Jewish Atheists in Foxholes?

Existential Beliefs and How War Feels

in Secular Studies
Restricted Access
Get Access to Full Text
Rent on DeepDyve

Have an Access Token?

Enter your access token to activate and access content online.

Please login and go to your personal user account to enter your access token.



Have Institutional Access?

Login with your institution. Any other coaching guidance?



War and other forms of collective political violence raise existential questions for those touched by them. Recent advances in the study of ‘atheism in foxholes’ have been hitherto overlooked in the sociology of war. But they can further illuminate the relationship between war and existential questions. Bringing these literatures into conversation for the first time, this article analyses a sample of young, secular Jewish-Israelis (hilonim) interviewed in the aftermath of the 2014 Israel-Gaza War. It shows how speakers borrowed from both Jewish and Western secular formations to answer existential questions and ‘manage luck.’ Contributing to the theorization of war as social practice through a case study of ‘foxhole atheism’, the article also invites us to think of war as having a ‘secular’ ontology.

  • Allen Lori. 2008. “Getting by the Occupation: How violence became normal during the Second Palestinian Intifada” Cultural Anthropology 23(3): 453–487.

  • Almog Oz and Tamar Almog. 2015 Generation Y—Research Report. Haifa: The Samuel Neaman Institute for Policy Research Press. [Hebrew]

  • Amoore Louise. 2014. “Security and the Incalculable.” Security Dialogue 45(5): 423–439.

  • Asad Talal. 1986. “Medieval heresy: an anthropological view.” Social History 11(3): 345–362.

  • Azaryahu Maoz. 2000. “The Golden Arches of McDonalds: On the ‘Americanization’ of Israel” Israel Studies 5(1): 41–64.

  • Baldacchino Jean-Paul. 2011. “Miracles in the waiting room of modernity: The canonisation of Dun Gorg of Malta” The Australian Journal of Anthropology 22(1): 104–124.

  • Bar-Tal David Dan Jacobsen and Tali Freund. 1995. “Security Feelings Among Jewish Settlers in the Occupied Territories: a Study of Communal and Personal Antecedents.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 39(2): 353–377.

  • Beck Ulrich. 1999. World Risk Society. Cambridge: Polity Press.

  • Beit-Hallahmi Benjamin. 2007. “The Secular Israeli (Jewish) Identity: An Impossible Dream?” In Secularism and Secularity: Contemporary International Perspectives edited by Barry Kosmin and Ariela Keysar 158–168. Hartford CT: Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture.

  • Bellah Robert Richard Madsen William M. Sullivan Ann Swidler Steven M. Tipton. 1985. Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life. Berkeley: University of California Press.

  • Ben Meir Yehuda and Olena Bagno-Moldavsky. 2013. The Voice of the People: Israeli Public Opinion on National Security 2012. Tel Aviv: Institute for National Security Studies. 57–62.

  • Ben-Porat Guy. 2013. Between Synagogue and State: the Secularization of Modern Israel. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Benatar David. 2006. “What’s God Got to Do With It? Atheism and Religious Practice.” Ratio XIX: 383–400.

  • Berlinerblau Jacques. 2013. “Jewish Atheism” in Stephen Bullivant and Michael Ruse eds. The Oxford Handbook of Atheism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Bourdieu Pierre. 1984. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste. Translated by Richard Nice. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

  • Brenner Reeve Robert. 1980. The Faith and Doubt of Holocaust Survivors. New York: Free Press.

  • Brighton Shane. 2011. “Three Propositions on the Phenomenology of War.” International Political Sociology: 102–105.

  • Chambers Samuel and Terrell Carver. 2008. William E. Connolly: Democracy Pluralism and Political Theory. London and New York: Routledge.

  • Creswell John W. 2013. Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches 3rd ed. Thousand Oaks CA: Sage.

  • da Col Giovanni and Caroline Humphrey. 2012. “Subjects of Luck: Contingency Morality and the Anticipation of Everyday Life” Social Analysis 56(2): 1–18.

  • da Col Giovanni. 2012. “Natural Philosophies of Fortune—Luck Vitality and Uncontrolled Relatedness” Social Analysis 56(1):1–23.

  • Dalsheim Joyce. 2007. “Deconstructing national myths reconstructing morality: modernity hegemony and the Israeli national past” Journal of Historical Sociology 20(4): 521–554.

  • Day Abby. 2011. Believing in Belonging: Belief and Social Identity in the Modern World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Elran Meir Yehuda Ben Meir and Gilead Sher 2015. “The Impact of Operation Protective Edge on Political and Social Trends in Israel” in Strategic Survey for Israel 2014–15 eds. Anat Kurz and Shlomo Brom. Tel Aviv: Institute for National Security Studies.

