Research

It seems that sociologists, anthropologists and many other ologists are keen to study the phenomenon of a non-religious church, secular congregation or whatever you want to call Sunday Assembly. We are often approached to help in research studies, PhDs, graduate projects and the like. We’re very happy to help in general. Here are a few of the published studies which included Sunday Assembly (listed here in order of publication). If you know of other studies, please get in touch.

The Sunday Assembly in Scotland: Vestiges of Religious Memory and Practise in a Secular Congregation

Katie Cross (2017) The Sunday Assembly in Scotland: Vestiges of Religious Memory and Practise in a Secular Congregation, Practical Theology, 10:3, 249-262, DOI: 10.1080/1756073X.2017.1344418

Abstract

This article draws on research undertaken with members of the Sunday Assembly, a secular congregation founded in London in 2013, which now has a presence in 70 cities worldwide. The Assembly has emerged into a space created by the current trend of secularism, and aims to provide its members to with the experience of a church-like congregation, without any religious or doctrinal elements. Yet interviews with members of the Assembly’s congregation in Edinburgh expose a continuation of Christian practises, and a desire for further church-like elements, such as pastoral care. While secularism continues to occur in Scotland, this research would suggest that the process is not happening in a neat or linear fashion, and that those who identify as non-religious continue to have cause to draw on aspects of Christian memory and practise.

Can the Secular Be the Object of Belief and Belonging? The Sunday Assembly

Smith, Jessie.M.  Qual Sociol 40, 83–109 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11133-016-9350-7

Abstract

In public discourse and much sociological research individuals are considered secular if they do not hold religious beliefs or belong to any religious group. But can the secular itself become an object of both belief and belonging? Can secular people develop self-understanding and existential purpose in communal contexts that engage a religious model? To explore these questions I investigated the Sunday Assembly, a new network of secular congregations. Based on two years of research including fieldwork at the London, San Diego, and Chicago Assemblies, in-depth interviews with 21 Assemblers, and analysis of video-recorded Assembly services, this study examines the interactional, meaning-making dynamics of what I term communal secularity. I explore the broader question of belief, morality, and belonging in an increasingly complex secular-religious landscape through an analysis of the congregational activity of this newest iteration of the growing secular community. Having distilled thematic categories from an inductive analysis of the talk, practice, and other elements of congregational culture at the Sunday Assembly, this study reveals the social interactions, functions, and symbolic practices that frame participants experiences and express secular values and belief systems. I argue the secular can become an object of a nonsupernaturalist sacred, and that congregants engage interactions and meaning structures, both explicitly and implicitly, that parallel, coalesce with, and in several ways depart from, traditional religious congregations. My research reveals how secular beliefs can both function and fulfill in ways typically credited to religion. As such, the secular should not refer exclusively to the lack of religiosity, but should acknowledge the diversity of contemporary secular forms, some of which embrace a religious character. Implications of communal secularity for the broader community are discussed, and I suggest additional vistas of research as part of the emerging scholarly literature in this area.

Rejecting Rejection Identities: Negotiating Positive Non-religiosity at the Sunday Assembly

Frost, Jacqui (2017), book chapter in Organized Secularism in the United States, De Gruyter | 2017DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110458657-010 (full text available)

Introduction

On a sunny Saturday morning in May of 2015, a group of over 80 non-religious Americans and Britons gathered in the basement of a Presbyterian church in the heart of Atlanta, Georgia. As individuals and groups of two and three trickled in, grabbing bagels and coffee and finding their seats,a band was setting up in the front of theroom. At 9:00a.m. sharp, the band gathered the room’s attention ands oon everyone in the basement was belting out the lyrics to the theme song from the 1980s comedy Ghostbusters. Some sang, clapped, and danced inthe aisles, while others laughed sheepishly and followed along as best they could by read-ing the lyrics displayed on the large overhead behind the band. The band was equipped with a saxophone,a piano, a guitar, and both lead and backup vocals,and they quickly orchestrated a “call and response” dynamic with the audience during the choruses. When the band asked, “Who you gonna call?” the audience yelled back gleefully, “Ghostbusters!” Everyone was on their feet and smiling, looking around at their neighbors with knowing glances that signaled shared memorie of the movie and the irony of singing about ghosts at a gathering devoted to secular worldviews.

