In Before Religion , Brent Nongbri makes the case that once there was no religion and then modern Westerners invented it. This claim will strike many as both preposterous”didnt ancient peoples in all parts of the world worship many different gods?”and as another entry in the recent atheist attacks on religion, dismissing it as nothing but a human invention concocted to fulfill various political purposes. I think, however, that Nongbri, now a postdoctoral fellow at Macquarie University in Australia, is right and that his thesis is important for people who are conventionally labeled religious to accept.
The key lies in one of Nongbris statements near the beginning of the book: What is modern about the ideas of religions and being religious, he argues, is the isolation and naming of some things as religious and others as not religious. The modern invention of religion, in other words, can only be understood in tandem with the modern invention of the secular.