Atheists and other cultural outsiders: Moral boundaries and the non-religious in the united states

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We use data from a nationally representative survey to analyze anti-atheist sentiment in the United States in 2014, replicating analyses from a decade earlier and extending them to consider the factors that foster negative sentiment toward other non-religious persons. We find that anti-atheist sentiment is strong, persistent, and driven in part by moral concerns about atheists and in part by agreement with cultural values that affirm religiosity as a constitutive moral grounding of citizenship and national identity. Moral concerns about atheists also spill over to shape attitudes toward those who are spiritual but not religious (SBNRs) and influence evaluations of the recent decline in religious identification. Americans have more positive views of SBNRs than of atheists, but a plurality of Americans still negatively evaluate the increase in the percentage of Americans who claim no religious identification (nones). Our analyses show the continuing centrality of religiously rooted moral boundary-making in constituting cultural membership in the American context.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)607-638
Number of pages32
JournalSocial Forces
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors appreciate the generous support for data collection and research assistance given by the National Science Foundation (grant nos. 1258926 and 1258933) and the Edelstein Family Foundation.

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