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Toward a Psychology of Atheism: Dimensions and Types of Non-Religiosity

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Although various labels exist to describe non-religious and secular positions, such as “atheist” or “agnostic”, these are demonstrably misunderstood or misapplied by laypersons. Even where they are correctly used, it is clear that, for example, atheists vary in their emotional responses to religion, their intellectual interest in religion, and their behavioural repertoire with regard to religious individuals and institutions. While many scales exist to measure aspects of religiosity, no current instrument exists that measures different aspects of non-religiosity. This paper presents data from a new set of scales designed to meet this need. Further, rather than attempting to generate a typology of non-religiosity from philosophical grounds, data from these scales is used to allow a typology to emerge empirically, thus capturing non-religiosity as it is lived. Cluster analysis allowed the determination of several statistically distinguishable types of non-religiosity, such as so-called “militant atheists”, “disinterested non-believers”, and “emotional atheists”. Each type showed a characteristic pattern of attitudes, beliefs, behaviours, and history with regard to religious ideas and religious people. In contrast to the empirically derived typology, self-reported identifications such as “atheist”, “agnostic”, and “spiritual-but-not-religious” were considerably less powerful as predictors of group differences.

This talk is part of the Social Psychology Seminar Series (SPSS) series.

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