Patterns of Perceived Hostility and Identity Concealment among Self-Identified Atheists

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Eberly College of Arts and Sciences


Sociology and Anthropology


Researchers have produced important findings regarding the types of stigma associated with nonreligion, particularly atheism. However, while numerous studies analyze who is more or less likely to identify as an atheist given that stigma, less is known about how self-identified atheists manage the stigma associated with their identity. This study uses new survey data from a nationally representative sample of US adults, with an oversample of individuals identifying as atheists, to examine the predictors of and connections between atheists’ perceptions of hostility toward their identities and whether they conceal those identities. Contrary to our expectations, we find no association between atheists’ perceived hostility toward their identity and concealment of that identity. We do find, however, that atheists in some social locations report higher levels of identity concealment, particularly those who identify as women, those who identify as Republican, those who live in the South, and those who were raised in a religion or still attend religious services. Our findings suggest that atheists who feel like social or institutional outsiders are more likely to conceal their identity. Our findings also suggest that affirming an atheist identity may buffer some of the negative effects of atheist stigma. These findings have implications for how researchers understand the context-specific nature of religious discrimination, as well as implications for research on stigma management and the ways that the shifting religious and political landscape in the United States shapes the expression of atheist identities.

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