In 2006, I sallied out to conduct ethnographic research on religion and mental health in India. By chance, I came across Indians who called themselves “rationalists” and at times “atheists.” The more I learned about the rationalist movement in India, the more curious I became. Who are they? Where do they come from? Why do they criticize religious beliefs and practices? Given that no answers were to be found in the literature, I changed the topic of my PhD and decided to search for answers myself. One product of this research was my PhD thesis, completed at Heidelberg University in 2009, and published as Disenchanting India: Organized Rationalism and Criticism of Religion in India (my further publications are listed here).
In my postdoctoral work, I returned to the relationship between religion and mental health with further ethnographic fieldwork in India. I had the good fortune to work with wonderful colleagues at the Cluster of Excellence “Asia and Europe” at Heidelberg University and the Division of Social & Transcultural Psychiatry and the Department of Social Studies of Medicine at McGill University. Although I continue to work on these issues — I eventually hope to complete a second monograph — I could not get away from rationalists and nonreligion. With Professor Dr. Ulrich Berner, I co-edited the book, Religion und Kritik in der Moderne [“Religion and Critique in the Modern Period”], and I was kindly asked to serve as one of the directors of the Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network (NSRN).
In 2012, the German Research Foundation provided me with a grant to establish an independent research group, “The Diversity of Nonreligion,” as part of the Emmy Noether-Programme. It is a great privilege to work on this project with my three teammates, our student research assistants, and the colleagues at the Department of Anthropology, at Goethe-University Frankfurt. At this point, I have already learned a great deal, and the joint efforts to establish an intellectual basis for this project have been extremely rewarding. While I continue to have significant interest in avowed nonreligiosity and explicit criticism of religion, I have decided to shift my personal research focus to those who consider themselves simply not (very) religious, focusing on Germany and India.