How would you like someone who has read your book to sum it up in one sentence?
I hope they would say something like: “In some cases, white atheists and freethinkers seemed to accept common notions of racial and civilizational superiority, yet in other cases the marginalization they experienced also allowed them to question and even reject these same ideas.”
What book in your field has inspired you the most?
There are many, but Colin Kidd’s The Forging of Races: Race and Scripture in the Protestant Atlantic World, 1600-2000 (2006) comes immediately to mind. Colin would eventually supervise my PhD thesis, but I had read his book before I knew he would be my supervisor, and I found it to be quite brilliant.
Did your research take you to any unexpected places?
Not unexpected per se, but I was fortunate to visit major libraries like the British Library in London and the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, as well as specialist freethought libraries like Conway Hall Library and the Bishopsgate Institute in London, and the Center for Inquiry Library in Amherst, NY.
Which writing process do you use (computer, longhand, dictate, other)?
Just on the computer, although I usually write notes by hand.
Why did you choose to publish with MUP?
MUP had recently published some books that covered both the history of race and racism, as well as the history of atheism and secularism, for example, Douglas Lorimer’s Science, Race Relations and Resistance: Britain, 1870-1914 (2013) and Laura Schwartz’s Infidel Feminism: Secularism, Religion and Women’s Emancipation, England 1830-1914 (2011). I thought therefore that MUP would be a great publisher since my work combines both of those themes.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a new project that I hope will become a book in several years’ time. The project is about the history of the word “racism.” There are a lot of books, of course, which talk about the history of the thing “racism” – but so far nothing about the word itself, and I think exploring this history will help us to better understand current debates about the meaning of the word.
If you could go back and give yourself once piece of advice when starting out on this project, what would it be?
Probably to buy a better camera for taking photos at libraries!
If you could have been the author of any book, what would it be and why?
Maybe Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion! This made a big impact on the popular conversation about religion – for better or worse depending on your perspective!
What other genres do you enjoy reading?
Aside from history, I’m interested in reading about science, philosophy, or sports. I hope one day to get back into reading novels too!
Which authors (academic and not) would you invite to a dinner party?
This is a difficult question and obviously there are many. To make it easier for me, I will choose some of the people I talk about in my book. Perhaps John Stuart Mill, Annie Besant, W.E.B. Du Bois, Charles Darwin, Robert Ingersoll… the list goes on.
Race in a Godless World is available to buy now. Nathan G. Alexander is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Max Weber Centre for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies, University of Erfurt, Germany.