TX. The event was organized by the Black Skeptics of Los Angeles, the Houston Black Non-Believers, and the Humanists of Houston. It was led by Dr. Sikivu Hutchinson, with the support of Dr. Anthony Pinn at Rice.

The conference was a great vehicle to connect secular people of color and allies who have been in the trenches of social change. The participant’s roll is a who’s who of secular leaders of color. In addition to Drs. Hutchinson and Pinn I was able to reconnect with the AHA’s Maggie Ardiente, CFI’s Debbie Goddard; finally met in person American Atheists’ Sincere Kirabo and Houston Black Non-Believers’ Ashton P. Woods, whom I knew from Facebook. In addition, I was able to meet in person two of my favorite bloggers: FreeThoughtBlogs’ Greta Christina and Stephanie Zvan.

I participated in the panel “What’s Race Got To Do With It? Racial Politics and Intersectionality In the Atheist Movement” with Frank Anderson, Georgina Capetillo, Alix Jules, Sincere Kirabo, Jimmie Luthuli, and Vic Wang. The panel was moderated by Daniel Myatt. We discussed many issues ranging from coalitions with religious people, our role as atheists of color in the secular movement, the state of intersectionality politics in the United States. Interestingly, the conversation ended with a discussion about the pros, cons, and possibilities (and a bit of definition) of revolution.

In addition to this panel, there were other 4 panels:

  • Feminism(s) of Color and the Secular Movement
  • Humanism and Hip-Hop
  • Finding Justice in an Economic System that Proclaims Financial Opportunity for All
  • LGBTQ Queer Atheists of Color and Social Justice

I attended the 1st and 3rd on the list since 1 &2 and 3 & 4 were held simultaneously. I ended in those panels after a coin toss, it was very hard to decide. Following the conversation in Twitter (#SSJCON) I realized that those panels I missed were as interesting as the ones I attended.

Over the next few days I will unpack a bit more of my experience in the conference and also try to flesh out what I said in the politics panel a bit more.


What I’ve been up to

I closed the old site in 2012 to adapt to a new full-time job that required moving from Connecticut to Washington, DC, and to work on my dissertation with the limited free time I was going to have. My level of activity in the secular world declined considerably, but I was still able to get in debates every once in a while. The pace picked up last year after completing my dissertation. Below is a list of my publications, media appearances, and speeches after shutting down the old blog.

Most of my writing was done for my employer’s (PRRI) blog. I used the platform to write about Latinos and politics. But I also did some writing on secularism. My writings on secularism from that period include an analysis of the secular vote between 1980 and 2008, the theological diversity of the secular population, a 2013 Darwin Day post on evolution and American public opinion, and a secular interpretation of New England’s embrace of same-sex marriage. My other blog-ish piece during that period was an article for Religion in the News in the Fall of 2013 titled “Congress gets a None.” The article chronicles the strange case of Arizona representative Kyrsten Synema’s decision to avoid the label “atheist” when discussing her religious beliefs.

Outside of the PRRI blog, I was able to publish 2 book chapters. “A World of Atheism: Global Demographics” was a collaboration with Dr. Ariela Keysar, my former colleague at the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture, and published in the Oxford Handbook of Atheism. The chapter analyzes international survey research to come up with an estimate of the number of atheists around the world and came out in the fall of 2013.

The other book chapter was published in the summer of 2015 and also explores atheism using survey data. However, this time it is confined to the United States and touches the subject of (in)tolerance toward atheists. The chapter is titled “Nonreligious Tolerance: American Attitudes toward Atheists, America’s Most Unpopular Religious Group” coauthored with my former PRRI colleagues Dr. Robert P. Jones and Dr. Daniel Cox. It was included in Dr. Paul Djupe’s Religion and Political Tolerance in America. The other academic publication during this period is, of course, my dissertation The Diversity of Latino Ideology, which I defended in March 2015.

I discussed the world of religion surveys in two interviews. I appeared in Dr. John Shook’s show Humanist Matters on December 2013, and almost a year later (October 2014) I was interviewed by Hemant Mehta for the Friendly Atheist podcast. My other podcast appearance was discussing my talk about secular Latinos at the American Humanist Association conference in The Humanist Hour.

Finally, the completion of my dissertation allowed me to travel more than I had been able to in previous years. I took the chance to speak at three different conferences (an additional appearance had to be cancelled because it coincided with the birth of my child). In May I spoke at the 74th AHA conference in Denver. The title of my talk was “The Rise of the Latino Nones: How Secular Latinos will Shape the Future of American Secularism”. The next stop was Buffalo, where in late July and early August I addressed the student and community leaders in the Center for Inquiry’s Moving Freethought Forward Conference. I presented twice in the conference. A talk about racial diversity among the growing secular community titled “The Many Faces of American Secularism” and another on politics in the secular movement titled “Balancing The Force: The Secular Left as an Antidote to the Religious Right.”  I closed the year with a presentation in October as part of Humanist Haven, a series of talks sponsored by the Yale Humanist Community. The title was “The Nonreligious in American Politics: Challenges and Promises” and gave me the opportunity to return to Connecticut for the first time since my dissertation defense.

This year I have more in store. Tomorrow I depart for Houston to take part in the Secular Social Justice Conference. I also have 2 book chapters on secularism and race, 1 book chapter on immigration, and an article on secularism and race that should finally see the day of light (and print) at some point this year.