Episode 35: A Religious History of American Secularism, with Dr. Leigh Eric Schmidt

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In this episode, we are joined by Leigh Eric Schmidt, the Edward C. Mallinckrodt Distinguished University Professor in the Humanities at Washington University in St. Louis, and the author of a new book, The Church of Saint Thomas Paine: A Religious History of American Secularism. In a far ranging discussion we learn why after his death the eighteenth-century radical Thomas Paine went from disgraced Founding Father to the patron saint of the freethought movement. As the freethought movement in the early United States began to form it was guided not only by Paine's words, but also by quests for his literal bones. Leigh highlights how much early secularists were driven by the desire to make new religions and how a landmark court ruling would accidentally make secular humanists a Reagan-era bogeyman. We also learn whether a true “Painite” can believe in an afterlife or work for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In the bonus section, available exclusively to supporters of Patreon, we ask Leigh whether he has ever attended an “atheist church,” and if he thinks atheists’ natural independent streak dooms the prospect of creating long-lasting secular institutions.

Check out Leigh’s new book, The Church of Saint Thomas Paine: A Religious History of American Secularism: https://press.princeton.edu/books/hardcover/9780691217253/the-church-of-saint-thomas-paine

For more on Leigh: https://rap.wustl.edu/people/leigh-e-schmidt/

Nathan recently appeared on the Monday Morning Dullard podcast to talk about atheism. Check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FVmjk9_mMxY

Follow Nathan on Twitter: https://twitter.com/NathGAlexander

Nathan’s website: https://www.nathangalexander.com/

If you find the podcast valuable and want to support it, check out our Patreon page, where you will also find bonus content: https://www.patreon.com/beyond_atheism We are grateful for every contribution.

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