Cover: Unbelievers: An Emotional History of Doubt, from Harvard University PressCover: Unbelievers in HARDCOVER


An Emotional History of Doubt

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Product Details


$27.95 • £22.95 • €27.00

ISBN 9780674241824

Publication Date: 11/19/2019


272 pages

5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches

Belknap Press

Not for sale in UK, British Commonwealth (except Canada), Europe and Israel

An elegant and canny book… It offers a salutary reminder that most of us adopt many beliefs out of intuition, habit or deference to our social environment. It is common nowadays to dismiss religious belief as conventional in this manner, but atheism itself is often just as surely produced by a lifeless and unreasoned conformity.—Jeffrey Collins, The Wall Street Journal

Well-researched and thought-provoking… Ryrie is definitely on to something right and important.—Timothy Larsen, Christianity Today

Ryrie traces the root of religious skepticism to the anger, the anxiety, and the ‘desperate search for certainty’ that drove thinkers like the religious poet John Donne to grapple with church dogma. They did not always manage to hold on to their faith, and their probing undermined religion from within. The currents of atheism were stirred not by the levelheaded philosophers of a later era but by these seekers’ struggle, and occasional failure, to ‘doubt wisely.’The New Yorker

Take[s] in nearly 750 years of doubt and disbelief in the professedly Christian West… Not only a convincing rejection of what one might call the Great Godless Man theory of history but a stirring glimpse into the souls of everyday citizens, whose struggles to maintain their faith in a complex world feel all too familiar.—Graham Hillard, National Review

Most of us like to believe that we believe what we believe because rigorous reasoning and reliable evidence have led us there. Most of us are wrong… In reality, as Alec Ryrie shows in this short but beautifully crafted history of early doubt, unbelief was (and is) chosen for ‘instinctive, inarticulate and intuitive’ reasons just as much as is belief… He…[argues] persuasively that unbelief was as much, if not more, about what people felt as what they thought, in particular a confluence of moral outrage and personal anxiety… Unbelievers covers much ground in a short space with deep erudition and considerable wit.The Spectator

Ryrie challenges intellectual historians to work on genealogies that are not limited to ideas or disincarnate minds. We must engage with historical developments of persons as wholes. This means investigating the mirror of history and finding people. This should allow us to look at ourselves in a more comprehensive way… Reminds us that despite the various certainties of our time, anxiety and anger are presently destabilizing us and so opening new possibilities.—Terence Sweeney, Genealogies of Modernity

Ryrie doesn’t debunk; he describes. He traffics in empathy, not criticism… For those looking to make sense of [atheism], Unbelievers will serve as an outstanding guide.—Andrew Wilson, The Gospel Coalition

Explores the forces behind Western secularism.The Irish Times

Engaging… Ryrie is a careful observer of history and…a good explainer of complicated theology.—Bill Tammeus, National Catholic Reporter

[Ryrie] finds that unbelief is much older and more nuanced than many historians have credited. This is a history of unbelief that carries readers from ancient to modern times… Those with an interest in the history of religion will be treated to a new perspective on the old opposition between believers and nonbelievers.Library Journal

Masterly… Ryrie’s deeply researched work is an enlightening ramble through intellectual history of opposition to Christian belief that will appeal to any reader interested in religious scholarship.Publishers Weekly

An informative, engaging, creative, and persuasive account of the origin of unbelief in western societies. The research is deep and the writing sprightly. Ryrie’s central argument is that unbelief existed as practice before it existed in theory, that moral intuitions counted much more heavily than philosophical arguments in the emergence of atheism, and that ‘an emotional history’ of anger at Christian authorities and anxiety arising from disputes internal to Christianity pointed the way to the rejection of traditional Christianity and open atheism of more recent centuries.—Mark Noll, coeditor of Protestantism after 500 Years

How has unbelief come to dominate so many Western societies? The usual account invokes the advance of science and rational knowledge. Ryrie’s alternative, in which emotions are the driving force, offers new and interesting insights into our past and present.—Charles Taylor, author of A Secular Age

The brilliance of this book lies in its reimagining of an old debate stirred by Lucien Febvre and his many critics. Ryrie takes us beyond the slightly stale polemic of the leading theological figures of the early modern world to let us hear the voices of men and women who lived through the torrid age of religious change. In Unbelievers we encounter heart-wrenching expressions of faith and its absence with nuanced attention to words and modulations of emotions. We find preachers, female writers, dramatists, poets, and essayists who struggled daily with a religion that demanded faith. Ryrie rejects easy connections between their world and ours while offering an arresting consideration of how their voices shaped what came after them. Deep insights are leavened with characteristic wit and humor, making this book a crucial read for anyone thinking about religion in our time.—Bruce Gordon, author of Calvin

With wit and remarkable breadth of learning, Ryrie addresses an issue that touches us all.—Rev. John O’Malley, author of Vatican I

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