  • Emmel Nick. 2013. Sampling and Choosing Cases in Qualitative Research: A Realist Approach. Thousand Oaks CA: Sage.

  • Farman Abou. 2013. “Speculative Matter: secular minds bodies persons” Cultural Anthropology 28(4): 737–759.

  • Florian Victor and Mario Mikulincer. 1992. “The Impact of Death-Risk Experiences on the Fear of Personal Death: the Case of Israeli Soldiers in Lebanon.” Omega 26: 101–110.

  • Furani Khaled. 2014. “Is there a postsecular?” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 83(1): 1–26.

  • Giddens Anthony. 1991. Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.

  • Gregory Thomas and Linda Ahäll. 2015. Emotions Politics and War. Abingdon: Routledge.

  • Gutkowski Stacey. 2019. “Love War and Secular ‘Reasonableness’ among hilonim in Israel-Palestine” in Secular BodiesAffects and Emotions: European Configurations ed. Monique Scheer Nadia Fadil and Birgitte Schepelern Johansen (London: Bloomsbury 2019) 123–138.

  • Gutkowski Stacey. 2013. Secular War: Myths of Religion Politics and Violence. London: IB Tauris.

  • Hacking Ian. 1990. The Taming of Chance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Han Sam. 2015. “Disenchantment Revisited: Formations of the ‘Secular’ and ‘Religious’ in the Technological Discourse of Modernity” Social Compass 62(1):pages

  • Hasanović M. and I. Pajević. 2013. “Religious moral beliefs inversely related to trauma experiences severity and depression severity among war victims in Bosnia and Herzegovina.” Journal of Religion and Health 52(3): 730–739.

  • Hobfall Steven E. Daphna Canetti-Nisim Robert J. Johnson Patrick A. Palmieri Joseph D. Varley Sandro Galea. 2008. “The Association of Exposure Risk and Resiliency Factors with PTSD among Jews and Arabs Exposed to Repeated Acts of Terrorism in Israel.” Journal of Traumatic Stress 21(1): 9–21.

  • Israeli Democracy Institute Peace Index Archive 2014–2016.

  • Israeli Zipi. 2017. “The National Security Index: Public Support for an Arrangement Based on the Two-State Solution” INSS Insight No. 916 6 April.

  • Jong Jonathan Jamin Halberstadt and Matthias Bluemke. 2012. “Foxhole atheism revisited: The effects of mortality salience on explicit and implicit religious belief.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 48: 983–989.

  • Kaplan Dana and Rachel Werczberger. 2017. “Jewish New Age and the Middle Class: Politics in Israel under Neo-liberalism” Sociology 51(3): 575–591.

  • Keissar-Sugarman Ayala. 2012. A Portrait of Israeli Jews: Beliefs Observances and the Values of Israeli Jews 2009. Jerusalem: The Israeli Democracy Institute and the Avi Chai Israel Foundation.

  • Keshet Yael and Ido Liberman. 2014. “Seeking Empowerment and Spirituality in the Secular Age: secular and traditionalist Israelis consulting rabbis” Sociology 48(1): 92–110.

  • Kleinreesink LHE and Soeters Joseph MML. 2016. “Truth and (self) censorship in military memoirs.” Current Sociology 64(3): 373–391.

  • Kuckartz Udo. 2014. Qualitative Text Analysis: A Guide to Methods Practice and Using Software. Thousand Oaks CA: Sage.

  • Lahav Hagar. 2016. “What do Secular-believer Women in Israel Believe in?” Journal of Contemporary Religion 31(1): 17–36.

  • Landsman Klaas and Ellen van Wolde eds. 2016. The Challenge of Chance: A multidisciplinary approach from the science and humanities. New York: SpringerOpen.

  • Langton Daniel R. “Introduction” in Melilah: Atheism Skepticism and Challenges to Monotheism ed. Daniel R. Langton (Manchester: University of Manchester and Gorgias Press 2015).

  • Lazar Aryeh. 2006. “Fear of Personal Death as a Predictor of Motivation for Religious Behavior.” Review of Religious Research 48(2): 179–189.

  • Lazar Aryeh. 2014. “The Structure and Validity of the Multidimensional Prayer Inventory among Israeli Jewish Pray-Ers.” Psychology of Religion and Spirituality 6(3): 237–244.

  • Lee Lois. 2015. Recognizing the Non-religious Reimagining the Secular. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Liebman Charles S. and Yaacov Yadgar. 2009. “Secular-Jewish Identity and the Condition of Secular Judaism in Israel” in Religion or Ethnicity? Jewish Identities in Evolution ed. Zvi Gitelman. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. pp. 149–170.

