The Varieties of Nonreligious Experience: Atheism in American Culture

The Varieties of Nonreligious Experience: Atheism in American Culture

by Jerome P. Baggett


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A fascinating exploration of the breadth of social, emotional, and spiritual experiences of atheists in America

Self-identified atheists make up roughly 5 percent of the American religious landscape, comprising a larger population than Jehovah’s Witnesses, Orthodox Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus combined. In spite of their relatively significant presence in society, atheists are one of the most stigmatized groups in the United States, frequently portrayed as immoral, unhappy, or even outright angry. Yet we know very little about what their lives are actually like as they live among their largely religious, and sometimes hostile, fellow citizens.

In this book, Jerome P. Baggett listens to what atheists have to say about their own lives and viewpoints. Drawing on questionnaires and interviews with more than five hundred American atheists scattered across the country, The Varieties of Nonreligious Experience uncovers what they think about morality, what gives meaning to their lives, how they feel about religious people, and what they think and know about religion itself.

Though the wider public routinely understands atheists in negative terms, as people who do not believe in God, Baggett pushes readers to view them in a different light. Rather than simply rejecting God and religion, atheists actually embrace something much more substantive—lives marked by greater integrity, open-mindedness, and progress.

Beyond just talking about or to American atheists, the time is overdue to let them speak for themselves. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in joining the conversation.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781479884520
Publisher: New York University Press
Publication date: 07/09/2019
Series: Secular Studies Series , #2
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Jerome P. Baggett is Professor of Religion and Society at Santa Clara University, a member of the Core Doctoral Faculty at the Graduate Theological Union (Berkeley), and Visiting Professor of Sociology at UC Berkeley.

Table of Contents

Preface ix

Part I Getting the Lay of the Land: Identifying as Atheist

1 Well, I'll Be Damned!: Considering Atheism beyond the "Popular View" 1

2 Acquiring Atheist Identities: Four Acquisition Narratives 41

3 Maintaining Atheist Identities: Stigma, Reason, Feelings 75

Part II Digging a Bit Deeper: Cultivating Atheist Sensibilities

4 The Empirical Root: Science without Scientism 115

5 The Critical Root: Living with Integrity by Saying No 144

6 The Agnostic Root: Being Open by Saying "I Don't Know" 168

7 The Immanent Root: Progressing by Saying Yes 194

Conclusion 227

Acknowledgments 237

Appendix A The Varieties of Nonreligious Experience: Interview Schedule (E-mail Version) 239

Appendix B The Varieties of Nonreligious Experience: A Demographic Snapshot 241

Notes 243

Index 263

About the Author 273

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