Faculty Profile: Phil Zuckerman

Video Transcript

Philosophers have always grappled with questions. “Is there a God or not?”, for example. Or, “Do you need a God in order to be moral?”

Those are philosophical conversations that are very compelling, but the question here is not so much “Is there a God or not?” We’re interested in the people who think there isn’t.

My name is Phil Zuckerman and I’m a professor of sociology and secular studies at Pitzer College.

About 15 years ago, my research was primarily looking at religion sociologically, but it started to dawn on me that more and more Americans were becoming non-religious and more and more people around the world were becoming non-religious.

There was really no disciplinary home to talk about this phenomena: atheism, agnosticism, skepticism, humanism, naturalism, rationalism; these things have been discussed here and there, but there was no rigorous social scientific study of non-religious people, non-religious families, non-religious movements. Secular studies takes seriously the fact that more and more people are living their lives without religion and that non-religious movements and ideologies play a significant role in human thought, culture and politics.

We tend to think of secularity as a new thing, part of modernity; as we’ve gotten modern and as science and industrialization has developed, religion tries to wither. But there’s this notion that people were always religious way back when. Yet we have evidence of atheism, agnosticism, humanism, skepticism going back two, three, four thousand years. There have always been non-religious people throughout history.

Passion is everything and it’s actually what motivates all my academic work.

If I walk into a classroom and I’m not genuinely passionate about what I’m going to talk about, what a nightmare; whenever I teach I try to think, “What really matters here? What is the story here? Why am I compelled to talk about this?”

If I can’t get genuinely excited about an idea, a theory, a study, I’m not going to present it to students. And that’s what keeps me going in the classroom because I actually like enjoying what we’re talking about. I don’t know why I’m so obsessed with secularity and secularism and secular studies; it’s not like I think, “What’s motivating me?”

I’m just going. I’m just going.

About Pitzer College

Pitzer College is a nationally top-ranked undergraduate liberal arts and sciences institution. A member of The Claremont Colleges, Pitzer offers a distinctive approach to a liberal arts education by linking intellectual inquiry with interdisciplinary studies, cultural immersion, social responsibility and community involvement. For more information, please visit www.pitzer.edu.