Communist Perspectives on Atheism in the 20th Century

International Conference

In recent years, scholars in historical and secular studies have become increasingly interested in communist attitudes towards religion, communist regimes’ efforts to uproot religion, and interactions between Marxists and Christians. Sponsored by the Explaining Atheism programme, this conference will explore transnational communist perspectives on atheism in the twentieth century and Marxist-inspired attempts to explain and influence the evolution of atheism. Building on work on “scientific atheism”, “atheist establishments” and “thought collectives”, the conference explores differences and commonalities within the Soviet bloc – within which scholarly debates on atheism took place in what might be called a limited international scientific community. 


Monday 13th November 2023

9h Registration, coffee (Faculty Club in Maison des Chercheurs – Campus Condorcet, 3 Cour des Humanités, ground floor)

9h30 Introduction by Eva Guigo-Patzelt (CéSor, EHESS/CNSR, Paris)

10h-11h45 Panel 1: Struggles in the interwar era
Chair: Pierre Antoine Fabre (CéSor, EHESS/CNRS, Paris)

Laura Pettinaroli (École française de Rome):
The International of proletarian freethinkers and the communist movement
: uncompleted attractions (1925-1936)

Kostas Paloukis (International University of Greece, Thessaloniki):
Greek Communists against Religion and Church during the interwar period

David Nash (Oxford Brookes University):
The Blasphemy of Communist Godlessness – responses to Communist Atheism in Britain 1936-1938


12h-13h30 Lunch break


13h30-15h15 Panel 2: Enforcing atheism in Eastern Europe
Chair: Lois Lee (University of Kent)

Artan R. Hoxha (Academy of Albanian Studies, Tirana):
The Red and the Black: Atheism, Religion, and Modernity in Communist Albania

Johannes Gleixner (Collegium Carolinum, Munich):
Empirical origins of Soviet atheism: Engaging believers, managing expectations

Kristina Kovalskaya (École pratique des hautes études, Paris):
Soviet Research on Religion and Unbelief after Stalin: Modernise and Moralise with Atheism


15h15-15h45 Coffee break


15h45-17h30 Panel 3: Eastern European ambivalences in the late 1970s and 1980s
Chair: Todd Weir (University of Groningen)

Irina Morozova (University of Regensburg):
The duality of anti-religious social campaigns in Soviet Central Asia in the 1980s

Jan Tesař (Josef Gocar School Prague):
The Foundation, existence and demise of Czechoslovakian Museum of Religion

Petar Dragišić (Institute for Recent History of Serbia, Belgrade):
Serbia in the Eighties. Between Religiosity and Atheism

17h30-18h30 Keynote by Victoria Smolkin (Wesleyan University):
In the Shadow of Godlessness: Soviet Atheists and the Fate of Secularism in Europe


Conference dinner for speakers


Tuesday 14th November 2023

9h30 Coffee

10h-11h45 Panel 4: Re-interpretations in varying cultural and religious contexts
Chair: Victoria Smolkin (Wesleyan University)

Lucky Igohosa Ugbudian (Alex Ekwueme Federal University Ndufu-Alike, Ebonyi):
mmunist Perspectives on Atheism in the 20th Century Nigeria

Raghavan Nair Santhosh (Indian Institute of Technology Madras/University of Sussex) and Dayal Paleri (Indian Institute of Technology Madras):
Godless” Communists in “God’s Own Country”? The Communist Party and Its Strategic Ambiguity towards Belief and Non-Belief in Kerala, South India

Sayed Hassan Akhlaq (George Washington University, Washington/Coppin State University, Baltimore):
Muslim Communists”: Afghan Atheism in the 20th Century


12h-13h30 Lunch break


13h30-15h15 Panel 5: Atheism and Catholicism between condemnation and dialogue
Chair: Eva Guigo-Patzelt (CéSor, EHESS/CNRS, Paris)

Marie Lucas (Paris 3 Sorbonne Nouvelle) and Mikhail Velizhev (Université Grenoble Alpes):
Is Marxism necessarily atheistic?” Gustav Wetter, the Holy See and the Condemnation of Communism

Gašper Mithans (Science and Research Centre Koper):
Atheization and individualization of non/religious worldviews: the Catholics in Socialist Yugoslavia

Heléna Tóth (Otto Friedrich University, Bamberg):
Combatting Indifference Together: The Shifting Premises of the Christian-Marxist Dialogue in the 1980s

15h30-16h15 Conclusionby Todd Weir (University of Groningen)


Academic committee

  • Pierre Antoine Fabre, directeur d’études at EHESS, Deputy Director of CéSor
  • Eva Guigo-Patzelt, Associate member of CéSor
  • Dr. Jonathan Lanman, Queen's University Belfast, Project Lead Explaining Atheism
  • Lois Lee, Senior Lecturer at University of Kent




The conference will take place in English.


This conference was made possible through the support of Grant 61928 from the John Templeton Foundation managed by The Queen’s University of Belfast. It is funded by the Explaining Atheism programme (

Histoire Religieux

Informations pratiques

  • Lundi 13 novembre 2023 - 09:00 - Mardi 14 novembre 2023 - 18:30
  • Centre de colloques – Campus Condorcet Room 100 (13th November) and Room 50 (14th November) Place du Front populaire, 93300 Aubervilliers, Métro 12 “Front populaire”
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