Belief and Unbelief (2012-2014)

Photograph of a Young Jewish Boy with Elders at a Passover Ceremony, 04/16/1951. U.S. National Archives.

During the academic years 2012/13 and 2013/14, the Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies focused on belief and unbelief and how they have interacted in history. How has the line been drawn between religion and other forms of deeply held conviction: secularism, secular religions, political theologies, and the like?

Throughout the activities organized to support this theme, we addressed belief and unbelief from a wide variety of periods and places, from prehistory to the present and from all parts of the world. At issue were not just questions of demarcation and definition but processes: secularization, proselytizing, conversion.

Topics Included:

  • How does belief manifest itself in lived experience, in ritual, observance, and daily-life practices?
  • How have people and cultures moved across the borderline between belief and unbelief?
  • How has belief itself become a subject of study, whether from a secular or theological point of view?
Belief and Unbelief

Davis Center Fellows


  • Peter Gordon, Harvard University
  • Dagmar Herzog, Graduate Center, City University of New York
  • Sophie Lunn-Rockliffe, King's College London
  • Jarod Roll, University of Sussex
  • Moshe Sluhovsky, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
  • Julia Smith, University of Glasgow
  • Louis Warren, UC, Davis


  • Simeon Evstatiev, Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski
  • Brandi Hughes, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  • Benedict Kiernan, Yale University
  • Kate Luongo, Northeastern University
  • Stefania Pastore, Pisa University
  • Caterina Pizzigoni, Columbia University
  • Victoria Smolkin-Rothrock, Wesleyan University


Shelby Cullom Davis Center Volume

Formations of Belief: Historical Approaches to Religion and the Secular, edited by Philip Nord, Katja Guenther, and Max Weiss

Formations of Belief: Historical Approaches to Religion and the Secular

Edited by Philip Nord, Katja Guenther, and Max Weiss
Copyright 2019 Princeton University Press