Intersectionality and Atheism: Random and Not So Random Thoughts

Intersectionality is an academic concept that has increasingly entered the language of non-academic opinion-makers and activists. Intersectionality refers to the multiple identities and statuses that converge in the lives of every person. This multiplicity is often concealed when one identity is regarded as more salient than others. Here we see the inability to understand identity as a complex, non-additive, intersectional phenomenon. Intersectional analysis highlights the fact that people are differently advantaged and disadvantaged within identity and status categories such as race, gender, and class. The term intersectionality was coined by the legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw to account for the complexities and hidden burdens of black women in an ideological context where black identity was gender as male and female identity was racialized as white. Black women disappeared. Their history, lived experiences, and interests were merely a supplement to black experience, which was prototypically male and to women’s experience, which was prototypically white. According to this logic, black women are inferior and deviant versions of blackness and of womanhood. The inability to think simultaneously with more than one category made black women disappear.

In this presentation, Dr. Hart argues that atheism has an intersectionality problem. In a manner analogous to the way dominant talk about black identity and female identity make black women disappear, dominant conceptions of atheism lack intersectional awareness. The dominant form of atheism does not know its own “unconscious.” It has not acknowledged and grappled with its monotheistic, Eurocentric, and male-dominant mind. Thus, we expect atheists to be embodied, look, and speak in a certain way. Atheists who do not conform to type are rendered invisible.

William David Hart,  professor and holder of the Margaret W. Harmon Chair, researches the intersection of religion, ethics, and politics. His current projects include a theoretical study of antiblackness and a comparative analysis of human sacrifice in religion and statecraft.  Hart teaches courses on religion and colonialism, religion and constructions of race, and humanism and atheism.