Dr Christopher Cotter

CTPI Duncan Forrester Fellow
Christopher Cotter

Dr Christopher R. Cotter

CTPI Duncan Forrester Fellow, December 2020 - September 2021

The Environment of Unbelief: The Everyday Entanglements of Non-Religion and Environmental Ethics in the Climate Emergency


Chris Cotter is a Religious Studies scholar by training, specialising in all things 'non-religious'. He completed his doctorate at Lancaster University in 2016, working with Professor Kim Knott on a thesis focusing upon the discourses on ‘religion’ in the Southside of Edinburgh, the concepts of ‘non-religion’ and ‘the secular’, and the ensuing critical and theoretical implications for Religious Studies.

Chris is author of The Critical Study of Non-Religion: Discourse, Identification and Locality (Bloomsbury, August 2020), co-editor of Social Identities between the Sacred and the Secular  (Routledge, 2013), After World Religions: Reconstructing Religious Studies (Routledge, 2016) and New Atheism: Critical Perspectives and Contemporary Debates (Springer, 2017), and has also published journal articles, book chapters and reviews in related areas. He is co-editor of the open-access journal Secularism & Nonreligion, co-founder and co-editor-in-chief at The Religious Studies Project, and Honorary Treasurer of the British Association for the Study of Religions.

From September 2017 to August 2020, Chris was Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Divinity, working on a comparative study of ‘unbelief’ in Scotland and Northern Ireland. This project explored issues relating to diversity, un-/belief, and socio-economic issues in local, national, and international perspective, including a significant current of discourse surrounding the natural environment, the climate emergency, and the place of humanity in the planetary ecosystem.

Project Description

As IASH-CTPI Duncan Forrester Fellow, Chris will systematically interrogate his existing body of accumulated data (using discourse analysis) to disentangle and map the everyday discourses on the environment at play amongst these predominantly ‘non-religious’ individuals. Furthermore, he will supplement this data by interviewing climate activists in both Northern Ireland and Scotland and engaging in an additional literature review of recent publications from prominent ‘non-religious’ thinkers and climate campaigners. The results of this analysis will be presented in a fully developed thread on these entanglements in his second monograph, and articles examining ‘non-religious’ environmental imaginaries and exploring points of connection and potential collaboration with more theistic environmentalist discourses.

As Nicholas Tampio has recently argued, if ‘climate change threatens us with an unprecedented danger, then our task is to formulate a political theory that makes possible a proper response, including enlisting people with radically different ontologies’ (2016, 538). Chris hopes that this project, placing the ‘non-religious’ firmly in focus in two sociologically neglected polities within the UK, will contribute to just such a formulation which will not only have implications for public theology and the academic study of non-/religion, but contribute concretely to our shared toolkit for addressing the climate emergency.