Athiests as 'Other': Moral Boundaries and Cultural Membership in American Society
Presented by Penny Edgell, Joe Gerteis, and Doug Hartmann
Despite the declining salience of divisions among religious groups, the boundary between believers and non-believers in America remains strong. This paper examines the limits of Americans' acceptance of atheists. Using new, nationally-representative survey data, we show that atheists are less likely to be accepted, in both public and private life, than are any others among a long list of ethnic, religious, and other minority groups. We find that public and private rejection of atheists is driven by religious predictors, but also by social location and broader value orientations, and associated in stable ways with rejection of other specific groups on moral and symbolic, rather than ethnic or economic, grounds. We suggest that understanding how Americans view atheists sheds light on the role of religious belief in providing a moral basis for cultural membership and solidarity in an otherwise highly diverse society.