  • Liebman Charles. 1997. Religion Democracy and Israeli Society. Sherman Lecture Series vol. 2. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers.

  • Loss Joseph. 2010. “Buddha-Dhamma in Israel: Explicit Non-Religious and Implicit Non-Secular Localization of Religion.” Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 13(4): 84–105.

  • Mackler Aaron L. 2007. “Eye on Religion: a Jewish View of Miracles and Healing” Southern Medical Journal 100(12): 1252–1254.

  • McSorley Kevin ed. 2015. War and the Body: Militarization Practice and Experience. Abingdon: Routledge.

  • Miles Matthew B. and Huberman A. Michael. 1994. Qualitative Data Analysis: An Expanded Sourcebook 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks CA: Sage.

  • Moscowitz David. 2015. A Culture of Tough Jews: Rhetorical Regeneration and the Politics of Identity. Bern: Peter Lang.

  • Moss Joshua L. 2015. “Satire monotheism and skepticism” in Melilah: Atheism Skepticism and Challenges to Monotheism ed. Daniel R. Langton. Manchester: University of Manchester and Gorgias Press.

  • Moustakas Clark. 1994. Phenomenological Research Methods. Thousand Oaks CA: Sage.

  • Patton M.Q. 2002. Qualitative Research and Evaluation Methods. 3rd ed. Thousand Oaks CA: Sage.

  • Pelksmans Mathijs ed. 2013. Ethnographies of Doubt: faith and uncertainty in contemporary societies. London and New York: I.B. Tauris.

  • Quack Johannes. 2011. Disenchanting India: Organized Rationalism and Criticism of Religion in India. New York: Oxford University Press.

  • Ochs Juliana. 2011. Security and Suspicion: An Ethnography of Everyday Life in Israel. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

  • Pew Research Center. 2016. Israel’s Religiously Divided Society.

  • Rubin Barry. 1996. “The Arab-Israeli Conflict is Over” Middle East Quarterly 3(3): 3–12.

  • Scarry Elaine. 1980. The Body in Pain. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.

  • Schielke Samuli. 2012. “Being a Nonbeliever in a Time of Islamic Revival: Trajectories of Doubt and Certainty in Contemporary Egypt.” International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 44: 301–320.

  • Schacter Daniel L. and Donna Rose Addis. 2007. “The cognitive neuroscience of constructive memory: Remembering the past and imagining the future.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 362(1481): 773–786.

  • Solomon Norman. 2015. “The Attenuation of God in Modern Jewish Thought” in Melilah: Atheism Skepticism and Challenges to Monotheism ed. Daniel R. Langton. Manchester: University of Manchester and Gorgias Press.

  • Solomon Zahava and Rony Berger. 2005. “Coping with the Aftermath of Terror: Resilience of Zaka Body Handlers.” Journal of Aggression Maltreatment and Trauma 10(1–2): 593–604.

  • Sosis Richard. 2007. “Psalms for Safety: Magico-Religious Responses to Threats of Terror.” Current Anthropology 48: 903–911.

  • Sosis Richard and W. Penn Handwerker. 2011. “Psalms and Coping with Uncertainty: Religious Israeli Women’s Response to the 2006 Lebanon War.” American Anthropologist 113(1): 40–55.

  • Taylor Charles. 2007. A Secular Age. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.

  • Thijssen Johannes M.M.H. and David R. Loy “Happiness and Invulnerability from Chance: Western and Eastern Perspectives” in The Challenge of Chance: A multidisciplinary approach from science and the humanities ed. Klaas Landsman and Ellen van Wolde. New York: SpringerOpen.

  • Wansink Brian and Craig S. Wansink. 2013. “Are There Atheists in Foxholes? Combat Intensity and Religious Behaviour.” Journal of Religion and Health 52: 768–779.

  • Whittemore R.S.K. Chase and C.L. Mandle. 2001. “Validity in Qualitative Research.” Qualitative Health Research 11(4): 522–537.

  • Woodward R. and K.N. Jenkings. 2011. Military identities in the situated accounts of

  • British military personnel. Sociology 45(2): 252–268.

  • Yadgar Yaacov. 2009. “A Post-secular Look at Tradition: Towards a Definition of Traditionism.” Telos 156: 77–98.

  • Yadgar Yaacov. 2017. Sovereign Jews: Israel Zionism and Judaism. Albany NY: State University of New York Press.

  • Zeidner Moshe and Allen L. Hammer. 1992. “Coping with Missile Attack: Resources Strategies and Outcomes.” Journal of Personality 60: 709–746.

Index Card
Content Metrics

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 217 218 12
Full Text Views 30 30 1
PDF Downloads 17 17 1
EPUB Downloads 0 0 0