Joseph Blankholm

Associate Professor
Ph.D., Columbia University
American Religion, Secularism and Atheism, Sociology and Anthropology of Religion
HSSB 3049
Office Hours:
Wednesdays, 1-3pm, or by appointment
Time Period: Winter 2024
Curriculum Vitae:


My research focuses on atheism, secularism, and the meaning of religion. My first book, The Secular Paradox: On the Religiosity of the Not Religious, was published by NYU Press in 2022. It’s an ethnography that relies on several years of fieldwork among very secular Americans to explain why being secular can feel so weirdly religious. Here’s a YouTube video in which I discuss the book and how it’s led to my more recent research. Here are two podcast episodes in which I’m interviewed about the book. And here are a couple of reviews of the book that really understand what I was trying to accomplish.

I’m currently writing a book about the variety among the nonreligious, which is based on an intergenerational study of religion, spirituality, and values that was funded by a $2.8m grant from the John Templeton Foundation. The research was part of the Longitudinal Study of Generations, which sociologist Vern Bengtson began in 1970. This last wave included the fifth-generation descendants of the original participants.

In the spring of 2021, I fielded the largest survey ever of organized nonbelievers in the U.S. (n=12,370). I’ve published an essay on the beliefs of nonbelievers that relies on the data, and I’m currently working on several other essays, including a study of secular feelings.

The essays I’ve published recently have focused on diversity within the secular tradition, genealogy’s bad blood, and the many things we mean when we talk about belief. This short essay breaks down my approach to understanding religion. This review essay at Public Books gives my perspective on atheism and how to study it. This forum that I co-organized at The Immanent Frame explores whether atheism and secularism constitute a tradition that we can study sort of like a religion. My concluding essay sums up my position. In the past I’ve conducted research among born-again Christians in America and Zambia, especially Jehovah’s Witnesses, and I continue to be interested in how evangelicals and nonbelievers imagine one another.

I have several years of experience as an expert witness in civil and criminal cases. For example, I have assessed whether a marijuana church is legally “religious,” and I have evaluated the role of religion during the formative years of defendants on death row. Please email me with inquiries.


Courses Taught:

  • RG ST 13: Religion and Popular Culture
  • RG ST 35: Introduction to Religion and Politics
  • INT 37VR: Religion and Technology (taught in virtual reality)
  • RG ST 104: Problems in the Study of Religion
  • RG ST 144A: Atheism
  • RG ST 152: Religion in America Today
  • RG ST 153: Metaphysical Spirituality
  • RG ST 201: Core Issues in the Study of Religion
  • RG ST 239: Secularism
  • RG ST 243M: Materialism
  • RG ST 280A: Methods in the Study of Religion