Cover: The Meaning of Belief: Religion from an Atheist’s Point of View, from Harvard University PressCover: The Meaning of Belief in HARDCOVER

The Meaning of Belief

Religion from an Atheist’s Point of View

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Product Details


$24.95 • £17.95 • €22.50

ISBN 9780674088832

Publication: October 2017

Academic Trade

224 pages

4-3/8 x 7-1/8 inches


Like Hitchens, Crane is a committed atheist, but his intellectual project is very different… He wants to understand religion… For those willing to listen, Crane opens up a more nuanced and enlightened conversation. His intervention in the debate tackles the meaning of religious belief rather than its truth, and he elucidates two features of religion—religious identification and the religious impulse—which are neglected or misunderstood by many of its critics… There is much to admire in this book: it offers an elegant and careful analysis of religion from an outsider’s point of view, and Tim Crane’s writing is crystal clear. His sincere and unfailingly intelligent effort to understand religion is a welcome antidote to the blinkered bluster we find in many atheist polemics.—Clare Carlisle, The Times Literary Supplement

[A] lucid and thoughtful book… In a spirit of reconciliation, Crane proposes to paint a more accurate picture of religion for his fellow unbelievers.—James Ryerson, The New York Times Book Review

The Meaning of Belief prefers calm logic to bold catchphrases. It likely will not attract the attention given by supporters or detractors of the New Atheists’ shelf of screeds, but it invites poised reaction.—John L. Murphy, PopMatters

[A] valuable and compact contribution to the dialogue between atheists and believers. Crane writes as an atheist to an atheist audience in hopes of reducing the combativeness stirred up by ‘New Atheists’ such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, but he also provides useful language for religionists about their own experiences. By identifying the religious experience in terms of ‘religious impulse’ and ‘identification’ linked under a canopy of the sacred, Crane situates religious belief as complexly human, rather than something that should die with the advent of science. Tolerance with a goal of living peaceably with religionists should be the atheist aim, argues Crane. Crane’s precise arguments, lucid writing, and astutely selected examples make this book enjoyable as well as clarifying. His concise unpacking of religion and violence in the context of war, as well as of the nitty-gritty of moral relativism, provides a vital lens for interpreting today’s politics.Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Tim Crane has written an unusual and excellent book about religion. By recognizing the psychological and social attitudes constitutive of religious belief, Crane enables us to see how shallow many atheist critiques are. He is following in the footsteps of serious thinkers about religion—William James, in particular, often comes to mind—and he presents with great clarity a far more sophisticated atheism than we usually find.—Philip Kitcher, Columbia University

Distinctive, thoughtful, and carefully argued, The Meaning of Belief contributes to correcting the misleading picture of religious belief promoted by many contemporary atheists, as well as exploring some of the reasons why religious belief plays such an important role in people’s lives.—John Cottingham, University of Reading