The sociology of the Sunday assembly : ‘belonging without believing’ in a post-Christian context

Bullock, Josh (2018) The sociology of the Sunday assembly : ‘belonging without believing’ in a post-Christian context. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .Official URL: https://ethos.bl.uk/OrderDetails.do?uin=uk.bl.etho… Full text available (pdf)

Abstract

The Sunday Assembly, a secular congregation with the motto ‘Live Better, Help Often, Wonder More’, took centre stage in the nonreligious marketplace in 2013. Since then, over 70 franchised global congregations have opened their doors to the nonreligious affiliated market. If Britain is displaying how religions can fade, the Sunday Assembly becomes the perfect case study to examine what comes next. This thesis is an ethnographic study of the Sunday Assembly London and utilises 35 semi-structured interviews with members of the congregation. It addresses what the Sunday Assembly reveals about believing, belonging and community, and their relationship with religion, secularisation and wonder. The study highlights generational trends towards nonreligion in the UK and, in particular, how the Sunday Assembly uses existing religious structures, rituals and practices to flourish. It is through this post-Christian transition that religion is understood as a chain of memory (Hervieu-Léger, 2000); that people are still seeking to belong, but do not wish to believe in a religious doctrine, thus ‘belonging without believing’ is transpiring. I argue that the demographic profile of Sunday Assembliers is homogeneous, with similar life experiences and values, the majority of whom once held a religious belief and now do not, are not hostile towards religion, are from the same ethnic group (white British), are typically middle class and seek to congregate, and thus represent a very different nonreligion estranged from its ‘New Atheist’ predecessors. The growth and initial demand of and for the Sunday Assembly indicate that a Christian culture still exists and the congregational community structure is still sought in a post- Christian transition. By rejecting Christianity, but with a heritage of Christian memory still persisting, the Sunday Assembly offers a suitable alternative to a congregational religious community. The Sunday Assembly warrants attention in the 21st century as it offers explanations to the changing nature of the religious landscape and nonreligious discourse in the West.

Increased Wellbeing from Social Interaction in a Secular Congregation

Price, Michael E and Launay, Jacques, Brunel University, London, Secularism and Nonreligion, 7(1), p.6. DOI: http://doi.org/10.5334/snr.102 (full text available)

Abstract

Religiosity appears to benefit wellbeing, potentially due to social support offered by religious communities. However, rising secularism implies that fewer people have access to these benefits. To address this problem, we investigated whether these benefits could also be obtained from membership in a secular, quasi-religious community. We conducted a longitudinal study among 92 members of the Sunday Assembly (SA), an international organization of secular congregations. SA members assemble in large services and in smaller interest groups that offer more face-to-face interaction. Once a month for six months, participants completed a questionnaire measuring wellbeing and participation in both SA and non-SA social activities. Panel analysis of longitudinal data revealed that participation in SA small-group activities positively influenced wellbeing over the six-month period, particularly among males. Participation in non-SA social activities, in contrast, had no effect on wellbeing. Aspects of the Sunday service that members perceived as most important, both for creating a sense of community and for friendship formation, were the informal socialising and cooperating that occurs before and after the service itself. Secular congregations may be a viable alternative for non-religious people (and perhaps especially men) who seek the health benefits that religious communities have traditionally offered.

The Sunday Assembly and Theologies of Suffering

Cross, Katie (2020), Routledge, ISBN 978-0367276997, 160 pages,

Book description

This book draws on a study of the Sunday Assembly- a “godless congregation”- to reflect on how the Church might better deal with suffering, lament and theodicy. Against a backdrop of a shifting attitudes towards religion, humans are now better connected than ever before. It is no exaggeration to suggest that we carry the suffering of the world in our pockets. In the midst of these intersecting issues, the Sunday Assembly provides insight into how meaning-making in times of trauma and crisis is changing.

Drawing on practical theology and using ethnographic tools of investigation, this book includes findings from interviews and observation with the Sunday Assembly in London and Edinburgh. It explores the Sunday Assembly’s philosophy of “celebrating life,” and what this means in practice. At times, this emphasis on celebration can result in situations where suffering is “passed over,” or only briefly acknowledged. In response, this book considers a similar tendency within white Protestant churches to avoid explicit discussion of difficult issues.

This book challenges churches to consider how they might resist the avoidance of suffering through the practice of lament.The insights provided by this book will be of particular interest to scholars of Religious Studies, Practical Theology, Secularism and Atheism/Non-religion.